If you look hard enough, finding a vegan Caesar salad in Los Angeles isn't that hard to do. However, finding a good vegan Caesar salad often is. In fact, not many restaurants serve vegan Caesars worth mentioning, and of this select few, perhaps none are better than the plate called Dazzling at Cafe Gratitude.
The Dazzling does in fact dazzle, thanks to an oil-free dressing made from cashews, capers and ground pumpkin seeds. This dressing distances itself from other vegan Caesars not by what's in the recipe, says Cafe Gratitude executive chef Dreux Ellis, but by what's intentionally left out.
"Originally, we were using nutritional yeast to replace the traditional cheesy eggy-ness," Ellis says, "but I've tried to stay away from it — because if you ask people where nutritional yeast comes from or what it is, they'll say they don't know. It's a fungus.
"I try to stay with the most whole foods version I can get. The ground pumpkin seeds have a really great sort of cheesy taste. It's a whole fat and a natural food."
In keeping with the theme of using as many natural foods as possible, Ellis' Caesar does the vegan unthinkable by not including tofu. This soy-free mantra stems from Cafe Gratitude's first seven years as a "99-percent raw restaurant." However, as times and tastes shift, the 49-year-old vegan chef has, during the past six months, added tempeh to the menu. Still, the Dazzling is one item that remains soy-free because Ellis says there are nuts that provide his recipes with the same body and creaminess.
"I personally love tofu," Ellis says, "but it's a highly-extracted, somewhat fatty food. If I can use a cashew — or even better yet, a California almond — it gives me the same creaminess and fat content."
Finally, Ellis adds avocado to his Caesar, not because traditional recipes call for it, but because of more important factors: "Right now we're adding the avocado because in California everyone wants an avocado on everything."
From: Dreux Ellis, Cafe Gratitude
Makes: 2 cups
2 cups soaked or rinsed cashews
1 cup filtered water
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons ground pumpkin seeds
2 teaspoons Himalayan salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1. Soak the cashews for 4-5 hours before adding to a blender.
2. Add water, chopped garlic, lemon juice, pumpkin seeds, Himalayan sea salt and black pepper; blend until creamy. Add capers for anchovy taste (if desired).
3. Place lettuce into a bowl. Add dressing and mix.
4. Add Brazil Nut Parmesan (recipe below), capers and avocado.
Brazil Nut Parmesan
From: Dreux Ellis
Makes: 1 cup
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2 cups dry Brazil nuts
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1. Mix all the ingredients in a processor on slow speed until fluffy. Do not over-process into a paste, or leave big chunks by under-processing.