Amp up your caesar salad game! Bites of kale, homemade croutons, and a punchy, garlicky salad dressing come together in this extra special caesar salad recipe.
For the past year, my husband Danny and I have been trying to perfect a caesar salad dressing, and I think it’s finally here! Danny started experimenting with caesar salads, mashing together recipes from various blogs and publications online. Eventually, we came up with our own dressing, one that matches our ideal flavor profiles and tastes.
What makes this kale caesar salad special?
If you know anything about us, you know we love punchy, bold flavors.
In this case, earthy, slightly bitter kale pairs with a garlicky, lemony caesar dressing. It’s an ideal pairing, because the dressing can truly stand up to the stronger flavors of kale.
- Massaging the kale ensures a softer, more tender salad that is easier to eat.
- A mayo-based caesar dressing eliminates the headache and stress of making the dressing completely from scratch. There’s no emulsion or raw egg. This gives us much more time to focus on balancing the ingredients to create a super flavorful dressing.
- Homemade croutons are crunchy but not hard – and add a fun texture to the caesar salad.
What’s in the caesar salad dressing?
Typically, caesar salad dressing contains a mixture of mayonnaise (or egg and oil which emulsify to form a creamy mayonnaise-like base), anchovies, garlic, parmigiano-reggiano cheese, lemon juice, dijon mustard, salt, and pepper.
Our caesar dressing is very similar – we played around with the ratios of each ingredient until we felt it had the right balance of flavors.
Ingredients in this recipe
Let’s talk through what each of these ingredients contributes to the dressing.
- Mayonnaise: Mayonnaise serves as the base of the dressing and provides a rich creaminess.
- Anchovies: Ok, hear me out. I know anchovies might sound scary to some of you, but we’re only using 1 here, and it does not make the caesar fishy! Instead, it provides a much needed saltiness and umami flavor that balances out the rest of the ingredients. If you are vegetarian, you can sub in 1/2 teaspoon of finely minced capers for the anchovy. Ortiz makes my favorite brand of anchovies.
- Garlic: I use 1 small garlic clove for this dressing (about 1/2 scant teaspoon) and mash it into a paste. You can always start with less and add more to
- Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese: Parm is salty and umami, and it pairs really well with other ingredients like kale, garlic, and anchovies. You’ll want to use a block of parmigiano-reggiano cheese and grate this fresh.
- Lemon juice: Fresh lemon juice helps cut the richness of the caesar, keeping the salad light and refreshing.
- Dijon mustard
- Olive oil
- Salt and black pepper
Tips on making caesar dressing
Now, here’s a very important piece of advice. Use this recipe as a base and play with it as you see fit. I recommend trying it once as is, and then adjusting it to your own flavor palette if needed. In our opinion, the dressing should taste slightly punchy, salty, creamy, and tangy. To test that the dressing is right, you can dip a piece of kale into the dressing. It should taste slightly less punchy and flavorful than you’ll actually want it to taste. This is because, as you continue to eat the salad, the flavors will continue to build up over time. If it’s already at the right “punchiness” level, it might end up being too salty for you when you eat the whole salad.
Note: The dressing is on the thicker side, but if the kale is massaged well with enough oil, it should be the right consistency when you dip it into the dressing to taste. If it still feels too thick, you can loosen the dressing with a bit more olive oil.
How to make homemade croutons
Homemade croutons are very easy and they’re great because you can control the texture of them! If you want super crunchy croutons, you can leave them in the oven for longer, and if you want softer croutons, take them out early.
Cut up a baguette, loaf of sourdough, or focaccia bread into bite-sized pieces. Toss them generously with olive oil, salt, and black pepper, then bake in the oven until nice and toasty. For me, this is usually about 8 minutes total at 400F (tossed halfway), which yields a crouton that’s crunchy on the outside and just slightly chewy on the inside.
Note: The croutons will continue to cook slightly even after being removed from the oven, so you’ll want to take them out just before they’ve reached your ideal texture. I then immediately transfer them to a separate container to stop the carryover cooking process as much as possible.
How to make kale caesar salad
Here’s how to make this caesar salad!
Step 1. Wash and dry the kale. Make sure the kale is thoroughly dry. You don’t want any soggy leaves!
