Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Vegetarian (could be vegan) Caesar Salad Dressing

Yet another cookbook has crossed my path via the cookbook exchange group I belong to. This time, the book is The Pollan Family Table by Corky, Lori, Dana, and Tracy Pollan. If those names aren't familiar to you, the name Michael Pollan might ring a bell. The authors of this particular book are his mom and sisters.

Whenever I get a cookbook, I look for things I can make right away, without a trip to the store. If that's not possible, then I hope to find a recipe that uses ingredients that are normal around here. Because it's pretty rare for any recipe to use the whole quantity of anything, so I don't want to be done with making a single recipe and end up with a half-dozen jars with one teaspoon removed from each.

The first recipe that caught my eye was a caprese-style pasta, with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil. I always have some kind of pasta - the recipe called for shells, but I used mini wagon wheels instead.

I had tomatoes from the farmers market, and I had some basil growing. I had olive oil and fresh garlic, too, so the only thing I needed to complete the recipe was the fresh mozzarella, and that's pretty easy to find at my local grocer.

The pasta was good, but not spectacular. It reminded me a lot of a recipe by Giada De Lauretiis that I've made a number of times (with variations, of course) called Pasta Sciue Sciue.

In Giada's recipe the tomatoes and garlic are lightly cooked, and the cheese is added to the hot pasta in the pan, along with the other ingredients. The cheese melts just a little, and gets stretchy.

With the Pollan recipe, the "sauce" is raw, and the hot pasta is added to the room temperature sauce. The pasta warms the tomatoes and cheese, but the ingredients stay pretty much raw.

I have to say I like the Giada version a little better. I like the melted cheese in the Giada version, and I liked the warmed tomatoes as well. Meanwhile, I thought the raw garlic was a little too strong in the Pollan version. Cooking the garlic, for sure, would have reduced its bite.

Still, the Pollan was a good recipe, and I might keep it as a cold pasta recipe, cutting the garlic way back or using roasted garlic instead. And if the plan was to serve the pasta cold, I'd add the tomatoes and the cheese after the pasta is totally cool. While the cheese never fully melted and got stretchy as in Giada's version, it did get soft enough to glue itself to the pasta once it was chilled.

The second recipe I tried from The Pollan Family Table was a vegetarian version of the classic Caesar salad. I think it's a brilliant idea. Not because I need a vegetarian version, but because I don't use a whole lot of anchovies, so opening a jar for just one or two is annoying.

I thought I had everything I needed for the recipe, but there was no Dijon mustard in the refrigerator, and the mustard bottle in the pantry wasn't Dijon. So, I used a brown mustard instead. If you have Dijon, feel free to use it; if not, use what you have.

My first try with this recipe was good, but I thought it needed some tweaking. Either my garlic was super-strong or the Pollans are concerned about vampires. A salad dressing should be flavorful when you taste it alone since a small amount of it is added to a pretty large amount of lettuce - which isn't exactly the most flavorful leaf on the planet. But I thought this was a bit over the top with both the garlic and the lemon.

So, I went at it again and made adjustments, and I made a larger quantity. While I don't have a problem with making a single-serve quantity of something like vinegar, oil, and herb mix, if I'm going to make a more complicated dressing, I tend to make enough to last for a while.

And then, since I was re-doing everything anyway, I decided that the capers needed to be chopped. Yes, they're small to begin with, but I thought smaller pieces that would show up on more bites of salad made more sense than finding just a few whole capers in a serving of salad.

I have several other recipes bookmarked in the cookbook, but if I find one that requires garlic, I'm going to cut the amount in half - at least - and add more after tasting if it needs it, particularly if the garlic is used raw.

No-Anchovy Caesar Salad Dressing
Vaguely adapted from The Pollan Family Table

1/4 cup mayonnaise*
1 tablespoon brown mustard
1 small clove garlic, minced (or to taste)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon (or to taste) fresh lemon juice (or to taste)
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce**
2 teaspoons capers, chopped, plus
1/2 teaspoon of the caper liquid
Salt and pepper, to taste
For serving:
Torn romaine lettuce
Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard and garlic (if you're worried about how strong it will be, hold some back). Add the olive oil while continuing to whisk, or add in small quantities, whisking after each addition has emulsified.

Whisk in the lemon juice (start with about half - you can add the rest after tasting), Worcestershire sauce, capers, caper liquid, a pinch of salt, and several grinds of black pepper.

Taste for seasoning, and add more garlic, lemon, salt, or pepper, if desired. If the dressing is too tart (depending on the tartness of both the lemon and the mustard, it's possible!) add a pinch of sugar to counteract the tartness.

To serve, dress the salad, then grate on the parmesan. Caesar salad is traditionally served with croutons, but while I like croutons as a snack (yes, I'm odd) I don't really care for them on salad.

A traditional Caesar salad doesn't have a lot of extras, but you can use the dressing on your favorite tossed salad, too. Or drizzle it over fresh vegetables.

*If you want this to be vegan, look for a vegan alternative for the mayonnaise. I don't have recommendations, but there are a lot of options.

**Not all Worcestershire sauces are vegetarian! Make sure you read the label, or use a steak sauce (like A1) and read the label. I find that black vinegar, a condiment you can find in Asian markets, has a similar flavor and would work in this dressing. Read the label if you plan on using it.
Anchovy-free Caesar salad dressing can easily be made vegetarian or vegan