Crowd-Pleasing Vegan Caesar

Friends, it’s recipe time! At a barbecue last weekend—to which I had brought one amazing, reliable salad—I was reminded how much I love cooking and sharing recipes. Several non-vegan people have asked me for this one, so I’m taking the opportunity to create a post!

I adapted this salad from the original recipe, which I found in America’s Test Kitchen’s Vegan for Everybody cookbook. If you have not gotten your hands on this book yet, I highly recommend it—absolutely everything is spot-on and delicious! That said, I’m not much of a recipe follower, so once I had the gist of the ingredients for the dressing, I made this sucker my own. You should feel free to experiment with ratios until you find your favorite version.

There are a couple of ingredients you might not yet have in your fridge, but once you make this recipe, you’ll have them handy for next time. What follows is one of our family’s go-to weeknight dinners. It’s not low-fat, but it’s full of veggies!

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Crowd-Pleasing Caesar Salad

Serves 4 as an entree.

1 14-oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1/3 cup (or so) olive oil

1 lb. kale, shredded (do this yourself with a knife or food processor, or buy it already shredded)

1/3 cup vegan mayo (the best kind is Just Mayo, but Trader Joe’s vegan mayo works too)

1 Tbsp capers, drained

Juice of 1 lemon

2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (or more if you like it really tangy)

1 Tbsp minced garlic

1 Tbsp vegan worcestershire

2-3 Tbsp nutritional yeast (depending on how much you like the nootch)

1 tsp black pepper

salt, garlic powder

1 8-oz package tempeh, cut into strips or chunks

2-3 Tbsp of your favorite BBQ sauce

  1. Start your garbanzo bean croutons. Heat 2-3 T of olive oil in a cast-iron pan and add the drained beans. Make sure they’re all touching the surface of the pan (a 10” pan should be plenty). Turn heat down to medium and gently balance a lid over 2/3 of the pan—that’s enough coverage to keep popping beans from flying at your face, while not accidentally steaming the beans (which would turn them to mush). If you have one of those neat mesh pan covers, that would be ideal. Throughout the rest of the prep, occasionally toss the beans around with a spatula, and add a drizzle of oil here and there.

  2. Soak your kale in a bowl of hot tap water. This will take the raw bite out of it without cooking it. I do my soaking in a salad spinner so I can go right to drying it off when the soaking is done. Leave the kale in the water while you make your dressing.

  3. In a blender, add all of the rest of the ingredients, mayo through pepper. Blend until just smooth, then drizzle 1/4 cup olive oil into the blender while it is running, blending for just another 30 seconds or so. Blend in a few tablespoons of water if your dressing seems too thick.

  4. Rinse your kale under cold water to stop the wilting, then dry your kale in your salad spinner or by laying it between layers of clean towels. Once it’s mostly dry, combine with your dressing in a very large bowl. Put this large bowl in the fridge and let it sit while you finish off your beans.

  5. Add a generous amount of salt and garlic powder to your beans and continue cooking and tossing until they start to get golden brown and crispy. Taste a couple of times and add more salt if needed. Do not cover the beans or attempt to store them until they are completely cool or they’ll lose their crunch.

  6. While the beans finish cooking, start your tempeh. Brown both sides of the tempeh pieces in a dry or lightly oiled pan—this should only take about one minute per side. Toss with BBQ sauce and set aside.

  7. Time to put it all together! Grab your giant bowl of salad from the fridge, serve in large individual salad bowls, then have each person add the crispy garbanzos and BBQ tempeh.


Options:

  • If you prefer romaine lettuce over kale, you can sub chopped romaine and skip the soaking bit—you want your romaine crispy! A combo of the two greens works well, too.

  • A soy-free option: Skip the tempeh and toss some quinoa on top instead during Step 7—super delicious with a lighter feel.

  • A lower-fat version: Skip the olive oil in the dressing and replace it with water. The dressing will be a bit lighter and less viscous, but still very tasty!

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Easy & Green: Arugula Pita Pizzas

I used to resist making mini-pizzas on pita because the healthful aspects seem to sort of defeat the purpose of pizza.  I had to give in, finally, when I tried an amazing arugula pizza at Portland institution Ken's Artisan Pizza. Something about peppery, strong arugula with bread and tomato is ridiculously delicious. I wanted to experience that taste basically every day, and I can't afford--financially or physically--to eat "real" pizza every night, so I set about finding a substitute.  Enter the pita pizza.  This won't give you the gooey satisfaction of biting into heavy, cheesy pizza, but it will satisfy a craving for a simple, light, easy Italian meal.