Step 2. Chop the kale into 2-inch to 3-inch pieces.
Step 3. Massage the kale with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Step 4. Cut the bread into cubes.
Step 5. Toss the bread and bake in the oven until toasty.
Step 6. Mash the anchovy and garlic into a paste.
Step 7. Mix the rest of the caesar dressing ingredients into the anchovy/garlic paste.
Step 8. Toss the kale, croutons, and caesar dressing. Top with shaved parm.
See below for the following storage tips:
- The caesar dressing can be made in advance and stored in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
- I don’t recommend fully prepping the kale in advance, but you can definitely wash and dry it and then keep it in the fridge in a ziploc bag covered with a paper towel.
- Homemade croutons can be prepared in advance, stored in the freezer for up to 4 weeks and reheated at 325F until warm and toasty.
- Just before serving, mix the massaged kale, caesar dressing, shaved parm, and croutons together. Serve and enjoy!
You can substitute 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped capers for a vegetarian version. You can also use a dash of fish sauce instead of anchovies.
Of course! You might need to adjust the proportions slightly, but homemade mayonnaise should be totally fine for this.
Cooked salmon or grilled chicken would be great in this salad!
I typically store leftover anchovies in the fridge for 4 to 6 weeks.
Did you try this recipe? I would love to hear your feedback! Be sure to rate the recipe and leave a comment below.
For even more cozy recipes, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter.Happy eating! Love, Karishma
Kale Caesar Salad Recipe
For the salad:
- 1 cup cubed, bite-sized pieces of crusty sourdough bread, focaccia bread and baguettes will also work well here, but baking times will vary slightly
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- 4 cups loosely packed curly kale, washed, thoroughly dried, trimmed, and cut into 2-inch to 3inch pieces; mine yielded 2.75 ounces after trimming
- 3 tablespoons shaved parmigiano-reggiano cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
For the dressing:
- 1 anchovy filet
- 1 small garlic clove, finely grated to yield a scant 1/2 teaspoon
- 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, plus more if needed
- 1/3 cup full-fat mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more if needed
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Black pepper
- Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 °F.
- Meanwhile, prepare the kale. In a medium salad bowl, add kale, 2 teaspoons of olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Remember you'll be adding the caesar dressing to this kale, so err on the side of less salt for now.Massage the kale; run your fingers through the leaves, squeezing and rubbing them. The whole process should take about 2 to 3 minutes, and as you continue massaging the leaves, they will soften considerably. Once the leaves feel soft and tender, set aside.
- On a parchment-lined baking sheet, coat the bread cubes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt and black pepper to taste. If the bread is not fully coated, add an additional tablespoon of olive oil. Bake for 8 minutes, flipping the croutons in between until they are golden-brown in color. When done, croutons should be crunchy around the edges but still slightly soft in the center (they will continue to cook slightly after removing from the oven, so err on the slightly softer side). Remove from the baking sheet and transfer to a bowl to cool to room temperature.
- While the croutons cool, prepare the dressing. Mince the anchovy filet, then place the grated garlic and a pinch of salt on top of the minced anchovy. Mash the anchovy, garlic, and salt together until it forms a paste; to help create a paste, tilt your knife at a 30 degree angle and scrape the knife across the anchovy mixture. Next, mince the mixture with your knife for a few seconds, then repeat, scraping with a knife then mincing until it forms a paste.
- Transfer paste to a small bowl, and whisk in dijon mustard, cheese, and mayonnaise. The dressing should now be a thick paste. Slowly drizzle in olive oil and lemon juice, then season to taste with salt and pepper.
- To test if the dressing suits your preferences, dip a piece of the kale into the mixture and taste it. The bite should taste garlicky, with a slight bit of acidity and saltiness. You want it to taste slightly less “zingy” than you want it, because when you eat the salad, you'll be eating many bites, so the punchy flavors and zinginess will build up over time.
- Too strong or thick? Dilute the mixture with some olive oil (or water if you don't want to add more oil). Too subtle? For additional zinginess, add more garlic or mustard; for additional saltiness, add more salt or anchovy; for additional acidity, add more lemon juice.
- Once you're satisfied, toss the kale with caesar dressing, croutons, and shaved parmigiano cheese. Serve immediately.