I’m going to tell you a secret that isn’t a secret: I’m not vegan. But here’s another secret: I think we should all eat less meat. The pandemic has made me take a critical look at my relationship with meat. How often do I eat meat and animal products and how often do I realistically need to eat meat and animal products? As someone who eats even less meat than most, I wonder why it has such a stronghold on American diets specifically. Factory farming takes insane tolls on society; it’s detrimental to our climate and the safety of meat processing laborers. However, locally sourced meat at the same consumption level isn’t the answer either. Neither is lab grown meat (in my opinion).
But a strict vegan diet can also be out of reach for many, especially due to the cost of some vegan products and the barriers to the “health and wellness” industry (who is represented and to whom is it marketed). So the best I can do and ask of others is to eat less meat and more plant-based meals. Starting with the obvious salad.
I really believe that there are two types of food that are just lesser homemade: salads and sandwiches. Sure, either can be good from your own kitchen, but infinitely better elsewhere. Inexplicable phenomena, I tell you. I attribute this salad success to the dressing and textures. This dressing gets its creaminess from aquafaba, the viscous liquid in your can of chickpeas used most often as an egg-white substitute. I know some plant-based creams use a nut base but I find not everyone has the equipment make a cashew cream or the like. I certainly don’t have a fancy blender, and why would I ask you to dull your blender blades when there’s an alternative?
Lemon juice, olive oil, egg, Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, garlic, Dijon mustard, Parmesan cheese, and black pepper create a traditional Caesar dressing, a savory, tangy, and rich emulsion perfect for coating lettuce and croutons. This is also typically whisked by hand like a mayonnaise (or aioli if you want to be fancy). While these are all pretty common ingredients, sometimes a salad dressing just needs to be simple. The tangy, savory components in my dressing come from lemon juice and grainy mustard. While I love a fancy vinegar, I believe lemon juice makes the superior salad dressing. Plus, I find that the juice from half a lemon is the perfect amount for most batches of dressing, which is easy to figure out. A whole grain mustard brings the umami flavor lacking from this dressing without anchovies and cheese – it’s more pungent than Dijon mustard and compensates for the other missing ingredients. It’s a Caesar-ish dressing for a reason: it satisfies a craving but probably is not an exact dupe.
For the salad: I could wax poetic my love for crispy vegetables covered in a flavorful dressing. Especially when you get some thin and crispy wisps of craggy green edges doused in tangy sauce. That’s salad heaven if such a thing even exists. And this salad showcases the oft unsung hero of affordable, long-lasting produce: cabbage. My mom first turned me onto this and I haven’t been the same since. Plus, when you use the aquafaba to make your dressing you already have another ingredient prepped – a can of chickpeas. Chickpeas get coated in the creamy dressing and give you enough protein to keep you satisfied all afternoon. Totally optional!
While this recipe is for crispy cabbage, you can certainly give this treatment to a number of delicious roasted vegetables like kale or broccoli. Imagine basically eating a bowl of kale chips with Caesar dressing? Amazing! You can also put the dressing on romaine lettuce or massage it into uncooked kale and add croutons for a more traditional Caesar salad experience. Whatever gets you eating more veggies!
I’m not joking, this salad was so good I had to resist chopping and dressing more cabbage and licking the bowl clean. I mean have you ever heard someone rave about a salad? A homemade salad? No, never.
Vegan Caesar-ish Dressing
Juice from half a lemon
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp grainy mustard
2 tbsp aquafaba
1/4 cup olive oil
- In a blender, combine lemon, garlic, mustard, and aquafaba.
- While the blender is running, drizzle in 1/4 cup of olive oil. Alternatively, add the olive oil 1 tablespoon at a time, blending to combine between each addition until the full 1/4 cup is incorporated.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
These quantities are ultimately suggestions. The aquafaba and olive oil quantities seem to emulsify best at this ratio, but add more or less garlic, lemon juice, and mustard to meet your taste preferences.
1 head of savoy cabbage
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp celery salt
- Preheat your oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with foil.
- Chop cabbage into “steaks,” removing the core.
- Place cabbage slices in a bowl and coat with olive oil.
- Add paprika and celery salt and toss to combine. Taste and assess for saltiness – season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Place cabbage in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until desired crispiness, tossing occasionally.
- Let cool before tossing with dressing and chickpeas.
You can use this cooking method and seasoning for a variety of vegetables: cauliflower, kale, broccoli, chickpeas. Salad aside, this is a pretty delicious and easy way to roast vegetables.