This Shockingly Vegan Caesar Salad Actually Tastes Amazing
Don't get me wrong—I am a Caesar salad enthusiast from way back. One of my earliest cooking memories is of my mom flipping through her trusty red-plaid cookbook to find a hand-written recipe for Caesar salad tucked into its pages. And reader, it was a legendary recipe: canned anchovies and garlic were both pressed through a garlic press to better to emulsify them with olive oil, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, egg yolks, and Worcestershire. Tossed with chilled romaine, a snowy avalanche of grated Parm, and homemade garlic-powder-doused croutons in a wooden bowl so wide I could actually sit in it, this salad could do no wrong. There's no way I'd tolerate—let alone enjoy—an ersatz vegan version, right?
But now that I'm older, I don't just love Caesar salad; I understand why it works. Like any good vinaigrette, it's based on the collision of acid (lemon juice) and fat (olive oil), plus earthiness from the garlic, creaminess from the egg, and an extra dose of umami (from the anchovies, Worcestershire, and Parmesan). And when I saw Food & Wine's recipe for Vegan Caesar Salad with Chicories and Walnuts, I had a moment of clarity: There's absolutely no reason why the things that make Caesar salad so addictive can't come from vegan ingredients.
First, Make a Punchy, Savory Dressing
You'll start with olive oil and lemon juice, just like you would for a classic Caesar—with an extra hit of lemon zest for even more zing. A generous amount of white miso stands in for the umami-packed anchovies and Parm, and also delivers a welcome dose of creaminess without the need for egg yolks. Capers and cumin adds earthiness instead of garlic, and the merest dash of maple syrup helps pull all the flavors together.
Next, Add Two Kinds of Crunch
I would never deny the brilliance of croutons, but I can't ignore the inspired idea to toss walnuts in a bit of the vegan Caesar dressing and toast them in a pan until toasty and infused with Caesar flavor. And deploying a range of chicories—just a fancy term for whatever Belgian endive, radicchio, or escarole you can score at the market—delivers crunch along with a nuanced bitterness that romaine just can't compete with.
Finally, Toss the Caesar—and Save That Extra Dressing
Once you combine your salad greens with the dressing and the crunchy walnuts and take a bite, you'll be surprised (like I was) by how easily the salad masquerades as a classic Caesar. It's ideal for serving at dinner parties or bringing to potlucks that tend have folks with a mix of eating styles. And save that extra 1/4 cup of dressing. It's equally delicious drizzled over simply steamed vegetables or tossed with cooked grains. The best endorsement for this vegan salad? It's so delicious on its own merits that I already have plans to serve it alongside roast chicken.