After countless tests, we've perfected our garlicky kale Caesar salad with creamy homemade dressing. Here, we took the traditional Caesar salad and amped up the flavors, pairing earthy, slightly bitter kale with a garlicky, lemony dressing, crunchy croutons, and salty shavings of cheese.
For the past year, my husband Danny and I have been trying to perfect our Caesar salad recipe, and it's finally here! This is our favorite salad, and in my humble opinion, it may even be the *best* kale Caesar salad recipe.
Why You'll Love This Salad
If you know anything about me, you know I love punchy, bold flavors, and this kale salad is no exception! Bites of hearty kale, homemade croutons, and a vibrant salad dressing intermingle in this extra-special recipe.
- Massaging raw kale ensures softer, more tender leaves while maintaining an ideal crunchy salad texture.
- A mayonnaise-based dressing eliminates the headache and stress of making the dressing entirely from scratch. There's no emulsion or raw egg yolks. This gives us much more time to focus on balancing the ingredients to create a super flavorful dressing.
- Homemade croutons are crispy and crunchy -- and add a fun texture to the salad.
- Kale: You can use lacinato kale (also known as tuscan kale or dinosaur kale) or curly kale here. I prefer lacinato because it breaks down more easily, so it's softer and more tender. But either work!
- Anchovies: 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 much-needed saltiness and umami flavor that balances out the rest of the ingredients. Ortiz makes my favorite brand of anchovies. Vegetarian? Sub in ½ teaspoon of finely minced capers for the anchovy.
- Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese: Parm is salty and umami, and it pairs really well with other ingredients like kale, garlic, and anchovies. Make sure to use freshly grated cheese!
For a full list of ingredients and quantities, refer to the recipe card.
- Lighten it up: Replace half the kale with romaine lettuce. For the dressing, add some lemon zest and substitute the mayonnaise for Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is runnier than mayo, so you'll want to use about ¼ cup of yogurt for every ⅓ cup of mayo.
- Make it a complete meal: Toss in grilled chicken or white beans. I also have a delicious tuna Caesar salad you can try.
How to Make Kale Caesar Salad
Step 1: Trim the kale, removing any tough stems. Chop the kale into 2-inch to 3-inch pieces, then wash and dry the kale. Make sure the kale is thoroughly dry. You don't want any soggy leaves!
Step 2: While the kale is drying, make the croutons. Cut the bread into bite-sized pieces, then bake in the oven until toasty and golden brown.
TIP: 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. 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.
Step 3: Prepare the dressing by mashing the anchovy and garlic into a paste.
Step 4: Mix the dijon mustard, parm, mayonnaise, olive oil, and lemon juice into the anchovy paste. Season to taste.
Step 5: Place kale into a large bowl and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Massage the leaves for 1-2 minutes until they soften.
Step 6:Toss the kale, croutons, and dressing together. Top with shaved cheese.
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.
- Season well. An extra pinch of salt and black pepper can really elevate all of the flavors in the salad!
- Use the "dip" test to taste your dressing: Classic Caesar salad is quite creamy, while our version is more punchy, salty, and tangy. To check for seasoning, dip a piece of kale into the dressing. It should taste slightly less punchy and flavorful than you'll actually want it to taste. Why? Well, as you continue to eat the salad, the flavors will 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.
- Loosen the dressing as needed: 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 thin it out with a bit of olive oil or water.
Dressing: Dressing can be made-ahead and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 - 4 days.
Make-Ahead: 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 325°F (163°C) until warm and toasty.
You can substitute ½ teaspoon finely chopped capers for a vegetarian version. You can also use a dash of fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce instead of anchovies.
Massaging kale release helps tenderize the slightly tough, fibrous texture of the leaves until they're softened. It also reduces bitterness!
Of course! You might need to adjust the proportions slightly, but homemade mayonnaise should be totally fine for this.
I typically store leftover anchovies in the fridge for 4 to 6 weeks.
For even more cozy recipes, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter.Happy eating! Love, Karishma
Kale Caesar Salad
For the Salad:
- 4 cups loosely packed lacinato kale, or curly kale
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- 1 cup cubed, bite-sized pieces of crusty bread, preferably sourdough; focaccia and baguettes will also work well here, but baking times will vary slightly
- 3 tablespoons shaved parmigiano-reggiano cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
For the Dressing:
- 1 anchovy filet, or ½ teaspoon capers
- 1 small garlic clove, finely grated to yield a scant ½ teaspoon
- Kosher salt and black pepper, as needed
- ½ teaspoon dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, plus more if needed
- ⅓ cup full-fat mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
- 1 ½ teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Prep the Salad:
- Preheat the oven: Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 °F / 204 °C.
- Prep the kale: Trim and remove any thick ribs or extra-fibrous pieces of the kale. Cut into 2-inch to 3-inch pieces, then rinse kale under cold water. Dry thoroughly on a clean kitchen towel (or with paper towels).4 cups loosely packed lacinato kale
- Massage the kale: In a large salad bowl, add kale, 2 teaspoons of olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Err on the side of less salt.Massage the kale by run your fingers through the leaves as you squeeze and rub them together. 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.Extra-virgin olive oil, Kosher salt, Black pepper
- Bake the croutons: 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.1 cup cubed, bite-sized pieces of crusty bread
Prepare the Dressing:
- Make the anchovy paste: Mince the anchovy filet (or capers), 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 then mincing until it forms a paste.1 anchovy filet, 1 small garlic clove, Kosher salt and black pepper
- Finish the dressing: 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.½ teaspoon dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, ⅓ cup full-fat mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 ½ teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Taste the dressing: 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. Note: 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.3 tablespoons shaved parmigiano-reggiano cheese
- The caesar dressing is thicker than you might be used to -- but if the kale is massaged well and has a nice coat of olive oil, it should be just the right consistency when you dip a piece of kale in the dressing to try it out.
- Storage: The dressing can be made in advance and stored in the fridge in an airtight container for 3 - 4 days. Homemade croutons can be prepared in advance, stored in the freezer for up to 4 weeks and reheated until warm and toasty.