This vegetarian Caesar salad is bursting with savory, umami flavors, just like a classic Caesar salad! It is super easy to make and features a cashew Caesar dressing, savory roasted chickpeas, and homemade croutons.
I'll be upfront: this is a creative approach to a chicken Caesar salad. Instead of chicken, we use crispy chickpeas and instead of a classic Caesar dressing with anchovies we're using a creamy cashew-based dressing.
The result? A pop of bright, tangy, and savory flavors that remind you of a classic Caesar salad, but in vegetarian form (with a few creative liberties).
- Balanced: Made with roasted chickpeas, homemade miso croutons, a deliciously creamy cashew-based dressing. This salad is satisfying enough to be a main dish but also works well as a side salad.
- Flavorful: Packed with savory, umami flavors. Miso, nutritional yeast, and Worcestershire sauce are the stars of the show.
- Versatile: This is a vegetarian Caesar salad, but it's easy super easy to make into a vegan/dairy-free salad. The original version of this recipe used cashew parmesan (see recipe below) but a newer version uses fresh Parmesan.
- Romaine lettuce: I use a head of romaine lettuce and roughly chop it into bite-sized pieces, but you can buy a 10-12 ounce of pre-chopped lettuce to save on time. Spinach or kale work if you don't want to use romaine.
- Croutons: Bite-sized pieces of baguette with a savory miso and butter combination make the best simple croutons. Yellow or white miso will work. If unable to find miso, just add a pinch or two of salt.
- Cashews: Choose raw, unsalted cashews to make the Caesar dressing. The dressing is very similar to cashew cream, just with more briny/savory flavors added.
- Worcestershire sauce is a key ingredient in Caesar salads. It usually containers anchovies, but many store-brand options are actually anchovy-free/vegan. Just check the ingredient labels to confirm.
- Nutritional yeast adds body and a cheesy flavor to the chickpeas, croutons, and salad dressing. You can usually find nutritional yeast in the health food section, by spices/seasonings, or with baking ingredients.
- Chickpeas are the main source of protein in this salad. They are roasted in the oven to make crispy, crunchy chickpeas (similar to air-fried chickpeas).
- Parmesan: To those who mind, it is worth noting that fresh Parmesan is often not vegetarian because it uses animal rennet. There are a lot of vegetarian Parmesan blocks available, just check the label and it will usually note if it is vegetarian.
Quick tip: Soak cashews in hot water to soften them before blending. Just cover them with an inch of boiling water in a heat-safe bowl for 10-15 minutes, or cover them with cool water overnight. I especially recommend doing this if you don't have a strong blender.
There are two main components to this recipe. The first is the vegetarian caesar dressing, which brings the majority of the classic Caesar salad flavor to the salad.
To make the dressing, just add everything to a blender and blend until smooth. Add water as needed to thin. I like this Caesar dressing so much that it has it's own post with more tips.
Here are the steps to make the miso-flavored chickpeas and croutons:
Add chickpeas to a medium baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Use clean hands or a spatula to combine.
Roast at 400 for 20 minutes. At this point, they will look pretty crispy but they aren't done.
Tear or cut bread into 1-inch pieces. Add to the sheet pan with the chickpeas.
In a small bowl, whisk together the miso and melted vegan butter. Drizzle over the bread and chickpeas, tossing to combine. Everything won't be evenly covered with the butter-miso drizzle, that's okay!
Return to the oven to bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until the croutons are golden. The chickpeas will be dried out and crispy. After removing from the oven, sprinkle with nutritional yeast for extra cheesy flavor.
- Time-saving tips: Use pre-cut romaine lettuce and store-bought croutons to cut down on time. Crispy chickpeas and cashew dressing can be made 1-2 days in advance of serving.
- For a more classic "chicken" Caesar salad, try adding baked meatless chicken cutlets (I love Gardein and Quorn brands). Or make panko tofu cutlets.
- Vegan option: The dressing is vegan as is. Use your favorite vegan Parmesan to go the fresh Parm route, or use homemade cashew parmesan (see below).
- Cashew parmesan: The original version of this salad was vegan and used cashew parmesan. To make cashew parmesan, simply blend together these ingredients until coarse: ½ cup raw unsalted cashews, ¼ cup nutritional yeast, ¼ teaspoon garlic powder, ¼ teaspoon onion powder, ⅛ teaspoon coarse salt.
- Leftover cashew parmesan is great on vegan mac and cheese, avocado pesto pasta, or any other kind of pasta.
Serving: I recommend assembling the vegetarian caesar salads as you are ready to eat them to prevent the lettuce from getting soggy. If serving as one large salad, toss with dressing just before serving.
Leftovers: The dressing keeps in the fridge for up to a week. I like to store mine in pint-sized ball jars. The crispy chickpeas and croutons are best if eaten in 3-4 days. Keep refrigerated. Toast on a skillet over medium-high heat to re-crisp or air fry for just 2-3 minutes at 375F.
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Vegetarian Caesar Salad with Creamy Cashew Dressing
Chickpeas and Croutons
Cashew Caesar Dressing
For the Salad
- 1 head romaine lettuce cut into bite-sized pieces (10-12 ounces romaine leaves)
- ½ cup fresh grated Parmesan
- 1 large lemon wedges cut into wedges
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cashew Caesar Dressing
- *You can skip this step if using a strong blender*. In a heat-safe bowl, cover the cashews with an inch of boiling water. Let sit for 10 minutes. Alternatively, cover with cool water and soak overnight.
- To a blender add the drained cashews, garlic, olive oil, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt, and ¼ cup water. Blend until smooth and creamy. This will take 1-2 minutes depending on the strength of your blender. Add up to an additional ¼ cup of water as needed to thin the dressing.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Add chickpeas to a medium baking sheet. Pat chickpeas dry with a paper towel or kitchen towel. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Use clean hands or a spatula to combine.
- Roast at 400F on the middle oven rack for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and add the torn bread to the baking sheet.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the miso and melted vegan butter. Drizzle over the chickpeas and bread, tossing to combine.
- Return to the oven to bake for an additional 10-15 minutes. The croutons are ready when crispy and golden. The chickpeas will be crunchy and dried out. Sprinkle the chickpeas and croutons with 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast.
- For one large salad: Add romaine to a large serving bowl. Drizzle with all of the Caesar dressing, tossing to coat. Add the croutons, chickpeas, and freshly grated Parmesan. Garnish each serving with additional Parmesan, a lemon wedge, and freshly ground black pepper.
- For individual salads: Serve each salad with freshly grated Parmesan, a lemon wedge, and black pepper. Enjoy!
- Cashews: Soaking the cashews softens them and makes them easier to blend. Soak cashews in boiling water from a kettle (or on the stove) for just 10-15 minutes or in cool water overnight. The longer they are soaked the easier they will be to blend.
- Leftovers: I recommend assembling the salads as you are ready to eat them to prevent the lettuce from getting soggy. The dressing keeps for up to a week in the fridge. The crispy chickpeas and croutons are best if eaten in 3-4 days. Re-crisp in a skillet or air-fryer.
- Time-saving tips: Use pre-cut romaine lettuce and store-bought croutons to cut down on time. The dressing can be made in advance and frozen. When ready to use, let thaw at room temperature overnight.