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Culinary SOS: Lodge Bread reveals the secret to vegan Caesar salad

Vegan Caesar Salad
Extra dressing on the side never hurts.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

I am besotted with the vegan caesar at Lodge Bread in Culver City. Lodge is always my first stop when I’m visiting my parents, and I miss the salad almost as much as I miss them when I leave L.A. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I would eat this salad every day if I could. How do they build such a well balanced and addictive salad?

Lex G, Oakland

Classic Caesar salads rely on the umami punch of Parmesan and anchovies and on the fattiness of eggs for a creamy dressing. This totally plant-based version blends nutritional yeast with miso and tahini to make it as delicious as the original and combines lemon juice and cider vinegar to balance the richness. And as with the standard, raw garlic brightens the mix with its sharpness.

Although the dressing comes together in minutes, it gets even better after a day or two in the fridge. In that chill time, the flavors meld and the umami deepens into a truer Caesar. Because this mix is vegan, it keeps well in the fridge for a week.

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At Lodge, the romaine comes speckled with parsley and dill. The herbs add a nice, fresh bite, but skip them if you prefer a typical Caesar. And if you’re OK with cheese, swap the final sprinkle of nutritional yeast for Parmesan shavings. Just don’t skimp on the cracked black pepper at the end. Those pops of heat tie everything together.

Nappa cabbage turns out to be a great swap for romaine lettuce in this fast, easy Caesar salad recipe that takes only five ingredients and 10 minutes.

Vegan Caesar Salad

15 minutes. Serves 8.

The proportions below make one cup of dressing. You can use it all at once with the amounts of lettuce and croutons below for eight generous salad servings or divvy it up as you want. A quarter cup will coat the chopped leaves of one romaine heart nicely.

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Ingredients

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast, plus more for serving
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon white miso
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more
  • ¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper, plus more
  • ½ cup tahini
  • 4 romaine hearts or 2 heads of romaine, cut in 1-inch pieces
  • 4 cups croutons, preferably homemade sourdough (see recipe below)
  • Flat-leaf parsley and dill leaves, for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Combine the garlic, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, vinegar, miso, olive oil, salt, pepper and ¼ cup ice-cold water in a blender. Purée on medium-high speed until smooth, scraping the bowl as needed. With the machine running on medium speed, add the tahini in a steady stream. Blend until emulsified. Taste and add more salt if you’d like.
  2. Drizzle the dressing over the romaine in a very large bowl. Toss with your hands until evenly coated. Sprinkle with nutritional yeast and cracked black pepper, then top with the croutons and herbs if using. Serve immediately.

Make ahead: The dressing can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Adapted from Lodge Bread.

Homemade Sourdough Croutons

45 minutes. Makes as much as you want.

Homemade croutons taste way better than store-bought. They take time to bake but little effort to put together. And they don’t require exact measurements: crisp up as many or as few as you’d like and adjust the other quantities as needed. The timing depends largely on the bread and your crunch preference. Here’s how to do it.

Ingredients

  • Sourdough loaf or boule, fresh or day-old
  • Everyday extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cut the bread with its crust into cubes slightly larger than the crouton size you like. I prefer 1½-inch cubes because they’ll shrink to an inch after baking. Spread the cubes in a single layer, leaving some space between them, on a half-sheet pan or other rimmed baking sheet. Bake until dry, firm and golden, 10 to 20 minutes. The timing depends on how dry your bread is to begin with.
  3. Put the pan on a rack and push all the bread cubes together so they’re touching. Drizzle evenly with olive oil so all the cubes are lightly coated but not drenched. Toss the cubes to even out the oil coating and spread out again. Return to the oven and bake until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Let them go to dark golden brown if you prefer extra-crunchy croutons with a dark-toast taste. Just don’t let them burn.
  4. Immediately sprinkle the croutons with salt and pepper and toss to even out the seasonings. Cool completely on the pan on a wire rack.

Make ahead: The croutons will keep in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

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