A classic caesar salad is worth the hype, but there are plenty of delicious variations on the theme – and these recipes are proof.
It’s not often you find a salad that can truly compete with the signature dishes on a restaurant menu. But now that the weather’s getting warmer and we’re allowed to dine outdoors, we’re reminded that there’s one classic that’s more than up to the challenge: caesar salad.
The story goes that the legendary dish was invented by Italian chef Caesar Cardini at his restaurant in Tijuana, close to the Mexico-US border, in 1924. According to family history, the restaurant was so busy on US Independence Day that kitchen supplies were running low, and so Cardini improved a dish using what he had to hand: romaine lettuce leaves, parmesan cheese and raw egg yolk, masterfully bringing together the latter ingredients into a rich, tangy dressing.
Over the next decade, the dish spread from Mexico to the US, and became, in the words of another legendary restauranteur by the name of Julia Child, “a sensation of a salad from coast to coast”. Popularity soon caught on across Europe, and the Cardini family patented their namesake dressing in 1948, which can still be found on supermarket shelves today.
Still, the salad found ways to evolve, and over time, the key ingredients changed in subtle ways, from the inclusion of cubed croutons and bacon lardons, to a splash of fresh lime juice.
Today at Caesar’s restaurant in Tijuana, waiters prepare ensalada Caesar’s tableside, as Cardini himself used to do throughout the Roaring Twenties. That said, it’s a cinch to make the salad yourself, which is why we’ve rustled up three delicious recipes to enjoy as lunch, dinner or an on-the-go meal.
First up, Theo Michaels’ charred caesar salad delivers a smoky upgrade by way of warm, barbecued lettuce leaves and crispy cheese.
For fans of a classic chicken caesar, Rosie Reynolds’ avocado salad uses the juices of rotisserie meat to enhance the flavour of the ciabatta croutons.
And when you’re looking to switch up your greens, Gaz Oakley’s vegan asparagus and kale caesar salad is a herby mix complete with a sprinkling of coconut ‘bacon’ and homemade, plant-based mayonnaise. If you really want to make like Cardini with a tableside display at your next outdoor gathering, all that’s left to do is invest in a beautiful wooden salad bowl. Your guests will be suitably impressed.
Theo Michaels' charred caesar salad
Theo says: “I was introduced to the concept of barbecuing salad when my wife and I were visiting some friends on Vancouver Island. It totally changes the texture and delivers a delicate smokiness that I just love and the leaves stand up to the heat with the bravery of a firefighter! The secret here is to grill the leaves until they are well charred and the cheese is crispy.”
- 60ml olive oil, plus extra for frying breadcrumbs
- 1 thick slice of seeded bread
- 2 romaine/cos lettuces
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the caesar dressing:
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 60ml good-quality mayonnaise
- ½ tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 30g finely grated parmesan
- ½ tsp clear, runny honey
- 3 canned anchovy fillets, finely chopped
Preheat the barbecue/outdoor grill to hot/high.
To make nice, rustic croutons, drizzle a little olive oil over the slice of bread, season it with salt and pepper and toast on the barbecue/grill, to the side of the coals, for a few minutes on each side until it has a deep golden hue then remove it and set aside to cool down.
Put all the caesar dressing ingredients in a bowl and whisk together to combine. Set aside until needed.
Halve the lettuces lengthways and spoon a couple of tablespoons of the caesar dressing over the cut side. Lift a few leaves and prize them open a little to get some of the dressing deeper inside, but don’t smother them.
Place the lettuce halves, dressing side-down, onto the hot barbecue/grill over direct heat and cook for about 4 minutes, or until the leaves are charred. You’ll lose some of the dressing onto the barbecue/grill and it will start to smoke – that’s all good.
Turn the lettuces over and cook for a few minutes more on the other side, then remove from the heat.
Place the lettuce leaves onto your board. Rip the toast into small chunks and scatter these over the top.
From Share: Delicious Sharing Boards For Social Dining by Theo Michaels (£16.99, Ryland Peters & Small), out now
Rosie Reynolds’ chicken and avocado caesar salad
Rosie says: “I feel so fortunate that caesar salad exists, and chicken and avocado caesar, well… it is simply a bowl of all of my favourite things: anchovies, crunchy bread, roast chicken, avocado and, yes, lettuce!
“Not all caesar salads are created equal, and I like to think that this is up there with the best of them. I use a rotisserie chicken for ease, but also because they are always deliciously juicy, and that seasoned skin is just so good. Don’t throw away any of the juices that gather in the container – here, they’re poured over the bread before it’s crisped up and the skin itself is roasted to crisp shards to be scattered over the salad before serving.
