Kale Caesar Salad Recipe

Marinating tough kale leaves in oil transforms them into tender salad greens.

Kale caesar salad in a speckled ceramic bowl. On the right periphery are a pair of wooden serving spoons, and on the left periphery is a small bowl holding croutons.

Serious Eats / Qi Ai

Why It Works

  • Marinating the kale leaves in olive oil while the rest of the salad is prepared transforms them into crisp, tender greens.
  • Pulsing torn bread in a food processor creates smaller croutons, which turn ultra-crunchy when baked and coat each bite of salad.

I'm not sure exactly where or when kale Caesar salads became a thing, but if forced to guess, I'd put my wager on 2009, and in Brooklyn. That's certainly where I first started seeing it on menus. These days, it's common enough that even friends who a) don't cook and b) don't believe in Brooklyn have heard about it and probably tried it.

The idea is a natural extension of the marinated kale salad, in which kale leaves are roughly chopped, massaged with dressing and salt, then allowed to sit. The beautiful thing about these salads is that kale is robust enough that it stays crisp and crunchy even after sitting dressed in the fridge for days. You can make it once and eat it over the course of a few days with no loss in quality.

Caesar dressing, which naturally pairs with slightly bitter, very crunchy lettuces, seems like a perfect partner in crime. And it is.

Try a Little Tenderness

To make the salad, I start by removing the major stems from a bunch of kale, then shredding the leaves into bite-sized strips.

Author slicing kale leaves on a cutting board with a chef's knife.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

Like this.

Author clutching a handful of kale cut into bite-sized pieces over a cutting board.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

Some folks make the false assumption that it's the acid in a dressing or marinade that causes tough kale leaves to tenderize when making marinated kale salads. Actually, it's the oil that does the job. This makes sense. Plant leaves naturally have a waxy cuticle on them in order to protect them from rain. Haven't you seen rainwater falling on a leaf? It rolls straight off like water off a duck's back.

This cuticle is oil soluble, so when you massage oil into a pile of kale leaves, it removes this coating, allowing the cells underneath to acquire some controlled damage, thereby softening them.

The question is this: Is it necessary to pre-tenderize the greens with plain oil before dressing them or can dressing alone do the job?

A side-by-side comparison shot of a marinated kale leaf and a fresh one.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

I tried it both ways, making a couple big batches at the office for folks to try (any day where there's extra green in the office is a happy one). The first I tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper, massaging the oil into the leaves with my hands and letting it rest for half an hour before tossing it with the dressing. The second batch I tossed with the dressing alone (adding extra olive oil, salt, and pepper to compensate), and served up immediately.

The results were pretty conclusive: pre-softened greens have a superior texture, coming out tender and crisp as opposed to fibrous and chewy. The difference was not so great that anyone rejected the un-softened batch, but I figured, I'm going to be making some croutons anyway, why not just let my greens pre-soften while I work on the rest of the salad?

A Simple Caesar Dressing

The dressing is a pretty standard modern Caesar dressing. It lacks the coddled eggs and dramatic presentation of the original Caesar salad from Tijuana, but what it lacks in drama, it makes up for in convenience and plain old good flavor.

The food processor is the easiest tool for this job, though a hand blender or regular blender will work just as well. It's as simple as starting with a mayonnaise base (store-bought or homemade), and adding a few key flavorings. Lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, Parmesan cheese, and garlic.

Caesar dressing in a food processor, smooth and creamy.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

Boom, we're done. (P.S.: This makes a great dip too).

Smaller Croutons With Extra Crunch

A typical Caesar salad comes with large, crunchy croutons. In this version, I go with something a little different: rather than large chunks, I break up the bread into very small pieces using the food processor. Once tossed with a bit of olive oil and baked until crisp, the croutons become ultra crunchy because of their increased surface area. When you toss them with the salad, they adhere to the greens. Every bite you take gets coated in these little bits of sweet, toasty, olive-oil-coated crunch. It's at least five to six thousand hot dogs' worth of awesome.

A close-up of kale caesar in a small white bowl, set atop a beige place setting.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

And the greatest part of the recipe? Store the dressed kale in the fridge and the croutons in a sealed container on the countertop. The dressed kale will stay crisp for at least three days, meaning whenever you want a perfectly dressed, crisp and crunchy salad, it's as easy as opening the container, sprinkling on the croutons (they get soggy if you store them with the salad), and serving.

It's dangerously easy, but over-indulging in kale has never been a great fear of mine.

January 2013

This recipe originally appeared as part of the column "The Food Lab Lite."

Recipe Facts

4.9

(7)

Active: 15 mins
Total: 30 mins
Serves: 6 to 8 servings

Rate & Comment

Ingredients

  • 1 pound (about 2 bunches) Tuscan or curly kale, tough stems removed, leaves roughly chopped (about 4 quarts loosely packed leaves)

  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 5 ounces hearty bread, roughly torn into 1-inch pieces

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise

  • 6 anchovy filets

  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)

  • 1 1/2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated (about 3/4 cup)

  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

  • 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon

  • 1 small white onion or 2 shallots, finely sliced

Directions

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). In a large bowl, massage kale with 3 tablespoons olive oil, making sure to coat all surfaces, kneading with your hands to help break down the tougher pieces, about 2 minutes. Set aside while you prepare the croutons and the dressing.

    A two-image collage. The top image shows a bowl of torn kale coated with 3 tablespoons of olive oil on all surfaces of the vegetables. The bottom image shows a hand holding the kale after it’s been massaged, showing that the texture has changed and that kale is now softer and glossy looking, and that larger pieces have been broken down.

    Serious Eats / Qi Ai

  2. Combine bread pieces with remaining olive oil in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until broken down into pea-sized pieces. Season to taste with salt and pepper and pulse once or twice to combine. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Place in oven and bake until croutons are pale golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes.

    A two-image collage. The top image shows seasoned small pieces of bread inside of a food processor. The bottom image shows that bread, now crispy and browned on a baking sheet which has just been removed from the oven.

    Serious Eats / Qi Ai

  3. Wipe out food processor bowl. Combine mayonnaise, anchovies, garlic, cheese, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice in the food processor bowl and process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper if necessary.

    A two-image collage. The top image shows mayonnaise, anchovies, garlic, cheese, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice combined inside wiped out food processor bowl, before processing together. The bottom image shows the food processor now holding the smooth emulsified caesar dressing

    Serious Eats / Qi Ai

  4. When croutons are cooked, add onions, dressing, and half of croutons to large bowl with wilted kale. Toss with hands until thoroughly coated. Serve sprinkled with remaining croutons.

     Onions, dressing, half of croutons, and wilted kale tossed until thoroughly coated inside a large bowl.

    Serious Eats / Qi Ai

Read More

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
392 Calories
28g Fat
28g Carbs
12g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
×
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6 to 8
Amount per serving
Calories 392
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 28g 35%
Saturated Fat 5g 26%
Cholesterol 26mg 9%
Sodium 615mg 27%
Total Carbohydrate 28g 10%
Dietary Fiber 6g 22%
Total Sugars 6g
Protein 12g
Vitamin C 110mg 548%
Calcium 278mg 21%
Iron 4mg 21%
Potassium 753mg 16%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)