Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Vegan Caesar salad

I know, it sounds a little strange to veganize a Caesar, since it's kind of like the omnivore's salad. But who cares? I like a good Caesar as much as the next person, and I'm quite all right with going against the grain. (If you haven't noticed that yet, you haven't been reading my blog for very long.)

So for those who aren't yet super well-versed in all things vegan, let's answer the obvious question: what's not vegan about traditional Caesar salad? Barring bacon bits, it seems pretty friendly, but the truth is that caesar salad dressing is decidedly un-vegan. Even if you don't put in egg to emulsify the dressing (which usually you would), you have the anchovies to worry about. Yes, you heard me right: traditionally, there are anchovies in Caesar salad dressing, which is what gives it its distinctive flavour. And, sadly, anchovies are not on the vegan menu.

Then, of course, there's the parmesan. The salty tang of it just totally says that this is a good Caesar, and without it, I can't help but feel like it's just a glorified garden salad.

So here you have it: the vegan version of this classic salad, facilitated by my friends, Emily and Meaggy, who came over one day to help me give this a whirl, and who made the day doubly enjoyable! (Special thanks to Emily for taking all the photos for today's post!)


Definitely the easiest (and probably the most rewarding) part is making the croutons. We're talking about something that takes 10 minutes, start to finish, and it will take you about 10 minutes to demolish the croutons if you don't hide them. No, seriously. They're like crack.

These croutons were made from whole-grain bread, but you can use any kind of light, European-style bread. Don't use Wonder Bread. Trust me, that won't turn out well for you.
Meaggy gave them a good toss in olive oil and garlic, and then we just roasted them till they were crispy. Seriously, they're that easy. You will never buy croutons again. Especially vegan ones, because those aren't the easiest to find, anyway.

Then we moved on to the parmesan. I ended up getting the idea from Madison to use cashews and nutritional yeast, which turned out pretty well. It was really, really salty for my tastes, though, so I cut the salt by quite a bit. (Revised version is below with the recipe.) It even looks like parmesan, which is awesome, and makes me feel like I'm really eating cheese...even though I'm not.

This vegan parmesan is super tasty, with a cheesy hint and a salty tang, just like real parmesan.
And finally, we moved on to the hardest part: the dressing. And actually, it's not even that hard to make. (This is a modification from a dressing my friend, Carolyn, taught me how to make. The original is debatably even better, though a little less Caesar-like.) Basically, I just left the egg out, meaning that the dressing was a little thinner than you may be used to. So if emulsifying it is pretty important to you, I'd suggest mixing in a little bit of soy milk or silken tofu, just to make sure it holds together. But that will also make it spoil faster, so be sure you use it quickly!

This dressing is as easy as it is delicious. No, seriously, it tastes amazing.
Once we had all our parts made, all we had to do was assemble everything. We started by tearing up our lettuce and putting it in the biggest bowl we had (I call her Harriet, and she's a pretty big girl). Then we put on a bit of dressing, had Meaggy toss, and then added more dressing however our expert tosser suggested.

We're pretty sure that Meaggy's favourite part was getting up to her elbows in tossing. First the croutons, and then the salad, she was our tosser extraordinaire!

Then we plated the salad, sprinkled with some parmesan, and then added a generous helping of croutons...largely because we'd already been snacking on them and the girls knew just how tasty they were.

And the final step? To dig in.

Tasty, vegan Caesar isn't so hard to make at home!
Vegan Caesar salad
Makes 4 generous servings

For the croutons:
4 thick slices European-style bread (vegan)
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic

For the "parmesan":
1/2 cup raw, unsalted nuts (I used cashews)
2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the dressing:
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
1-2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard
1/3 cup olive oil

1 head romaine lettuce

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

To make the croutons, cut the bread into bite-sized cubes. In a large mixing bowl, toss the bread with the olive oil and garlic. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 6-8 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy. Set aside.

To make the parmesan, place the cashews, nutritional yeast and salt in the food processor and process to a powder. Set aside.

To make the dressing, add lemon juice and vinegar to the bowl of the food processor, along with the salt, pepper, garlic and mustard. Process until very smooth. With the blade turning, slowly add the oil through the chute on the top of the machine, until the oil is all blended in and the mixture thickens a little.

To assemble the salad, wash lettuce and dry leaves as best you can. Tear or chop into bite-sized pieces. Toss with enough dressing to coat the leaves, then serve with croutons and parmesan sprinkled over each plate of salad. Enjoy!

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