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Kale Caesar Salad

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If you haven't yet had the pleasure of visiting sweetgreen, which just touched down in the NoMad neighborhood of NYC, I highly recommend you add it to your list... or at least store the name in the back of your mind for the next time you need a veggie fix after an indulgent weekend of eating and drinking. The salad joint has a noble mission and philosophy - organic, local, healthy - but it also churns out some notably tasty meals.

Usually anything that could be described as a "salad bar" sends me strutting in the opposite direction, so-long-suckers style. For starters, they're usually tucked away in a dirty deli or grocery (or, even worse, an Applebee's). Then, you have to choose from a bunch of limp, crappy lettuces that are pre-packaged in plastic bowls. Next, no matter how hungry and indecisive you are, you have to put together your own concoction from the tepid, poorly refrigerated choices in front of you. Salad bars act like their all-inclusive style is supposed to be exciting, but I'd say just the opposite when your mix-ins range from canned chick peas, hard boiled eggs with grey yolks, "grilled" chicken that definitely was never grilled but somehow still has grill marks on it (?), and - maybe the worst of all - floppy baby shrimp that tastes like chlorine. It's enough to turn any person off of "salads" forever.

The point I'm trying to make is that sweetgreen is the polar opposite. Fresh, vibrant veggies are the name of the game and the hefty portions leave you feeling light, but satisfied. Plus, they have some pre-designed seasonal salad creations to choose from which makes life so much easier, if you ask me. I like to be told what's good here; I don't want to invent my own salad.

One of the options that Dan became obsessed with is the kale Caesar salad. I know - kale salads are totally overplayed and on their way out with cool chefs, but this was a fate also once prescribed to  my most favorite of dishes, from shrimp cocktail, to prosciutto-wrapped figs, to Gushers. Kale salad is delicious, healthy and so, so filling. Plus, the one at sweetgreen comes with a Parmesan crisp!

I know I talk a lot about foods that are so easy that it shocks me, but please allow me to add Parmesan crisps to the list. Also trendy, so who  knows how long these will appear impressive to guests, but to make these you literally just grate some Parmesan and place a small mound on a non-stick cookie sheet (or parchment-lined cookie sheet). Bake at 400 degrees for 5-10 minutes and voila! You have a lacey-looking, umami-packed topper for salads, steak, pasta, etc! Even eat them alone as a little appetizer cracker!

I'm not sure how close the rest of my recreation was to the sweetgreen version (I vaguely remember some lime action?), but Caesars are pretty straightforward so I improvised with what I knew, starting with a combination of organic kale and romaine lettuce. I've found that non-organic kale is a lot tougher than organic, so if you end up with that, I'd probably recommend letting the greens sit in the dressing for a bit to break them down. Anyway, wash and chop your lettuce into bite-sized pieces (with traditional Caesars, I like to leave romaine leaves whole, but with kale, I say break it down!).

Then, toss some stale bread pieces with olive oil and salt, and toast in a skillet until lightly browned - don't skimp on the oil here! Combine croutons with lettuce, dress, and top with your Parmesan crisp! The salad is extremely tasty and is great on its own, or you can pair it with a steak or piece of fish!

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As for whipping up your own Caesar salad dressing, do not skip the anchovies! Buy a nice jar of anchovy filets to have on-hand for Caesar salads of the future, nice pasta dishes and more. Once you start using these briny, delicious bad boys, you won't look back. You can make this dressing a day or two ahead of time and store in an old jam jar for a quick dinner solution. Here's the recipe... it's simple, but get ready to whisk!

Caesar Salad Dressing

8 anchovy fillets

1 clove garlic

2 egg yolks

Squeeze of fresh lemon juice (1-2 Tbsp.)

1 tsp Dijon mustard

3/4 cup olive oil (or vegetable oil)*

Salt, pepper

1. Chop together anchovies and garlic. Continue to mince and, as the mixture gets fine enough, mash into a paste with the side of your knife. Scrape off of your cutting board and add to a bowl with two raw egg yolks.

2. Whisk together eggs and paste briskly until a creamy sauce begins  to build. Add lemon juice and mustard. Continue to whisk vigorously.

3. Once well-combined, gradually add in olive oil while whisking constantly. Eventually, you should have a think and creamy dressing. Taste and season with a pinch of salt and/or freshly ground pepper. You may also wish to add a bit more lemon juice at this point - sometimes a bit more acid balances out the briny anchovy and fatty oil.

4. Pour into a clean glass jar and store for up to one week, or use immediately.

*Note: I enjoy the flavor of olive oil in this recipe, however, the peppery, woody and sometimes spicy flavor of a good olive oil can overpower the dressing. If you are making this for the first time, try using mostly vegetable oil (1/2 cup) and maybe a tablespoon or two of olive oil for a more neutral-flavored dressing. Taste and adjust as you see fit!

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