There are few things I love more than a classic Caesar salad. But if you visit this website on a semi-regular basis, you already knew that. I play with caesar flavors a lot. Remember this little flatbread riff or this deeply satisfying kale version? I even gave the traditional dish the Overthinking Classics treatment. But today’s Tofu Katsu Caesar Salad is my current favorite. And it’s different from the rest because it is 100% vegetarian. This salad feature napa cabbage, bok choy, and yu choy dressed in a miso caesar dressing topped with a crisp tofu katsu and sprinkled with oyster mushroom “bacon”. I am head-over-heels in love with this salad, so let’s make it!
Now, I have to admit as an omnivore, I never really thought about how non-vegetarian-friendly the original Caesar salad is. I immediately thought about eliminating the bacon bits, because I don’t think they are necessarily cannon anyway. I’ve had Caesar salads without bacon in the past and have not thought much about it. But then I remembered there’s anchovy in the dressing and the dressing is, in fact, classic.
So, yes you could easily make the caesar salad pescatarian but how to make it vegetarian? Well, generally when you’re turning a traditionally omnivorous recipe into a vegetarian one, you have to find other ways of introducing umami. And omitting anchovy leaves a considerably large umami void. But vegetarians and vegans luckily have their own full-bodied sources of umami. The most prominent being miso, soy sauce, mushrooms, and nutritional yeast. I opted for miso in the dressing and I actually wound up liking this vegetarian version of caesar dressing more than the classic. I was not expecting it to turn out this way.
Now, while we’re still on the subject of the dressing, I feel I should point out that this Tofu Katsu Caesar salad is only vegetarian if you are a lacto-ovo-vegetarian, meaning you’re cool with eggs. There is a raw egg yolk in the dressing, as is traditional for Caesar salad dressing. If raw egg wigs you out, you can coddle the egg first. The egg is there to interact with the oil, so you can create an emulsion. In other words, without the egg, you will have a vinaigrette rather than a creamy dressing. But if you’re cool with a vinaigrette, feel free to omit the egg altogether.
The other place you’ll find eggs is in the tofu katsu. Eggs are used in the breading. I’m sure there is an egg-free workaround but I’m afraid I can’t advise you on this matter. I added the tofu Katsu to this Caesar salad because I wanted to make a vegetarian version of the chicken Caesar salad, which let’s face it, is the best form of Caesar salad.
Tofu Katsu is a breeze to put together. All you have to do is slice a brick of tofu into four evenly-sized pieces and marinate them in a combination of soy sauce, sake, and mirin. I have made tofu katsu without marinating the tofu beforehand and it’s tasty. But the marinade makes the tofu next-level tasty, so I do recommend it. Once the tofu has sat for a while, take it out of the marinade and pat it dry. Roll the tofu in potato starch or cornstarch, egg, and panko breadcrumbs. Then give it a shallow fry. Yes, no deep frying is required and you get to give the oil you fried the mushrooms in a second life.
And speaking of mushrooms let’s talk about those crispy little chips you see on top of the salad. Those are thinly shaved slices of king oyster mushrooms that were fried until incredibly crisp. Basically, you shave king oyster mushrooms on a mandolin as thin as possible. Then transfer the mushrooms to a skillet and pour oil over the top until the mushrooms are fully immersed. Then place the skillet over medium heat and cook until the mushrooms turn amber. Scoop them out of the oil using a slotted spoon and set them aside to drain. Season with salt and you have the vegetarian answer to bacon bits.
When the mushroom oil is cool enough, strain it into a heat-proof container and set it aside to cool. You will use the oil in both the dressing and when frying your tofu katsu. Talk about getting mileage out of your cooking oil. And the best part? The oil will take on a little of that special mushroom flavor. You can do the same thing with thin rings of shallots and it is magical.
With the dressing, katsu, and mushroom bacon tackled all the hard stuff is out of the way. All that remains is prepping the veg and here the world is your oyster or whatever the vegetarian equivalent of an oyster is. I went with a combination of Napa cabbage, Bok Choy, and yu choy for my greens. But you could stick with good old fashion romaine, add spinach, or give baby kale a try. I also added thin slices of red onion and cucumber but they are optional and swappable. I bet slices of Granny Smith apple and/or avocado would be incredible.
