We are all aware of which foods are good for us and which are bad for us, but it is still hard to eat enough of the most nutritious foods. We hunger for both old and new, so perhaps the answer might be to take old favorites and prepare them in new and different ways.
One old favorite is the Caesar salad, a dish that has been called the greatest recipe to originate in the Americas in the last century. The dish was created on a busy Fourth of July weekend in 1924 in Tijuana, Mexico. Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant who owned restaurants, ran out of food during the weekend. After a quick inventory of the storeroom, he tossed some romaine leaves with olive oil, added a coddled egg, salt and pepper, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, Parme-san cheese and garlic-flavored croutons. The salad was a hit! In 1945, Sunset Magazine published the Caesar salad recipe of a restaurant in Coronado, California, with anchovies replacing Worcestershire sauce.
Once, ordering a Caesar salad in a restaurant was both entertaining and dramatic as the waiter prepared the salad at the table with a gracious amount of olive oil and that coddled egg which he cracked on the side of the bowl, dropping it into the romaine, and all the Parmesan cheese and crunchy croutons soaked in olive oil.
TRADITIONAL CAESAR SALAD
1 clove garlic
3/4 cup olive oil
2 cups cubes of dry French bread
2 large heads of romaine lettuce
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 eggs, boiled 1 minute and cooled
Juice of 1 large lemon
6-8 anchovy fillets, chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Crush garlic in a small bowl, pour over the oil, and let stand several hours. Make croutons by browning the bread cubes in 1/4 cup of the garlic oil in a skillet over medium heat, stirring often. Or coat the bread cubes with the oil and toast them in a 325-degree oven.
Tear romaine into a large salad bowl, sprinkle with salt, and grind over a generous amount of pepper. Pour over the remaining 1/2 cup of garlic oil and mix until every leaf is glossy.
Break the eggs into the salad; squeeze over the lemon juice, and mix thoroughly. Add chopped anchovies and grated cheese, and mix again. Lastly, add the croutons, mix gently, and serve immediately. Serves 10-12.
We can make that Caesar salad much lighter today by reducing the oil in the dressing and lightly spraying the romaine with an olive oil spray, by adding Dijon mustard for flavor, and by switching from whole anchovies to anchovy paste or eliminating the anchovies altogether. Omit the egg, which is a potential food poisoning risk anyway. Shave the Parmesan cheese instead of grating it—it will go farther this way. And eliminate the oil in those crunchy homemade croutons. Caesar salads can be both delicious and low in cholesterol and saturated fat. One thing one doesn’t change though— no one makes a Caesar salad with anything but romaine.
LIGHTER CAESAR SALAD
4 slices French bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
8 cups loosely packed torn romaine
1/2 cup shaved fresh Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 cloves garlic
Combine bread cubes and crushed garlic in a large plastic bag; seal and shake to coat bread cubes. Turn bread cube mixture out onto a baking sheet in a single layer; bake in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes or until toasted. Combine bread cubes, romaine, and cheese in a large bowl; set aside. Combine water, lemon juice, olive oil, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, sugar and garlic in blender; cover, and process until smooth. Pour over romaine mixture, toss well. Serves four.
Caesar salads are as popular as ever today, but they are often prepared in new and different ways. Here are some variations:
CHICKEN CAESAR SALAD
2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (1/2 pound)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon each basil and oregano
1/4 teaspoon each garlic salt, pepper and paprika
4 cups torn romaine
1 small tomato, thinly sliced
Brush chicken with oil. Combine basil, oregano, garlic salt, pepper and paprika; sprinkle over chicken. Grill, uncovered, over medium-low heat 12-15 minutes or until juices run clear, turning several times. Arrange romaine and tomato on plates. Cut chicken into strips; place on top. Drizzle with dressing. Sprinkle with croutons. Serves two.
For Seafood Caesar Salad, grill scallops and shrimp and prepare as above.
SIRLOIN CAESAR SALAD
1 boneless top sirloin steak (1 pound)
1 cup Caesar salad dressing
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup lemon juice
6 slices French bread (1-inch thick)
12 cups torn romaine
1 tomato, chopped
Place the steak in a shallow glass container. In a bowl, combine the dressing, mustard and lemon juice; set aside 3/4 cup. Pour remaining dressing mixture over the steak. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour, turning occasionally. Brush both sides of bread with 1/4 cup of the reserved dressing mixture. Grill bread, uncovered, over medium heat for 1-2 minutes on each side or until lightly toasted. Wrap in foil and set aside. Drain steak, discarding marinade. Grill, covered, for 5-8 minutes on each side or until meat reaches desired doneness. Place romaine and tomato on a serving platter. Slice steak diagonally; arrange over salad. Serve with the bread and remaining dressing to six.
HINT OF THE MONTH:
Wash the romaine carefully under the cold tap; then gently pat each leaf dry between the folds of a clean cloth. Make sure they are perfectly dry. The dressing will not adhere to wet leaves, and any excess moisture will dilute the flavor of the dressing. Lay leaves out on a fresh cloth. Roll the cloth up loosely and chill in the crisper of the refrigerator for at least one hour, or until ready to serve.
NOTE: The oven temperature was omitted from the recipe for English toffee bars in the February issue of RV Life magazine. It is 375 degrees.
Marian Platt’s regional narrative cookbook of Washington’s Sequim Valley, From My Kitchen Window, can be ordered by sending cash, check or money order for $25 (includes tax and handling/mailing costs) to Marian Platt, 434 Chicken Coop Rd., Sequim, WA 98382. Phone (360) 683-4691.
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