My interpretation of Caesar salad has no secret elements. The key is putting a crunch into every bite. I think people invite me to dinner just for my salad.
Caesar salad in good restaurants used to be a special treat. Now, it’s a throw-away item. I started making my own Caesar when the real thing became expensive and hard to find. Over time, I re-invented it. There is never more than a serving or two left in the bowl.
I started discovering my version by adding by subtracting. The key is to put a crunch in every bite.
Here are the ingredients for my much-requested version of Caesar salad:
Red, orange, and yellow bell peppers
Fresh baby spinach
Light olive oil
Fresh lemons and limes
A wooden salad bowl
Caesar Salad Long Ago
I’m old enough to remember when good restaurants pushed a cart to your table and made your Caesar salad right in front of you from scratch. The diners’ mouths watered as their salad took shape in a silent ritual ballet of hands, pre-measured ingredients, and salad tools..
Bottled Caesar dressing, and a menu choice between garden salad and Caesar, have almost wiped out the memory of Caesar as a special treat. Restaurant Caesar today is usually dish of limp Romaine lettuce leaves drowned in near-tasteless creamy junk,
Eliminating Raw Eggs and Worcestershire Sauce
The first traditional step was coating the lettuce with a raw beaten egg. People stopped doing that when they learned how dangerous eating raw eggs can be. The Joy of Cooking offered an egg alternative made with chicken broth or bouillon. I dropped the raw egg, and found the substitute coating was an unnecessary extra step.
Another traditional ingredient I dropped was a trace of Worcestershire sauce. My traces were always too big or too small. If it was too big, it tasted bad, too small and it had no taste. My palate was never sensitive enough to taste a perfect trace.
Anchovies were another traditional ingredient. I like them, but a lot of people don’t, so I serve them on the side.
A Substitute for Croutons
Croutons are still considered as important to Caesar salad as olives are to Greek salads. Making croutons took longer than making the salad, and store-bought croutons are a dry, tasteless abomination, even if they are seasoned.
As a substitute for croutons, I use bite-sized chunks of red, yellow, and orange bell peppers. They provide crunch, color for eye appeal,, and additional, recognizable flavor. When you cut the peppers always remove all the seeds and the white, fleshy parts of the insides. Those can be hard for many people to digest, and they taste bad.
The next step in preparation is to throw away all the soft, mushy, dark green, chewy parts of the Romaine lettuce leaves. I use only the crunchy hearts. I even tear off the mushy tops of the good leaves. It looks like throwing away more lettuce than you keep, and sometimes it is.
Frugal gourmets simply have to get over their horror at throwing away good food. This is not good food. It creates leftover salad, and you have to throw away the good and bad food together.
You can include fresh baby spinach if you like. It’s not crunchy, but it adds nutrtients, and an extra taste, color, and texture.
Garlic, Lemon, Lime, and Wood
After you wash and dry the good leaves, squeeze fresh lemon and lime juice into the bottom of your wooden salad bowl. Add about a teaspoon of finely minced garlic, and swirl the two around the sides and bottom of the bowl.
Break the dried leaves into bite-size pieces and put them in the bowl. Dry leaves are important. Wet leaves give you a wet salad, and water down the dressing.
Bell Peppers and Arugula
Add your bite-size chunks of colored bell peppers. Reach in and mix them with your hands. Your hands mix more thoroughly than salad tools, and I suspect the hands add flavor. You want to bring the juice and garlic up from the bottom of the bowl to the rest of the salad. Hands do that better than salad tools. Don;t let anyone see you do this.
Lately, I’ve started adding fresh arugula leaves, not the stems. It seems to add a fresh herby taste.
Dressing the Salad
Add the oil and citrus right before you serve. Use enough light olive oil to coat the leaves. Toss the salad around to spread the oil evenly. Then, squeeze fresh lemon and lime over it until the salad stops tasting oily, and you can taste a hint of acid. Olive oil is good for the heart.
Leftover salad will keep in the refrigerator for about three days in an airtight container.
Optional: Add shaved or grated parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper. People concerned about fat or lactose can skip the cheese.
You can add shrimp, salmon, steak tips, or chicken chunks for protein to make it a meal.
This salad has a trace of good carbohydrates, heart-healthy olive oil, and optional cheese, Enjoy as much as you want without guilt.