I used to like a kale Caesar as much as the next vegetarian. But its ubiquity has ruined it for me. Now, no matter how much I massage those leaves or make sure my dressing is nice and punchy (thank you, garlic), I find myself missing good old lettuce.
I often want more from a salad, too. If meat eaters can bastardize their Caesars with chicken or shrimp, I can add seasonal ingredients such as, say, asparagus and peas.
That's just what Welsh chef Gaz Oakley does in his new book, "Vegan 100" (Quadrille, 2018). While many of the recipes are too complicated for this column's weeknight focus, his Asparagus and Kale Caesar Salad strikes the right balance of interesting (flavors) and straightforward (technique).
You may notice that there's still kale in the mix. But rather than shred it and eat it raw, you blanch it with the asparagus and peas, wilting the greens so that they offer a soft counterbalance to the lettuce's crunch. Grilled slices of ciabatta add heft, the dressing gets nutty depth from nutritional yeast, and coconut bacon brings even more crunch plus a touch of smoky flavor.
You can buy the coconut bacon, but it's super easy to make, and so good it is my favorite homemade bacon substitute. Unlike with kale salad, I don't think I'll ever get sick of it, either.
14 servings (makes 1 3/4 cups)
This is a satisfyingly crunchy, smoky vegan alternative to bacon that comes together in minutes.
Let's Do ... Organic brand coconut flakes and Annie's Naturals vegan Worcestershire sauce are available at Whole Foods Markets and natural-foods stores.
Make ahead: The coconut bacon can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.
Adapted from "The Southern Vegetarian," by Justin Fox Burks and Amy Lawrence (Thomas Nelson, 2013).
• 1 3/4 cups large, unsweetened coconut flakes, such as Let's Do . . . Organic brand (see headnote)
• 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
• 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce (may substitute tamari)
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 2 teaspoons vegan Worcestershire sauce, such as Annie's Naturals brand (see headnote; may substitute regular Worcestershire sauce)
• 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
• 2 teaspoons liquid smoke
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Toss the coconut in a large mixing bowl with the maple syrup, soy sauce, black pepper, vegan Worcestershire, sesame oil and liquid smoke until evenly coated. Spread in a single layer (with all the coating) on the baking sheet. Bake (middle rack) for 10 minutes; stir it around and spread it back out on the baking sheet; bake for five minutes, until the coconut has browned.
Let it cool, during which time the coconut bacon will crisp up. If you're not going to use it right away, transfer the cooled coconut bacon to an airtight container.
Nutrition | Per 2-tablespoon serving: 80 calories, 0 g protein, 4 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 45 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar.
Asparagus and Kale Caesar Salad
Four to six servings
Make ahead: The dressing and the cooked asparagus, kale and peas can be refrigerated (separately) for up to five days before you assemble the salad.
Adapted from "Vegan 100: Over 100 Incredible Recipes from Avant-Garde Vegan," by Gaz Oakley (Quadrille, 2018).
For the salad
• Sea salt
• 1 bunch asparagus (about 8 ounces)
• 4 ounces (2 cups) lightly packed kale leaves, stemmed and shredded
• 1 cup frozen green peas
• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• 3 slices ciabatta (4 ounces)
• 2 heads baby gem lettuce (8 ounces total), leaves separated and rinsed (may substitute romaine hearts)
• 10 fresh mint leaves
• 2 tablespoons lightly packed fresh dill
• 1/2 cup Coconut Bacon (store-bought, or see related recipe)
For the dressing
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 tablespoons capers, drained and finely chopped
• 1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise
• 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or more as needed
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed
For the salad: Fill a large bowl with cool water and ice.
Bring a large saucepan of water to a rolling boil over high heat, add a pinch of sea salt, then add the asparagus. Cook for 60 seconds, then add the kale and peas and cook for another 30 to 60 seconds, until the asparagus is crisp-tender, the kale has wilted and the peas are tender. Immediately remove from the boiling water and submerge into the ice-water bath. Once the vegetables are no longer warm, drain and dry them thoroughly.
Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil, and, once it shimmers, add the sliced ciabatta and cook for about two minutes on both sides, or until char lines/grill marks form. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into smaller pieces.
For the dressing: Combine the garlic, capers, mayonnaise, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small bowl, and whisk until blended. Taste, and add more salt and/or pepper, as needed.
To serve the salad, toss together the lettuce, asparagus, kale, peas, mint, dill and dressing in a serving bowl. Scatter the coconut bacon and grilled ciabatta pieces on top, and serve.
Nutrition | Per serving (based on 6): 290 calories, 7 g protein, 21 g carbohydrates, 20 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 560 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar.
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Washington Post. He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column. Previously, he was a food writer and Travel editor at the Boston Globe.