César Salad

A basic Caesar has four elements: romaine lettuce, Parmesan cheese, croutons, and dressing. I’ve tried a bunch of variations – some with homemade dressing, some in kits, some with grilled romaine (not my thing), a mishmash of both. My favorite version is one I keep coming back to. It’s so simple, and is similar to the classic, but it has that extra umph I tend to miss when I open a salad kit. If you love a Caesar, you’re sure to enjoy my quick & easy update on the original.

I call my version “César Salad” because one of the key ingredients is Cotija cheese, a Mexican Parmesan-style cheese most often used for Mexican Street Corn. But that’s not all. Keep reading…

The “Greens” (& reds): Classic Caesar uses romaine lettuce. The past few years, though, the romaine industry has had its share of recalls, so I tried a few different substitutes. When I grew rainbow chard, a chiffonade of the bright leaves made a beautiful salad packed with vitamins. That’s why this is my second favorite leaf to use in my version of César.

Chiffonade of rainbow chard

The winning leaf for me, though, is Buttercrunch (or Butterhead) lettuce because the small lettuce cup-like leaves are stable enough for the thick dressing and yet sweet enough to bypass that watery bitter Iceburg lettuce flavor you get with the stem parts of the romaine. Just for reference, the worst thing you could ever serve me is a Wedge Salad. Just don’t. I like using both the green and red leaf varieties.

The Cheese: So you already know I am a fan of the Cotija cheese crumbled into the salad, but I also love tossing it into the tots (spoiler alert). But because the original salad calls for Parm, I still give a nod to shaved Parmesan cheese as well because the combination of the shaved chunks and the crumbles of salty goodness that marry with the dressing makes for one happy mouth!

The Crunch: Now onto the croutons. Warm croutons are just so much better than packaged ones, so I make my own. But wait – it’s not bread. I use tater tots!

The Dressing: I love a good homemade Caesar dressing with plenty of olive oil and garlic (my preference is roasted garlic instead of fresh), but it can be time consuming, and a real Caesar can be an acquired taste because of the anchovies. The crowd-pleaser I found was simply Marie’s Caesar dressing. This salad would be great with homemade dressing, but for a 10-minute meal, this is the way to go. When I get a chance, I’ll post my favorite homemade dressing recipe at the bottom of this page.

Ingredients for my César:

  • 1 bag of buttercrunch lettuce (both green and red leaf)
  • About 1/4 cup Cotija cheese
  • About 2 Tablespoons of premium olive oil
  • 1/2 Meyer lemon
  • Fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 cup Tater Tots, crumbled and cooked golden brown
  • About 1 Tablespoon Cotija cheese for the tots
  • About 3 Tablespoons of Marie’s Caesar Dressing
  • About 1 Tablespoon shaved Parmesan cheese

Let’s start cookin’!

Take about a dozen tots, start browning them on the stove in olive oil, and as they cook and brown, chop them in pieces so the interior can get golden brown. Once they are done, drain them quickly, put them in a bowl, and toss with Cotija cheese. Serve while still warm.

Start browning your tater tots
When they are golden on the outside, chop them up with your spatula and continue browning
After draining on a paper towel, toss them in a bowl with Cotija cheese

Make the Salad: Add greens to a large bowl. Sprinkle Cotija cheese on top, add a few tablespoons of dressing to the bowl of lettuce and drizzle some premium olive oil on top. Add a splash of fresh Meyer lemon juice, then add shaved Parm and freshly cracked black pepper.

Toss well and serve.

If you want to make this the main course, simply add some grilled protein of your choice. I love a pan-seared tuna steak, coffee-rubbed sirloin, or blackened shrimp tossed into the salad.

Pan seared tuna steak

I’ll be posting a recipe in the future for homemade Caesar dressing. Stay tuned!