Everyone and I do mean everyone in the food world these days is talking about kale. Chefs and bloggers feature it because it’s one of one of the healthiest foods around and it is considered a super food. For example, my friend Kate at A Spoonful of Thyme recently featured a couple of delicious recipes using fresh kale including baked kale chips and a rustic cannellini kale and sausage soup. All of a sudden I began to feel like the last person on earth to jump on the kale bandwagon and frankly, I felt a little left out.
When I spotted a Kale Caesar salad on the menu at Cru, one of our favorite new restaurants in Fort Myers, Florida, I plunged in and ordered it as a first course with my steak. It was served on ice cold plates and was out-of-this-world amazing - I ended up eating every bite. I was so pleased with myself that I had finally taken the plunge and tried kale. Now I’m a fan along with the rest of the world.
Caesar salads are one of my favorite salads and I’ve been making my own Caesar vinaigrette for years. I found that you don’t need to use a raw egg to achieve the creaminess in the dressing if you add a little good mayonnaise to the vinaigrette. One of the tips to a great Caesar salad is not using just any old Parmesan cheese but buying real Parmigiano-Reggiano from Italy, freshly grated at the last moment of course. Anchovies are a must in Caesars and instead of using the paste, I use those packed in oil and mash them into a paste myself with a fork. In my opinion they are far superior to the paste in a tube and it only takes a few minutes to mash them yourself. Again, buy the best anchovies you can find.
You’ll see in the recipe below I say add "to taste” and encourage you to taste as you go. This is so important when making anything, especially a salad. Taste, taste, and taste again & add what’s needed. Tasting is the single most important thing you can do and it separates a good dish from a mediocre one. This is so, so important. If you get nothing else out of what I’ve written, please remember to taste as you go and adjust when necessary.
We thought serving the Caesar on ice cold plates as Cru did made a big difference in the entire experience, but it’s up to you. I believe you’ll really enjoy Cru’s take on a Caesar salad with kale, smoky bacon and crunchy cashews. If you don’t think it’s a Caesar without the croutons, by all means make some homemade ones. It’s super easy and takes only a few minutes, link to my favorite homemade crouton recipe here.
Kale Caesar Salad with Smoky Bacon and Cashews
Inspired by Cru Restaurant, Fort Myers, Florida – serves 2
4 handfuls of organic curly kale, stems removed and torn into small bite size pieces (or chopped)
¼ cup chopped roasted cashew nuts (I used a combination of salted and unsalted), more if desired
2 slices thick smoked bacon (I used applewood), cut into lardons and cooked until crispy
My Carolina Kitchen’s Caesar Vinaigrette, recipe follows
½ cup freshly grated Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Maldon sea salt, or any good coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 salad plates, chilled in the freezer
In a large salad bowl, toss together the kale, cashews and bacon lardons. Add about half of My Carolina Kitchen’s Caesar Vinaigrette and toss to combine with the salad ingredients. Taste and add more vinaigrette as needed. Add the grated cheese and toss again. Season with a little coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and taste once again for seasonings, adjusting as necessary. Serve immediately on ice cold plates. You may have a little left-over vinaigrette and if so, refrigerate for later use.
My Carolina Kitchen’s Caesar Vinaigrette (made without raw eggs)
Sam Hoffer, My Carolina Kitchen - serves 2 – 3, easily doubled or tripled
1 tablespoon good red wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons best quality extra virgin olive oil
3 to 4 drops of Worcestershire sauce, or more to taste
1 tablespoon good mayonnaise, preferably homemade or Hellman’s (please don’t use Miracle Whip, it’s too sweet)
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard, or to taste
3 oil packed anchovy fillets, drained well & brought to room temperature if refrigerated (or more if you really like anchovies)
½ teaspoon pressed garlic, or more to taste
In a jar with a tight fitting lid, add vinegar and olive oil and shake well to combine. Add the Worcestershire sauce, mayonnaise and Dijon mustard and shake again to incorporate.
In a large salad bowl mash the anchovies with a fork until they form a paste, then add pressed garlic and mash once more with the fork to incorporate the garlic into the anchovies. Add the oil and vinegar mixture from the jar and, with a whisk, incorporate the olive oil mixture with the anchovies and garlic until you have a nice creamy vinaigrette. If you are not using right away, store the vinaigrette in the refrigerator in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Bring to room temperature when ready to use.