“Making a caesar dressing can seem tricky, but my version is easy: using a couple of tablespoons of good mayonnaise emulsifies the dressing and makes sure it clings to the salad ingredients. I also roast the lemon to make it super juicy and intensify the flavour. Making the dressing in a bowl big enough to fit all of the ingredients reduces the washing up and ensures you use every scrap of that delicious dressing.”
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
- 1 oven-ready pre-cooked ciabatta loaf, torn into bite-size pieces
- 1 lemon, halved
- olive oil, for drizzling
- 1 cooked rotisserie chicken
- 2 cos/romaine lettuces, chopped into lengths
- 1 large ripe avocado, halved and stoned
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the dressing:
- 6 anchovy fillets in oil, drained and finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 4 tbsp mayonnaise
- 50g parmesan cheese, finely grated
- juice from 1 roasted lemon (see above)
- 1–2 tbsp water
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan/Gas 6.
Put the ciabatta pieces on a baking tray with the lemon halves. Drizzle with olive oil and pour over any juices from the rotisserie chicken, then season with salt and pepper.
Cook in the oven for 20 minutes, stirring the croutons and removing the lemon after 10 minutes.
Remove the meat from the chicken and tear it into chunks, setting the skin to one side (discard the bones). Lay the chicken skin on top of the croutons and return to the oven for a final 5 minutes to crisp up.
To make the dressing, put the anchovies and garlic on a board and use the back of a knife to crush them together into a paste. Scrape the paste into a large mixing bowl and add the mayonnaise, parmesan, the juice from the roasted lemon halves and 1 tablespoon of the water. Stir to combine, adding more water if needed, until the dressing coats the back of a spoon. Taste for seasoning.
Add the lettuce, chicken meat and half of the croutons to the bowl with the dressing and toss to coat. Divide between serving plates and finish with the remaining croutons, scoops of avocado and the crispy chicken skin. Serve immediately, with an extra drizzle of olive oil if you like.
You can shred the chicken, cover and chill for up to 2 days.
Make the dressing up to a week in advance and chill, then assemble the salad when ready to serve.
Using rotisserie chicken and doing minimal prep are both high-impact shortcuts. Restaurant-style caesar salad made effortless.
From The Shortcut Cook by Rosie Reynolds (£15, Hardie Grant), out now
Gaz Oakley’s asparagus and kale caesar salad
Gaz says: “I’ve veganised this classic salad and added a slight twist: grilled ciabatta and a sprinkle of coconut ‘bacon’ bits. It’s creamy and delicious.”
- 10 asparagus tips
- handful of kale, shredded
- 130g frozen peas
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 4 slices of ciabatta
- 2 heads of baby gem, leaves separated and washed
- a few fresh mint leaves
- a few fresh dill leaves
- coconut ‘bacon’ (see below)
For the dressing:
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 tbsp capers, finely chopped
- 4 tbsp ‘mayonnaise’ (see below)
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- pinch sea salt and pepper
For the coconut ‘bacon’:
- 80g coconut flakes
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 2 tbsp liquid smoke
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
For the creamy ‘mayonnaise’ (makes a 227g jar):
- 120ml unsweetened soy milk
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 240ml rapeseed oil
- pinch sea salt and white pepper
For the creamy ‘mayonnaise’, simply combine the milk, vinegar and lemon juice in a tall jug. Now, whilst blending, gradually drizzle in the oil. Keep blending until you’ve added all the oil and you have a creamy mayo-like consistency. Add seasoning to taste. This mayonnaise can be stored in sealed containers in the fridge for around a week.
For the coconut ‘bacon’, preheat the oven to 180˚C and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Stir all the ingredients together in a mixing bowl.
Once all the coconut flakes are well coated, spread out over the lined baking tray. Bake in the oven for 10–15 minutes until golden and crisp. Check the coconut a couple of times and give it a stir during cooking as it can easily burn.
For the salad, preheat the oven to 180˚C and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Fill a bowl full of iced water.
Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of water to a rolling boil, add a pinch of sea salt, then add the asparagus, shortly followed by the kale and peas. Cook for no more than 60 seconds then remove from the water and submerge into the bowl of ice-cold water, so they stop cooking immediately. When cold, remove from the water, drain and set aside.
Heat a griddle pan over a high heat, add a tablespoon of olive oil and, when the pan is hot, grill the sliced ciabatta. Try and get some nice charred lines on each side, then remove from the pan. Cut into smaller pieces.
Mix all of the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl until well incorporated.
Toss the lettuce, asparagus, kale, peas and herbs in a small amount of the dressing in a serving bowl.
Scatter the coconut bacon and grilled ciabatta on top, and the rest of the dressing alongside.
From Vegan 100: Over 100 Incredible Recipes from Avant-Garde Vegan by Gaz Oakley (£20, Quadrille), out now
Photography: © Louise Hagger; Mowie Kay © Ryland Peters & Small; © Simon Smith
Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.