Kale is a polarizing green. Some despise it with every fiber of their being while others are almost evangelical in their enthusiasm for the plant. I am somewhere in between. I think there are a lot of leafy hearty greens that deserve our attention, so I don’t buy into the whole “kale is the ultimate fuel” mentality. Nor do I dismiss it as a fibrous, inedible mess. Kale, like most foods, has its time and its place. And today its place is in my Kale Caesar Salad with Marinated White Beans.
Why a Kale Caesar?
Now, I put kale into the caesar game for a couple of reasons. Reason #1: We’re in the middle of a pandemic and I can’t visit my greengrocer whenever a damn well please anymore. This restriction has led me to favor heartier greens. Cabbage, collards, and of course, kale have been my jam lately. It’s not that I’m against romaine, I just have zero faith in its ability to get lost in my fridge and emerge a week later unscathed. Kale can do that, so it wins.
Reason #2: I reject that romaine is the best lettuce for a caesar salad. Yeah, it’s a pretty controversial stance but I have logic – well, my form of “logic” – to back up my claim. Romaine is relatively hearty by lettuce standards. But lettuce? Well, it’s not exactly known for its resilience. And the traditional caesar dressing is very heavy. It’s an emulsion, it’s creamy and coatable texture is what keeps us coming back for more. So, the moment you introduce a hefty dressing to a flimsy green you’re on the clock. That lettuce is losing its crunchiness by the second and that crunch is the whole reason it was invited to the party. But baby kale, pssh! It can hold its own even when its coated in heavy dressing. It doesn’t sog out immediately and it’s a baby. How’s that for resilience?
Romaine, the Jig is Up
I know there are kale caesars on restaurant menus across the globe, so I have to believe my reasoning is sound. Other people have come to recognize the pitfalls of a romaine caesar and are jumping ship for the reasons listed above. That or they’re simply responding to the never-ending kale-boom we’ve been living through for the past 10 years. Heck! Maybe that’s all I’m doing. But regardless of the subliminal messages I may or may not be receiving, I still stand by my support of kale caesars everywhere.
The addition of kale in this particular Kale Caesar became paramount when I decided marinated white beans would be apart of the equation. Beans marinated in oil and vinegar? Yeah, you’re going to need a fibrous green to stand up to that heft. But you may be wondering, why include marinated white beans at all?
Beans – The Undisputed Queen of Quarantine Cuisine
If there is one good thing to come out of this pandemic, it’s the renewed and entirely justified appreciation of beans. I have been making stuff with beans almost non-stop. They’re versatile, cheap, and keep for much longer than I would ever plan to have them around. Essentially, they are a protein that was seemingly made for that quarantine lyfe. And people, myself included, have been getting pretty creative with them.
Can’t it be Both?
The true story behind this Kale Caesar Salad with Marinated White Beans is a tale of two cravings. I wanted a caesar salad and I wanted a marinated bean salad at the same time. What’s a girl to do? Well, this girl did what she always does, she jammed the two together and called it a day. To be honest, this solution is becoming less of a solution and more of an obsession. Cacio e Pepe Pierogis, Hainanese Chicken Risotto, Shawarma Home Fries – this list reads like a menu for the chronically indecisive and written by the perpetually scattered.
Bean Brining – You Should Do It
I took the late, great Marcella Hazan’s advice and brined my beans rather than simply soaking them. All this entails is adding a good amount of salt to the soaking liquid. But that small change made all the difference. When it came time to add the marinade to the beans soaked and cooked in their brine, I didn’t have to add salt. The beans were perfectly seasoned from the inside out. Small change, huge impact – there’s a life lesson in there somewhere.
April is for Asparagus-Lovers
Now let’s talk about the two remaining components of this salad. The first being grilled asparagus. I mean, there really isn’t much to say about this. Asparagus in April is sort of a no brainer. Asparagus is at its peak at the moment so all it needs is a kiss of salt and olive oil and some time on the grill or in a cast-iron skillet. I loved the contrast of temperature between the cold beans and kale and the piping hot asparagus. It really does elevate this salad from starter to main event. And yes, we did eat this salad as a main. It’s a beast of a salad.