And that’s everything you need to know about this Tofu Katsu Caesar salad, the vegetarian answer to chicken caesar. Give it a try, you might find you like it more than the original. I did!
Tofu Katsu Caesar Salad
- 1 Large skillet
- 1 mandoline
Oyster Mushroom "Bacon"
- 2 king oyster mushrooms sliced very thin on a mandoline
- neutral oil to cover
- salt for sprinkling
Miso Caesar Dressing
- 1 tbsp white miso
- 1 clove garlic minced
- ½ lemon juiced
- 1 egg yolk **
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp honey
- ¼ cup mushroom oil see above
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 brick tofu cut into four pieces
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup mirin
- ¼ cup sake
- ½ cup potato starch ***
- 2 large eggs lightly beaten
- 1½ cups panko breadcrumbs
- ½ cup mushroom oil see above
Tofu Katsu Caesar Salad
- ¼ head Napa cabbage coarsely chopped
- 3-4 heads bok choy coarsely chopped
- 1 cup yu choy coarsely chopped
- ¼ red onion thinly sliced
- ¼ cucumber thinly sliced
- 1 batch Miso Caesar Dressing see above
- 1 batch Tofu Katsu see above
- 1 batch Oyster Mushroom "Bacon" see above
- shichimi togarashi for sprinkling
For the "Bacon"
- Place the mushrooms in a cold skillet and cover them with oil until they are fully immersed. Place the skillet over medium heat and cook until the mushroom curl and turn a soft amber color.2 king oyster mushrooms, neutral oil
- Remove the mushrooms from the oil using a slotted spoon. Transfer them to a plate lined with a paper towel and sprinkle them immediately with salt. Set them aside to cool and drain.salt
- Drain the oil into a heat-proof measuring cup and set it aside to cool.
For the Dressing
- Place the miso, garlic, and lemon juice in a bowl. Whisk to combine. Add the egg yolk, mustard, and honey and whisk once again.1 tbsp white miso, 1 clove garlic, ½ lemon, 1 egg yolk **, 1 tbsp Dijon mustard, 1 tsp honey
- While whisking constantly, slowly pour in the reserved mushroom oil and olive oil. Continue to whisk until a thick creamy dressing forms. Cover and chill until ready to serve.¼ cup mushroom oil, 1 tbsp olive oil
For the Katsu
- Pour the soy sauce, mirin, and sake into a bowl and whisk to combine. Arrange the tofu pieces in a wide shallow vessel, like a casserole dish. Pour the mixture over the tofu, cover, and let marinate for 3 hours, turning the tofu once halfway through.1 brick tofu, ¼ cup soy sauce, ¼ cup mirin, ¼ cup sake
- Take the tofu out of the marinade and pat it dry. Working with one piece at a time, roll the tofu in the potato starch, egg, and panko breadcrumbs. Repeat until all four pieces are breaded.½ cup potato starch ***, 2 large eggs, 1½ cups panko breadcrumbs
- Heat the remaining mushroom oil in a large skillet until shimmering. Add the tofu and fry until golden on both sides, about 3 minutes a side. Transfer the tofu to a plate lined with a paper towel and keep warm in a 150°F oven until ready to serve.½ cup mushroom oil
For the Salad
- Place the cabbage, bok choy, and yu choy in a large bowl. Add the red onion and cucumber and pour the dressing over top. Toss to coat.¼ head Napa cabbage, 3-4 heads bok choy, 1 cup yu choy, ¼ red onion, ¼ cucumber, 1 batch Miso Caesar Dressing
- Divide the salad across four bowls. Slice and place a piece of tofu katsu on top of each salad and garnish with the oyster mushroom "bacon" and shichimi togarashi. Serve immediately.1 batch Tofu Katsu, 1 batch Oyster Mushroom "Bacon", shichimi togarashi