Kale Caesar Salad with Avocado & Homemade Croutons
Based on the popular classic we made some simple adjustments by using kale and adding avocado for a salad full of flavor and superfood nutrition.
WHAT IS KALE?
Kale is a mustard plant that comes from the cabbage family. It has gained popularity in the mainstream primarily due to its’ nutritional value. Native to parts of Asia and the Mediterranean, kale has been cultivated for over 2000 years. What we see in the supermarkets is the most common green Kale. There are other notable types such as black kale which is more of deep forest green color, white kale, purple, Queen kale, Scottish kale, Siberian kale and Brazilian Kale. They range in color from an attractive purple to deep red, pearly white and various shades of green. The leaves themselves can range from flat to curly to ruffled.
Kale has come a long way in its evolution as a food source. Thirty to forty years ago restaurants used kale to garnish plates, salad bars and raw bars as a decoration. After a one time use, it was discarded. Twenty five years ago, it started to appear in salads, dishes and cookbooks. It terms of application, kale can eaten raw or cooked. Less than ten years ago it gained significant recognition as a superfood. Superfoods carry high nutritional value and health benefits with low calories, which are easy additions to maintain a balanced diet. See more on nutritional value at the end of this post.
REINVENTING A CLASSIC CAESAR SALAD
Traditionally, a classic Caesar salad was made with romaine lettuce hearts. In this our Kale Caesar Salad, which has been trending upward, we are replacing the romaine with green kale. It is a great alternative especially with the E. coli problems with romaine lettuce in recent years. When I ran restaurants and we couldn’t use romaine, customers still wanted their Caesar salad any way we could make it. Green leaf lettuce, kale and even iceberg lettuce filled in during those times.
PREPPING THE KALE
Always wash your greens well before using. I submerge the leaves in running water then drain. Wrap in a towel and refrigerate until ready to use. It is important that the greens are dried before mixing with any type of dressing. You could use a salad spinner to get rid of the excess water. I generally wash my fresh greens as soon as I get home then lay them on the counter over a towel for 20 minutes. Then I wrap them in a dry towel and refrigerate. The residual moisture keeps the green fresh. Once the water completely evaporates, the greens will be a lot crisper and ready to use for your salads.
The center stem of kale is tough and fibrous. You can use a knife to remove the leaves or pick the leaves by hand and tear into bite sized pieces.
*CrossEat Tip: Instead of discarding Kale stems, save them for compost.
Place the leaves in a medium sized mixing bowl. Add 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil.
Using your hands or large spoons, mix well massaging the olive oil, salt and lemon juice into the leaves. It is okay to be a little rough with it because we are tenderizing the leaves. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. At this point the leaves will be a darker shade of green and will have softened leaving a nice palatable crunch.
I’ve used garlic, butter and herbs many times for croutons. But, for this recipe I opted for something healthier. I really liked the taste of our bruschetta recipe which had a simple base of crusty bread brushed with garlic infused oil. I recommend using a crusty loaf of bread. Ciabatta, focaccia and sourdough work really well. You can cut into cubes 1 inch square by 1/2 inch thick or tear pieces by hand. I like the random shapes of tearing the bread which has a more rustic look.
Preheat oven toaster oven to 350F. Blend the extra virgin olive oil, garlic cloves, garlic powder and salt. Toss the bread in the mixture making sure that the pieces are evenly coated. Place on baking tray lined with foil and cook for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and set aside to cool.
*CrossEat Tip: Use leftover bread for croutons. Baguettes especially get hard if not eaten within 2 days. If there are extra croutons, you can freeze them in a Ziplock bag to preserve their shelf life.
MAKING THE KALE CAESAR SALAD
Drain any excess liquid, then place kale in a large mixing bowl. Add Caesar dressing. This recipe is just a guide on the amount of dressing as some people prefer more dressing and some less. In my opinion, a good Caesar salad should have greens that are well coated with dressing and parmesan. This is the reason we have parmesan in our dressing recipe. Toss greens with dressing to incorporate evenly. Add avocados and croutons then toss. Distribute equally between four salad bowls. Add grated or shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. If I grate the cheese, I use a microplane. For shaving you could use a truffle shaver, cheese grater or sharp knife. It just depends on the texture of the cheese that you want in the salad.
Thank you for reading our Kale Caesar Salad recipe. Enjoy!
Kale has become known as a powerful antioxidant which is high in fiber and contains more calcium than milk. It has folate or vitamin B-9 which aides in cell division while harvesting genetic material and DNA for the body. According to the Mayo Clinic (2017), “Folate is important in red blood cell formation and for healthy cell growth and function. The nutrient is crucial during early pregnancy to reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain and spine.” Kale contains protein, iron, potassium, copper, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin K and vitamin E.
For those that are on dieting or weight loss programs, kale is very low in calories. It contains small amounts of an omega-3 fatty acid. Kale has also been the subject of research studies as a food that could potentially inhibit cancer growth and decrease the risks of heart disease by lowering levels of bad cholesterol.
It is important to consume kale in moderation. One issue with kale may concern individuals with thyroid health problems. Consuming too much raw kale can affect the thyroid gland. This can be avoided by consuming kale that is cooked.
Avocados are grown wild and cultivated in many different regions of the world. The most common variety that we see in the grocery stores is the Hass avocado which is slightly smaller than a baseball. It starts off green then turns a deep purple almost black as it ripens.
Avocados help the body absorb fat soluble nutrients when eaten in conjunction with other foods. It is a good source of dietary fiber and monounsaturated fatty acids. Low in sugar, avocados contain phytochemicals which aide in cellular health. Loaded with vitamins and minerals, the most notable are vitamin E, vitamin K, potassium, magnesium and folate. They are rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. Polyphenols have been associated with improved digestion, weight loss, cardiovascular health and reducing the potential risk of diabetes.
According to a recent article published in the Journal of Nutrition, “one avocado a day in a heart-healthy diet decreased the oxidative modification of LDL particles (bad cholesterol) in adults with overweight and obesity, and the effect was associated with the reduction in small dense LDL particles“, which both relate to cardiovascular disease (Wang et.al, 2020). Ultimately, avocados can be a very positive contribution to a regular healthy diet.
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