Plant-Based Caesar Salad Dressing

I love anchovies. Love a spicy puttanesca sauce generously spooned over fresh pasta. Love a margherita pizza strewn with a few of the tiny, salty fillets. Love a slice of crisp bruschetta topped with diced tomatoes, basil and a solitary fried anchovy … and love LOVE ❤❤❤ Caesar salad with anchovies in the dressing (as they should be) and perched oh so perfectly on top of crisp romaine lettuce and freshly shaved Parmesan.

So imagine my dismay when a few weeks ago Eric and I went to a restaurant (that will go unnamed), ordered a Caesar salad, and it didn’t have anchovies … not on the top, not on the side, not in the dressing. And although it was a fine salad, it was not a Caesar salad. It had tomatoes and cabbage and something that might “resemble” Caesar dressing but no Parmesan. And again, no anchovies. Not a one. 

I mean listen, I get it, restaurants, chefs … they’re like writers and sometimes they take liberties when creating their “stories” or their “dishes.” But I think Caesar salads should be, well, Caesar salads. And they should be loaded with the teeny, tiny fish that provide a whopping amount of calcium, iron, zinc and protein. And they taste damn good too.

The original Caesar salad contained coddled eggs and was served on whole lettuce leaves, designed to be picked up by the stem and eaten with fingers.

Caesar Salad from Caesar Hotel, Tijuana, Mexico circa 2018 credit Luis Grijalva

In the mid-1940s, Hearst’s New York Evening Journal’s Dorothy Kilgallen wrote the following in her “Voice of Broadway” column: The big food rage in Hollywood—the Caesar salad—will be introduced to New Yorkers by Gilmore’s Steak House. It’s an intricate concoction that takes ages to prepare and contains (zowie!) lots of garlic, raw or slightly coddled eggs, croutons, romaine, anchovies, parmeasan [sic] cheese, olive oil, vinegar and plenty of black pepper.

But, while the salad was “the big food rage” in Hollywood way back when, it wasn’t a famous Hollywood chef who invented the dish. The origins of the salad supposedly lie in a concoction created by an Italian immigrant, Caesar Cardini (yes, like the dressing). Living in Mexico at the time, Cardini is said to have invented the salad while working at the restaurant located in the Hotel Caesar. His version, however, did not contain anchovies … but today, the Cardini’s famed original Caesar dressing does. How they sneaked in there, I have yet to figure out but I for one am sure glad they did. So I ask … do you like anchovies in your Caesar? Do you expect them in your salad? And for that matter, should they really even be there in the first place?

Anchovies, sardines, kippers, herring … what’s the difference? Most people don’t know the difference between anchovies, sardines, herring, kipper … true, they are all small fish, but they are not at all similar other than their diminutive size. And actually, herring can be up to 15 inches long so they’re really not “super” small whereas sardines typically hit eight inches in length and anchovies are usually around three inches.

A kipper is a whole herring that’s been butterflied, gutted, usually pickled and then smoked.

How else are they different? First of all, they’re different types of fish … like chardonnay is not the same thing as pinot gris just because they’re both a white wine. Get it? Secondly, because they are different, they look different: the flesh is different colors and they taste very, very different. They are all pretty salty but anchovies tend to pack more of a punch which is why Caesar salad aficionados can always tell if they’re included in the dressing. And lastly, the fish tend to be used differently … sardines are used for sandwiches, places on crackers, and the larger ones can be grilled too. Anchovies tend to end up in sauces, dressings, and are often used to top dishes off; like pizza and salad. Herring are typically pickled and can be eaten on their own, but also add a very distinctive and delicious flavor to German potato salad. And kippers, well, they’re kind of a British staple when it comes to breakfast … served on toast, alongside eggs, etc. So there you go, that’s the one-minute 101 on a few of the differences of these often mistaken for one another, small fish : ) And now for that promised Caesar salad dressing recipe …

Almost Vegan Caesar Salad Dressing

PREP TIME: 15 minutes

  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp anchovy paste
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 cup vegan mayonnaise
  • ½ cup vegan Parmesan 
  • ½ tsp ground pepper
  • 1 can anchovies
  • OPTIONAL TOPPINGS: shaved Parmesan, croutons, eggs

Mix all ingredients except whole anchovies and the shaved Parmesan, in a food processor. Pulse until well blended. To serve, place long romaine leaves on a dish, spoon dressing over lettuce and top with shaved Parmesan and a generous number of anchovies. Enjoy!

Honey Balsamic Dressing

I cannot stress enough how amazing this salad dressing tastes, and yes, it’s easy to make too!

Vegan Ranch Dressing

Alas, I believe I’ve finally figured out the key to making creamy dressings that fit into a plant-based diet. And the secret is, silken tofu.

Vegan Hollandaise

When I first learned how to make a hollandaise sauce, it was like the heavens had opened up and sunrays illuminated my very existence—and now, I’ve finally found the perfect vegan recipe!

On Being a Flexitarian


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.