I didn’t set out to make a vegan Caesar salad.
I just wanted to make a classic Caesar, minus the anchovies, which might actually be the most classic version of all. Did you know that the original Caesar salad apparently contained no anchovies?
I had no idea until a couple of weeks ago, when I looked up a few basic recipes before whipping up a batch of dressing. I remembered a recipe from an old Moosewood cookbook that suggested replacing anchovies with kalamata olives, so I threw a few into the mix but otherwise stuck with a pretty standard mix of flavors in an aioli-based dressing.
The result, with its strident mix of garlic, lemon and Worcestershire sauce disappointed me, however, and I ended up stirring in a little tahini in an attempt to tone everything down.
It worked and then it got me thinking that maybe I didn’t need an egg and olive oil aioli for this dressing at all.
So I made a second batch with tahini as a base, which I decided I actually liked better than the classic version.
The end result is no longer a very close facsimile of the dressing that calls to mind old-fashioned restaurants with sharply dressed waiters serving up Caesar salads from table side trolleys. Maybe it shouldn’t be called a Caesar dressing at all. But it’s bright and tangy and easy to throw together.
It just happens to be vegan too. Unless you shave Parmesan on top — and who am I to prevent that?
The olives in this recipe were inspired by a recipe I read years ago in one of the Moosewood cookbooks. The rest is pretty much the stuff of a standard Caesar, just with the addition of tahini and minus the anchovies, egg and oil.
- 1 head romaine lettuce
- 4 − 5 thick slices of stale bread
- olive oil
- salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
- 1 small clove garlic
- 1/2 cup tahini
- 1.5 tsp whole grain mustard
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 3 kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
- 1 tsp vegetarian Worcestershire
- Parmesan shavings (optional)
Wash and dry the lettuce, then tear it into pieces and set aside.
Slice or tear the bread into bite-sized pieces, toss with a glug of olive oil and a little salt and pepper and toast in a skillet over medium-high heat until they are golden brown all over. (You can also do this in a pan under the broiler, but I prefer to do it on the stovetop so I can keep an eye on things. Translate: am less likely to walk away and forget about them.) Remove from heat and set aside.
Using a mortar and pestle, smash the garlic with a pinch of salt until you have a rough paste.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the garlic paste with the tahini, mustard, lemon juice, olives and vegetarian Worcestershire sauce. Whir to combine.
Place the lettuce, croutons and a few spoonfuls of dressing in a large salad bowl. Toss, top with the Parmesan (if using) and serve.
You'll have more than enough dressing for one salad. Leftovers keep, tightly covered and refrigerated, for about a week.