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Simple Caesar salad
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Simple Caesar salad

It might be a staple of Italian-style restaurants, but the "Caesar" salad has nothing to do with Julius, Augustus or any of the other Caesars of ancient Rome.

This popular salad was actually invented - and named after - an Italian immigrant named Caesar Cardini, who owned a restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico, of all places, and who according to legend created the dish in 1924.

It enjoyed instant popularity, and grew even more in public favor (at least in the U.S.) after World War II, when one of the measures of "elegance" in a fancy restaurant was its ability to make a production number out of preparing a proper Caesar at tableside. You'll rarely see that nowadays, except in a few "throwback" spots. But just about every white-tablecloth eatery around still has a Caesar on the menu.

Making one at home, though, is a little more of a chore. Confronted with most versions of the traditional recipe, with its long list of ingredients (including a raw egg and a half can of anchovies), finicky process (toasting croutons, mashing anchovies, making your own mayo) and non-trivial calorie count, I generally find that lying down for a short nap helps me get over the Caesar craving without actually making one.

But a mild spring evening coincided with plans for a light dinner the other night, and I came up with a simple Caesar-style salad that went together with a lot less effort and an order of magnitude less fat. A bit of plain yogurt provided a creamy dressing in place of the egg and oil, and a dash of Worcestershire sauce (optional for vegetarians) added just the right light whiff of anchovy ... and in fact was more true to the Cardini original, the use of whole anchovies being a latter-day addition to the classic.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

Romaine lettuce
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup (60 grams) plain yogurt
1 tablespoon (15 grams) olive oil
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Croutons (see below)


1. Prepare the lettuce. Take as much as you need to serve two (we find that one-third to one-half of an average-size head of romaine is plenty) and tear or cut it into bite-size pieces. Rinse and drain or spin dry.

2. Mince the garlic extremely fine or squeeze it through a garlic press. Mix together with the yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, salt and pepper. If the dressing seems too thick, add a little water to thin it.

3. Toss the romaine with this dressing and sprinkle on the Parmesan with additional salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Want croutons? Cut day-old French or Italian bread into dice and cook them quickly with a little olive oil in a sautee pan; or use Pepperidge Farm or equivalent.

We turned the salad into a light meal by adding slices of roast chicken breast on top. You could do the same with slices of just about any leftover meat, poultry ... or tuna.

WINE MATCH: If it's served as a side salad, you'll want to consider the main course for your wine match; ditto if you add chicken or other substantial topping. The recently featured Ironstone 2001 "Obsession" California Symphony made a fine match with the salad and grilled chicken. You'll find my wine note at

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Thursday, April 10, 2003
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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