Hearty Greens Caesar with Crispy Chickpeas and Lentils
I'm a total Caesar Salad junkie. I'll take an insipid airport Caesar if that's my only option, but I love making them at home, when I get to toss in hearty flavorful greens, addictively crunchy things, and best of all - LOTS of anchovies.
It's not a classic Caesar (pretty sure nothing we do is classic), but it rests upon that super satisfying combination of crisp fresh greens and creamy dressing. Now don't get me wrong - I don't hate on romaine, but this is the perfect opportunity to use up any greens in the fridge. Could be salad greens, could be heartier ones like kale, mustard greens, even shredded cabbage or Brussels sprouts. This one had lettuce, kale, and dandelion greens, because that's what needed to be used up.
I adore a good toasted torn crouton on a Caesar, but I didn't have any. So I pulled cooked lentils out of the fridge and fried them in olive oil until they developed a delightfully crispy outer crust. I also remembered that I had spiced chickpeas leftover from a restaurant lunch and added those too. For protein: a few 7-minute eggs (a solid set white + a jammy yolk = boiled egg perfection) and an admittedly insane amount of anchovies (see that jar in the corner? I basically finished it that night).
Now, the dressing. I believe Caesar dressings should have a lot of bite: raw garlic, fresh lemon juice, lots of minced anchovies. You may or may not agree with these preferences, but perhaps we can all agree on the following: 1) a homemade Caesar dressing is better than a bottled Caesar dressing, and 2) sometimes you don't want to deal with raw eggs and whisking and all the fun stuff required from a traditional Caesar dressing.
My solution? Raid your fridge. Particularly the condiment section, but also perhaps the dairy section. I like to whisk together mayonnaise and mustard with lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil, then toss in flavorful bits like garlic, capers or anchovies. The salad pictured above also included buttermilk in the dressing, because I had a random near-empty jug of buttermilk, and it was fantastic. I never measure, just add and taste, add and taste. There are some measurements below, should you choose to use them, but creating your own dressings is the best way to both adapt to what you have, and make sure it tastes exactly the way you like it. I hope that means lots of anchovies.
The Rough Recipe
This serves 2 hungry people, or could be a starter salad for 4, depending on what kind of toppings you add. It takes about 15 minutes, if you have all your components ready. And it's vegetarian without anchovies, and gluten-free without croutons or breadcrumbs.
For the dressing:
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon capers or anchovies or both, minced (optional)
- a large-ish spoonful (maybe 2 tablespoons) mayonnaise
- a slightly smaller spoonful (1-2 tablespoons) Dijon or whole grain mustard
- juice of one lemon, or 2 tablespoons vinegar of your choice
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
For the salad:
- 1 bunch leafy greens of your choice, torn or chopped into bite-sizes pieces (or 4-6 cups of whatever combination of greens you like)
- ¼ cup hard cheese such as Parmesan or Pecorino, shaved or grated (or whatever cheese you like)
- Something crunchy, like croutons or toasted breadcrumbs or baked chickpeas, or cooked lentils that you fry in a pan with olive oil until crispy, or other roasted vegetables
- Optional proteins include: anchovies, cooked chicken, eggs, bacon bits, slices of prosciutto - you're the boss here. You pick.
Note: If you're using sturdier, tougher leaves like Tuscan kale or shredded Brussels sprouts, you can get tenderize them with a bit of a massage. Before you do anything else, drizzle a bit of olive oil and vinegar and a pinch of salt on the greens, then massage them with your hands until thoroughly coated and lightly wilted. Let sit while you make the dressing.
To make the dressing, whisk or blend all the ingredients until smooth and uniform. Taste for seasoning; if it’s a bit too pungent or acidic, mellow it out by whisking in a bit more oil or mayonnaise.
Combine all the salad ingredients in a wide bowl. Lightly dress the salad and top with cheese, breadcrumbs and more anchovies. Serve immediately. Leftover dressing can be refrigerated and drizzled on greens of all kinds.