Kale Caesar Salad
 gluten, dairy & sugar-free!

Caesar salads generally get a bad rap when it comes to the health aspect. Maybe it’s the romaine lettuce that’s practically see-through, creamy dressing, piles of cheese, or those shelf-stable croutons. Despite its reputation, a caesar salad is nostalgic for me and a flavor that I crave. I  re-created the traditional caesar using wholesome, real food ingredients that are free of gluten, dairy, and sugar. This recipe is delish, easy, and hits the caesar craving while still providing you with a balanced meal. 

 

One thing I talk about with my health coaching clients is how we can make the traditional meals that we love more nutrient-dense and in alignment with our health goals. Living with autoimmunity and food sensitivities, I’ve learned how important it is to focus less on what I “can’t” have, and more on how I can modify any food or meal to fuel my body with what makes me feel my best. In other words, elevate vs eliminate! This mindset shift makes health-promoting dietary choices so much more sustainable and enjoyable. 

 

How to elevate a caesar salad:  

  • Increase the nutrient density by using kale 

  • Make it gluten & grain grain free by swapping out traditional croutons with sweet potatoes and chickpeas

  • Lower inflammation by ditching the dairy, sugar and vegetable oils 

  • Balance blood sugar by incorporating adequate protein and healthy fats  

 

Kale

Kale is a nutritional powerhouse, loaded with antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals.  One serving size of kale provides more than 100% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A and more than 40% of your daily vitamin C (something we all especially need right now!) Also, as a cruciferous vegetable,  kale is naturally detoxifying. The sulforaphane increases enzymes that deactivate free radicals and carcinogens. Any type of kale will work for this recipe.  I went with the  Whole Foods organic pre-chopped to save myself a little time. 

 

Sweet potato “croutons”

Sweet potatoes are so versatile, making the perfect naturally gluten-free version of a crouton. As a complex carbohydrate, sweet potato is a more nutrient-dense, blood sugar-balancing alternative to a traditional crouton. Complex carbohydrates are unprocessed and still in their whole food form containing both fiber and water. The fiber helps slow the digestion and absorption of glucose, as well as feeds healthy gut bacteria. 

 

On the other hand, traditional croutons are simple carbohydrates, meaning they are processed and stripped of fiber, water, and other natural nutrients. Void of these key components, simple carbs spike blood sugar quickly, contribute to inflammation in excess, and are something I recommend limiting. 

Crunchy chickpeas

In my opinion, every salad needs a crunch and crispy chickpeas are my go-to. Assuming you tolerate legumes, chickpeas are a great, whole food option to add to any salad.  In addition to a crunch, they provide you with a little extra plant-based protein, fiber, folate, iron, and phosphorus. Bonus if you can soak or sprout your legumes to increase the bioavailability of these nutrients and support better digestion. 

 

Note: The Environmental Working Group tested popular garbanzo bean brands for levels of glyphosate. Simple Truth brand came back with no detectable levels, so this is a good option. Glyphosate is a weed-killing chemical linked to cancer that we want to avoid at all costs. You can read about findings on glyphosate in chickpeas, hummus, and other legumes here and find some helpful guidance on the best brands to buy. 

Primal Kitchen Caesar dressing

Primal Kitchen is hands down my favorite, most trusted brand for clean condiments and dressings that never compromise flavor. Most traditional dressings are filled with inflammatory vegetable oils, added sugars, and other questionable ingredients. I recommend avoiding dressings with any added sugars or the following oils: peanut oil, cottonseed oil, grapeseed oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, palm oil, and anything hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated. 

 

The Primal Kitchen caesar dressing makes this salad. You can grab it at Whole Foods, Publix and Kroger. The most affordable way to purchase their products is directly through their website using the bundle and save feature. In addition to their bundles, you can use code “Amelia” to get 10% off your order here.

Miyoko’s dairy-free cheese  

Though no caesar salad is complete without some cheese, I don’t recommend overdoing the dairy.  Dairy is one of the foods most associated with allergies, intolerance, and sensitivities, so many people benefit from reducing or eliminating it. In fact, it’s estimated that up to  68% of people have some form of lactose malabsorption. With a few exceptions, I eat a dairy-free diet to maintain optimal digestion, skin and lower inflammation. 

 

When it comes to dairy-free alternatives, it's important to be mindful of the processed ingredients, soy, gluten, and vegetable oils. Many dairy-free brands are full of these, so always read food labels! My favorite brand is  Miyoko’s Creamery because the ingredients are minimal and the flavor is on point.  For this recipe, I used their sharp english cheddar. 

 

If you do, eat dairy and it works for you, great! But, the quality matters. I recommend prioritizing certified organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed/finished and fermented sources. Bonus if you can find a local farmer to support. 

 

Up the protein & healthy fats 

If your salads aren't satisfying, leaving you hungry two hours later, they’re probably missing the protein and fat. Protein is the most satisfying macronutrient ounce for ounce. It’s needed to make every cell, neurotransmitter, and hormone in our bodies. Animal protein sources are complete proteins, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids that we must get from our food.  I recommend prioritizing certified organic, pasture-raised poultry, grass-fed and finished animal proteins. We used chicken from ButcherBox, one of my favorite subscription services that bring quality proteins right to my door. Check out ButcherBox with my discount here. If you’re plant-based or don’t love chicken, sub whatever protein you want- as long as you get it on your plate!

 

Healthy fats cause the release of satiety hormones that make us feel full and relaxed. They’re also essential to absorb all the fat-soluble vitamins in our greens. I incorporated some extra fats by drizzling EVOO on this salad, in addition to the caesar dressing. I recommend looking for organic, cold-pressed olive oil in a dark, glass bottle for the most nutrient density. I like Bragg’s brand. A few other options for healthy fat add-ins that pair well with a caesar: avocado, nuts, or pumpkin seeds.

 

Recipe: 

Ingredients

  • Organic kale - enough to fill the entire bowl 

  • One large sweet potato

  • Organic pasture-raised chicken (or protein of choice)

  • 1 box or can of organic chickpeas

  • Primal Kitchen Caesar dressing 

  •  Miyoko’s Creamery sharp English cheddar dairy-free cheese (optional)

  • Salt and Pepper

  • Avocado oil

  • Extra virgin olive oil 


 

Directions:

 

1.Preheat your oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit. 

 

2. Chop sweet potato into crouton-shaped pieces and toss in avocado oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for 25-30 minutes. Shake halfway through. 

 

3. Drain and rinse chickpeas. Toss in avocado oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for 15-20 minutes until crispy. Shake halfway through.  

 

4. Wash and destem kale. Massage with extra virgin olive oil and Primal Kitchen caesar dressing - a little goes a long way! 

 

5. Pick your protein and cook to your liking. For chicken, cut into 1-inch cubes. Cover with salt, pepper, and garlic powder for a dry brine and let sit for 30 min to an hour.  Brown on each side in a cast iron skillet until cooked through. 

 

6. Top your dressed kale with the sweet potatoes, chickpeas, chicken and dairy-free cheese and ENJOY! 

Additional sources:

Body Love and Body Love Everyday by Kelly Leveque