This BLT Kale Caesar Salad is absolutely epic! Crunchy, hearty kale is massaged until tender, tossed with tangy sundried tomatoes, smoky bacon, and creamy avocado. It’s topped off with homemade whole wheat croutons, salty parm, and a lemony Caesar dressing that is perfectly balanced between sharp and umami. It can be a bold side salad or a complete meal…you pick!
Don’t get me wrong…I love a good old classic Caesar salad. I do! Sometimes it’s just right as a side dish for a meal with a lot of big, rich flavors, and it’s hard to argue with how perfectly it pairs with grilled chicken. But when you eat as many salads as I do, it’s always fun to find something new that you love. This BLT Kale Caesar salad is currently at the top of my list!
How to make Caesar dressing
As much as I love making my own salad dressings, I had never really made Caesar dressing at home before. It was easier than I expected, and I actually prefer being able to adjust the flavors to my liking. It was also my first time using anchovy paste. I love anchovies, and it was fun to cook with them for the first time. They are now an official Parsley & Parm pantry staple!
My Caesar dressing is really on the borderline between a vinaigrette and a creamy dressing. I kept it a little thinner so that it would dress all the nooks and crannies and ripples of the kale. To achieve this, I use an emulsion much like in a vinaigrette. I whisk all of the ingredients except the olive oil together, and then vigorously whisk in the olive oil to build it up to a good consistency.
If you don’t like anchovies, I hear you! You can make Caesar dressing without anchovies by doubling the Worcestershire sauce. Because the consistency will be a little thinner, you’ll need to whisk in another tablespoon of olive oil (or perhaps more) to achieve the creaminess you want in the final dressing. You can also add a bit more aioli if you'd like. Also add ¼ teaspoon of salt, and be sure to taste your dressing to make sure it’s seasoned properly, since Worcestershire isn’t nearly as salty as anchovy paste.
Homemade croutons: quick, easy, and totally worth it!
If you haven’t tried homemade croutons before, you are in for a treat. I mean, store-bought croutons are yummy too, but I’ve discovered that nothing beats a freshly toasted crouton. Instead of being crunchy and hard all the way through, they are crispy and toasty on the outside, and still soft in the middle. Delish!
Making your own croutons also allows you to have some control over what’s in them. You can use whole grain or even gluten-free bread options, healthy extra virgin olive oil instead of commercial oils, and whatever seasonings you want. I still buy bagged croutons when I’m in a hurry, but I’ve been making my own more and more. It only takes a few minutes.
Tips for the perfect BLT Kale Caesar Salad
Don’t overcook your bacon. Thick cut bacon can become leathery if it’s overcooked. Add your bacon to a cold pan and cook it over medium-low heat, turning frequently, and take it off when the edges are crispy but not the middles.
Taste test your dressing. It can be a little challenging to adjust the seasonings in a sharp dressing like Caesar. There are so many big flavors and they are very concentrated when you are tasting it straight. I dip a little kale into the dressing to taste it instead of using a spoon.
Pamper your kale with a good massage! It can take up to two minutes of massaging to get your kale to the perfect texture, depending on the type of kale you are using. You don’t want to be squeezing it hard, but definitely want to use firm pressure. Taste it every 20-30 seconds until it is no longer leathery but still has a bit of crunch.
Prep-ahead and storage
BLT kale Caesar salad can be prepped up to a day ahead, including the dressing and the croutons. Store the croutons in an airtight container to keep them crunchy, and keep the dressing in the refrigerator. Don’t massage the kale or dress the salad until just before you eat.
If you have extra dressing left over, it will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
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BLT Kale Caesar Salad
Caesar salad dressing
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice or Champagne vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon anchovy paste (see notes for substitute instructions)
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, or 1-½ teaspoons + ¼ teaspoon kosher salt if omitting the anchovy paste
- 1 tablespoon garlic aioli, or mayonnaise + 1 clove crushed garlic
- 1 pinch white pepper
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
- 2-3 slices whole grain bread
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and granulated garlic
- 2 slices thick-cut smoky bacon
- 1 bunch of kale, washed and dried, with ribs removed
- 6 sun dried tomato halves packed in oil, cut in half
- 1 avocado, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- Grated or shaved parmesan cheese
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium low heat until crispy on the edges but still tender in the middle. Set aside on a paper towel to cool.
- While the bacon is cooking, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a medium-sized bowl, and add the bread cubes. Toss the cubes with your hands until the bread is coated. Sprinkle it with a little bit of salt and granulated garlic and toss again.
- Spread the bread cubes out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 6 minutes, then pull them out, close the oven to preserve the heat, and use tongs to turn over each piece of bread. Return to the oven for an additional 3-4 minutes, or until nicely browned and crispy, but still soft in the center.
- Make the dressing. Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients except the olive oil and parmesan cheese. Only add salt if you are not using anchovy paste.
- While whisking, drizzle in the olive oil in a steady stream, incorporating the oil into the other ingredients fully.
- Once the oil has all been added, whisk for an additional 15-20 seconds to make sure it is fully emulsified. Mix in the parmesan cheese. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Pour about 80% of the dressing into a small bowl and set aside.
- Assemble the salad. Tear the kale into 1-2 inch pieces and add to the bowl that you made the dressing in.
- Using your hands, massage the kale and the dressing left in the bowl together, fully coating the kale and working it lightly with your hands. It should start to soften almost immediately. If it doesn’t, use a little more pressure.
- Continue massaging the dressing into the kale for at least a minute, until the kale is softened to your liking.
- Add the sundried tomatoes, avocado, bacon, croutons, and the rest of the dressing and toss.
- Top with several cranks of cracked black pepper and grated parmesan to taste.
- To keep the bacon tender, cook it slowly until the edges are crispy but the middles are cooked but still soft.
- When tossing the bread cubes with the olive oil, add the oil to the bowl first, then toss in the bread cubes. This keeps the bread cubes at the top from absorbing all of the oil and allows it to coat all the pieces better.
- I like Best Foods Roasted Garlic sauce for the garlic aioli.
- To make Caesar dressing without anchovy paste, double the Worcestershire sauce and add ¼ teaspoon of salt, plus an additional tablespoon of olive oil.