This easy dinner comes together in less than 10 minutes, and is a great way to get your greens in at the end of the day.

 

Arugula Pita Pizza

Serves: 2 with a side veggie, or 1 hungry woman

Calories: about 100 per pizza (half a pita each)

Pizzas

Ingredients

2 whole wheat pita rounds

1 cup homemade or store-bought tomato sauce (pasta sauce works fine--no need to get pizza sauce specifically), punched up with red pepper flakes

1-2 cups arugula (baby or not)

salt, shaved or shredded parmesan, chopped olives, onion as desired

1. Preheat oven to 400 with the rack in the middle position.

2. Split the pita rounds into two halves by opening the pocket.  Do this carefully so you end up with two thin rounds.

3. Spread each half with sauce.  Make sure you spread the side that used to be on the inside of the pita, as the outside smoother part will sit directly on the oven rack.  Spread a bit more sauce than you think you'll need, as some will get absorbed during cooking.

4. Place the pitas with sauce in the oven, directly on the rack.  You can easily fit all 4 halves at once, and I think I've squeezed at least 6 at one time.  Let them bake until beginning to crisp, or until they get as crisp as you like--5 minutes or more.

5. Top with arugula, and sprinkle with extras as desired.  I just add a touch of salt, and that's really all you need, but you can add parmesan, olives, thinly sliced red onion.  If you really want to get fancy, you can toss the arugula in just a little lemon juice, olive oil, and salt before you top the pizzas, but it's really almost as good without this step.

Nanny's Penne

I hit the mother-in-law jackpot.  A week before my wife’s due date with Baby, my MIL--whom my son will call “Nanny” when he starts talking--flew out from New Jersey to feed us, clean our house, and generally take care of business.

Nanny grew up in traditional small-town South Jersey, which means she was raised on meat, potatoes, and plenty of dairy.  Fortunately for me, Nanny rules, so she showed up in Portland with clipped-out and handwritten recipes for plant-centric dishes for me.  One of those was a particularly big hit.  We’ve made it a few times since Nanny left us, and we’ve dubbed it Nanny’s Penne.

Here it is, from Pitman, New Jersey to you, with Nanny’s love:

Nanny’s Penne

Serves: 4-6 hungry people, or 2 parents + 2 kids + lunches the next day

Calories: 400-600 per serving

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Ingredients

1lb. penne (I use Trader Joe’s brown rice penne)

2-3 T olive oil

6-8 cloves garlic, minced

pinch+ of red pepper flakes

10-16 oz. spinach, roughly chopped (I use more, but I love packing spinach into everything)

4-6 fresh chopped tomatoes, depending on size and your love for tomatoes

1 (14 oz.) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1. Cook your penne--don’t overcook, because it will stew just a bit after you’ve drained it.

2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic and red pepper, and cook until garlic starts to soften.  Don’t burn the garlic!  Keep the heat at a true medium (not medium-high) and you should be fine.

3. Add the tomatoes and garbanzos to the pan and cook another minute or two.

4. Add the spinach a couple of handfuls at a time, along with a ladle-full of boiling pasta water, and keep mixing it in until the spinach is softened and wilted. Instead of chopping, I often just tear the leaves a bit while tossing them in--it’ll cook a little faster and be distributed better throughout the dish.

5. Depending on the size of your skillet, add the cooked and drained pasta to the skillet of goodness, or add the goodness to the pot of drained pasta.  Allow the mixture to stew a bit over low heat while you taste and season with salt and black pepper, if desired.

6. Serve with crusty bread and a salad on the side. Your cheese-loving brood can sprinkle with parmesan, which the wife tells me is delicious.

Kid-style it!  Use a smaller pasta like macaroni and cut out the red pepper flakes.  Depending on how old your child is, you might want smaller pieces of tomato and spinach, too.

Even easier: When pressed for time, you can make this with a can or two of diced tomatoes and a package of frozen spinach (microwave it first and press out most of the liquid).  Don’t skip the olive oil and garlic step, though--that really makes this dish.