Trillium Haven’s Tuscan Kale Caesar Salad–Vegan Style

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Okay, so I’ve had the Tuscan kale Caesar salad at Trillium Haven at least five times. I love it! But since, uh, I am a plant-based chef, it was time to put this recipe through the veganizer. Actually, I’ve been trying and failing since I first had it. Then I felt guilty because I was using my VitaMix (if as many Americans owned a VitaMix as a television set…well, we can all dream). But I finally came up with a really lovely, low-fat version that you can make (and shake) in an old jam jar. Wow, I love this!

This dressing is inspired not only by the chefs at Trillium Haven, but primarily by chefs Ken Charney and Miyoko Schinner. I like to think this dressing is what would happen if they got stranded in an elevator and started kissing and ended up exchanging recipes.

You’re going to have to make a few purchases at a well-stocked healthy store but don’t whine about it. You’ll end up with enough to make a winter’s worth of dressing (in fact if you love this as I do, I recommend making a bunch of jam jar batches and freezing them). If you’re a bit of a geek or a hippie-food skeptic, read my notes below.*

The Salad
Let’s start with a big bunch of Tuscan kale (a.k.a. Lacinato kale, dinosaur kale and black kale). Do not substitute regular kale. It is too coarse and bitter for this application. Rinse the leaves and pat dry thoroughly. Remove the tough fibrous stem up to about the top quarter of the leaves. I ‘skin’ the leaves off the stem. Lay them on top of one another and cut into ribbons. Place in a big bowl. Put about 2 teaspoons of olive oil on your palms and rub them together. Sprinkle a small amount, maybe an eighth of a teaspoon, of coarse-grained salt on your palms. The salt will stick. Proceed to massage the kale for a few minutes as if you were giving someone a shoulder rub. If you need a visual of this, check it out here, but ignore what she says about the teaspoon of salt and don’t forego cutting the stems out of the kale. After a short time, the kale will start to break down and release its bitter juices. I don’t think it’s necessary to change bowls, but if you see a bunch of bitter liquid in the bottom, by all means, get rid of it!

THTK Caesar Salad Dressing
2 T almond meal + 1 tsp, divided
2 tsp nori, toasted over a flame and ground in a spice grinder (don’t need this step if you’ve got a VitaMix!)
OR 1 T capers, crushed in garlic press (do the capers before the garlic. Trust me.)
3 cloves garlic, crushed in a garlic press
1 1/2 T Dijon mustard
3 T nutritional yeast flakes
2 T lemon juice
1 1/2 T soysauce
4 T plain soy yogurt
2 T water

Put all the ingredients in a smallish jam jar. But you will need enough room to shake it up! Shake like you’re Carmen Miranda. If you need a visual, click here and picture Carmen with jars of salad dressing in her hand. The point is you want to emulsify it. If you have an immersion blender, use that.

The Garlic Breadcrumbs
Put two slices of–hopefully a bit stale–whole grain bread into your toaster and toast lightly. Toss into a food processor and grind it up. Now, to be honest, you can just toss the breadcrumbs in like this. Yes, the dressing is so magical, you don’t have to fry them in oil. That’s what I do. But I’m guessing TH does, soooo in a shallow pan, heat 1 T olive oil over medium heat. Drop in another couple of cloves of garlic, crushed in a press and saute until fragrant. Please don’t let the garlic burn. Yuk! Toss the crumbs in the garlic oil.

To Prepare the Salad
If you shook up your dressing, you do not need to add the 1 tsp. almond meal. But if you used a VitaMix or an immersion blender, stir in the last teaspoon now (this will mimic the parmesan…I’m so clever). Pour a glop of dressing in the middle of the bowl and toss it around until the leaves are uniformly coated. Be conservative at first and taste a leaf. Enough dresssing? This is a very assertive dressing; you don’t want to overdress the salad. You might end up on a list in People Magazine.

When the dressing is fully incorporated, toss in the breadcrumbs until they are nicely distributed as well. Save a spoonfull for the top of each salad.

Okay, let’s examine this under a microscope… Dr. we have deliciousness!

kale up close

*Okay, so when I am trying to make a recipe plant-based and healthy, I examine all facets of it to try to mimic the texture, taste and aroma of the original dish (I only eat fish rarely, so please don’t ask me to do a steak.) Caesar salad is tough because traditionally it uses egg yolk, parmesan, olive oil and anchovy. So here goes: The almond meal adds the healthy fat component, releasing the need for olive oil and egg yolk. The nori or capers add the briny, ‘fishy’ component. The added teaspoon of almond meal mimics the dry graininess of parmesan while the nutritional yeast provides the cheesy taste.

You can make your own almond meal by grinding it in the spice blender. Just don’t go until you have almond butter. It is best to keep almond meal in the freezer anyway and this helps to prevent that from happening.

I prefer the toasted nori version slightly, but I also want to live in the realm of real people! and not make this recipe too complicated. If you do choose the nori option, do not grind your nori in the coffee grinder. Your roommates will be very angry. You could also try powdered kelp or dulse for the fishy quality. Nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast that is full of B vitamins. It’s used a lot in vegan cooking to bring a certain cheesiness to the dish. It’s nickname is ‘nooch.’ I don’t want to know why.

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