Croutons: A Case for Homemade
And finally, we have the croutons. Now, I don’t mess around with boxed croutons, I just don’t think they’re worth my time. I don’t see the point of them. They’re fairly cardboard-like and kind of useless. It’s not hard to make your own and you can make them out of any scraps of bread you have lying around.
I made my croutons by using leftover homemade hamburger buns (I will be posting a video of me making them on my Instagram soon) but you could just as easily make them with store-bought hamburger or hot dog buns, the end of a loaf bread, or a hunk of baguette you forgot about. I advocate tearing whatever bread you choose into chunks before placing them in the oven. Cutting perfect little cubes deprives you of the craggy, crispy edges.
So, there you have it – Kale Caesar Salad with Marinated White Beans rounded out with grilled asparagus and hamburger bun croutons. It’s a sure sign of spring and is best-enjoyed grill-side. You can certainly make a meal out of this salad, but it also plays nicely with any chop of burger you care to pair it with.
Kale Caesar Salad with Marinated White Beans
Marinated White Beans
- 227g (8oz) dried white beans
- 4 cups cold water
- 2 tsp salt
- 4 cloves garlic divided
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- fresh ground pepper
- 2 anchovy fillets minced
- 1 clove garlic minced
- pinch of salt
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 cup neutral oil
- 2 tbsp parmesan finely grated
Kale Caesar Salad with Marinated White Beans
- 2 hamburger buns* torn
- 3 tbsp olive oil divided
- 1 bunch asparagus ends trimmed, cut into thirds
- ½ tsp salt divided
- ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- fresh ground pepper
- 300g (10.5oz) baby kale
- 1 batch Caesar Dressing see above
- 1 batch Marinated White Beans see above
- ½ cup parmesan for sprinkling
For the Beans
- Place the beans in a large bowl. Add the water and the salt and set aside to soak for 8 hours.
- Once the 8 hours have passed, pour the contents of the bowl into a large saucepan. Add enough water to ensure the beans are covered by 2 inches of water. Bring the water up to a boil and crush 3 cloves of the garlic and add them to the pot. Stir in the bay leaves. Reduce the heat to a rapid simmer and let cook for 35 minutes or until the beans are tender and creamy in the center.
- Drain the beans and discard the bay leaves and garlic cloves. Leave the beans to cool.
- Transfer the cooled beans to a large bowl. Mince the remaining clove of garlic and add it to the beans. Pour in the olive oil and red wine vinegar. Add the oregano, crushed pepper flakes, and pepper. Stir to combine. Taste and season with additional salt if desired. Cover and transfer the beans to the refrigerator. Let marinate for at least 1 hour.
For the Dressing
- While the beans are marinating, make the dressing. Add the garlic and the anchovy to a large bowl. Toss in a pinch of salt and, using the back of a spoon, mash the salt, anchovy and garlic together to form a rough paste. Add the yolk, mustard, and half of the lemon juice to the bowl and whisk to combine.
- Whisk the olive oil in in small increments, whisking briskly to fully integrate each addition before adding more. Repeat this process with the neutral oil.
- At the end of this process, you should have a glossy, thick emulsion. Fold in the cheese and the remaining lemon juice, if desired. Pour the dressing into a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
For the Salad
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Pour a tablespoon of the olive oil onto a large baking sheet. Use a pastry brush to evenly distribute the oil. Arrange the bread on top. Drizzle the bread with another tablespoon of oil and sprinkle with salt.
- Bake the croutons on the middle rack for 15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Take the croutons out of the oven and set aside to cool.
- Place the asparagus, the remaining olive oil, and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Toss to coat. Heat a large cast-iron griddle over medium-high heat until smoking. Add the asparagus and reduce the heat to medium. Grill until tender and nicely charred, about 3-5 minutes.
- Return the asparagus to its bowl and add the crushed red pepper flakes, pepper, and lemon juice. Toss to coat.
- Place the kale in a large salad bowl. Add the dressing and toss to coat. Transfer the kale to a large platter and top with the Marinated White Beans, grilled asparagus, and croutons. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve immediately.