I’ve always taken a lot of pleasure in the process of veganizing a beloved recipe. It’s a creative challenge, an invitation to think about what elements of a dish are truly crucial for capturing authenticity. Is it texture? (Case in point: Using seitan as the protein in a chicken dish.) Is it umami? (Think: Mushrooms in a vegan stroganoff.) Or is the essence of a dish to be found in herbs and seasonings, in which case a whole host of plant-based proteins and vegetables can step in and do the job?
Occasionally, I come across a recipe that just refuses to be successfully veganized. When I told Kristen Miglore that I wanted to spend a year veganizing every recipe in the Genius Recipes book, we agreed that the brisket probably wouldn’t comply. And that’s fine: Becoming vegan means shifting one’s paradigm a bit, after all, and I’ve never mourned the dishes I no longer eat because veganism has introduced me to so many new ones.
Sometimes there’s a recipe that’s so iconic, so beloved, so much the topic of heated debates over method and procedure, that I find myself hesitant to tinker with it. Part of me is sensitive to language and naming: Much as it might make perfect sense to me to call whipped, frozen bananas “ice cream,” or a lentil marinara hybrid “bolognese,” these recipes and the methods that create them are time-honored, and I respect their sanctity.
Part of me understands what feels like a very satisfying vegan rendition of a classic recipe to me may feel far off to someone who has no interest in eschewing animal foods. This is often true of recipes that feature cheesy things. My palate tells me that cashews and nutritional yeast are a very fine substitute. For a cheese connoisseur, this probably isn’t the case.
Lately, though, I’m settling comfortably into the idea that my vegan interpretations of classic recipes don’t have to be for everyone. They simply have to capture something about the original dish so authentically they evoke the experience of eating it for those who are interested in a fresh approach. Exactitude isn’t really the goal so much as a respectful, creative homage.
This vegan Caesar is, in my humble opinion, as authentic as any I’ve tried. It’s also easy to make (no pulverizing cashews, aka high-speed blender, required), and it’s a handy recipe to keep in your back pocket if you’d like to create a Caesar for vegans, dairy-free friends, those with egg allergies, or anyone who’s curious about a new way of approaching this very beloved salad.
The recipe works for a couple of reasons: First, the use of vegan mayonnaise, which is generally an authentic-tasting and easy-to-find product. Second, the addition of nutritional yeast for umami and cheesy flavor, plus capers for brininess and saltiness. If you consider croutons to be an essential component of Caesar salad—and I do—the garlic croutons in this dish will satisfy you. And they don’t require any tricks, conversions, or substitutions.
For the salad and dressing:
- 1 head romaine lettuce, washed, dried, and torn or chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 1 garlic, finely minced or grated on a microplane
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup vegan mayonnaise
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon vegan Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon drained capers
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional; it's less traditional, but I think it makes for the best flavor)
- Freshly ground black pepper
For the croutons:
- 1/2 baguette, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3-4 cups)
- 1-2 tablespoons tablespoons olive oil (as needed)
- 2 teaspoons finely minced garlic
- Coarse salt and freshly grated black pepper
Tell us: What classic recipe would you like to see veganized?