When did humans first look at a bowl of leaves and decide that it would taste better with some vinaigrette?
It’s impossible to pinpoint where and when someone first came up with salad, but according to the Oxford Dictionary of Food and Drink in America, a dish we might recognize as a garden salad became popular during the Roman Empire, when people ate piles of leafy raw vegetables with salty, oily dressing. In fact, the word salad comes from the Latin word “sal,” meaning salt.
The modern Caesar salad might take its name from rulers of the Empire, but according to popular legend, the Caesar salad was invented in 1924 in Tijuana — nowhere close to Rome. Cesare Cardini, an Italian immigrant who left California and crossed the border to escape Prohibition, created the dish on American Independence Day, when his restaurant was doing such brisk business that he found himself short on ingredients. So he improvised with some romaine lettuce, raw egg yolk, Parmesan cheese and other odds and ends. The Caesar was an instant hit, and Cardini’s restaurant, Caesar’s Restaurante-Bar, is still in business today. But you don’t need to travel to Tijuana for a decent Caesar salad — with minimal effort and a few ingredients, you can make a Caesar salad that would make Cardini proud.
Classic Caesar salad
This version uses mayonnaise instead of raw egg yolk, which makes it safer to serve to kids. If you’re feeling ambitious, try making an authentic Caesar dressing with an olive oil and raw egg base. Don’t skip the anchovy paste in this recipe — it might be unappetizing out of the tube, but Caesar dressing isn’t the same without it.
About 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup crusty bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large head romaine lettuce, washed, dried and chopped into pieces
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup high-quality real mayonnaise
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper, plus more to taste
Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. When oil shimmers, add bread cubes in a single layer and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brown lightly on all sides, adding more oil if necessary. Remove and set aside. Whisk the garlic, anchovy paste, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce together in a bowl. Add the mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper and whisk until incorporated. Taste and adjust salt and pepper or other seasonings to your preferences. To serve, add the desired amount of dressing to a large bowl with all lettuce and croutons and toss until thoroughly coated. Serve immediately and refrigerate any extra dressing.