Lime and Feta Caesar Salad with Tortilla Croutons

lime caesar

On my way up to Bellingham with the kids last weekend, we stopped at one of the roadside produce stands.  Is there anything better than Skagit Valley produce in October?  We got apples, pears, apple cider, kale, an incredible baguette from The Breadfarm, carrots, and Wyatt stood in the truck-bed and picked out 10 ears of corn.

When we got home the next day, we had lots of random bits and a neglected fridge as dinner inspiration.  A few times a month, we don't have dinner proper, but just bits of this and that.  The kids would prefer we eat this way every night.  I think most children find it strange that adults take perfectly good components and mush them all together on one forkful.  So we had corn on the cob, fried baguette slices with roasted garlic and chévre, sauteed kale and chard, and this salad.  Wyatt ate three pieces of corn.  Nothing else. Loretta had 1/2 piece of corn and then licked the chévre off several pieces of bread.  The stripped corn cobs mounted, and Yancey and I had lots of time to catch up after being apart.

Yancey and I have a joke that he barely gets a bite in his mouth before I say, "How is it?" or "It's good, isn't it?"  He calls the latter a "statement question," meaning, "It's good, and you will agree with me."  So I've been trying to lay off a bit, but he was praising this salad at first bite.  He's a Caesar Salad Guy from way back.  We started dating in high school, and he used to eat my Mom's Caesar Salad on Sunday nights--with the Murphy family in front of the fireplace, answering questions about his basketball game or begging my mom to make my curfew later.

My mom made Caesar back when it was totally novel and most home cooks wouldn't dream of making their own salad dressings.  That's one thing I have never, ever seen in my mom's fridge--a bottle of purchased salad dressing.  You won't find it in my fridge, either--you can't come close to the freshness and flavor of something you whisk up yourself.  But even in 2009, the myth persists that making your own dressing is hard.  Mostly, you've got to trust yourself, tasting along the way, and stick to a basic ratio of 1 part acid (vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice) to three parts oil or emulsifying agent (olive oil, vegetable oil, mayo).  I always add my emulsifier last so I can keep an eye on when the dressing comes together.  If I throw everything in at once, it's harder to correct the acid/fat ratio.

Because we are salad freaks, this is a something we'd eat as a main course, maybe with some bread on the side.  Once you've gotten out 20 bottles to make your dressing, you might as well make the damn salad your centerpiece.  And maybe your audience won't need  a statement question before they praise it.  (Yancey, I hope you're taking notes.)

Lime and Feta Caesar Salad with Tortilla Croutons
I've made Caesar dressing so many ways throughout the years--with raw egg or without, with anchovies or without.  I still experiment all the time, but one thing that's been consistent the last couple years is using mayo.  I find it gives me the creaminess I always longed for with egg but had a hard time achieving.  This definitely isn't a low-fat salad, and most Caesars aren't.  But you'll get your roughage for the day, and your cancer-fighting garlic, too.  If you have one of those gargantuan heads of romaine, don't use all of it for this salad unless you add more of everything else.

For salad:
1 small head romaine lettuce, washed and coarsely chopped
6 corn tortillas, cut into strips
4 Tb. vegetable oil
1/2 c. crumbled feta cheese
1/4 c. finely grated pecorino  cheese

For dressing:
Juice of 1 lime
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 flat anchovies, finely chopped
freshly ground pepper
2 Tb. finely grated pecorino cheese
1 jalapéno, seeded and finely chopped
3 Tb. olive oil
2 Tb. mayo

To make dressing, whisk everything but olive oil and mayo together.  Add olive oil and mayo, whisking until smooth.  The mayo will make the dressing look lumpy at first, but some brisk wrist action will smooth it out. Taste, adding more of anything to your liking. Don't be afraid of salt!  Dressings should be on the salty side since there's a little bit spread out over a large surface area.

To make croutons, heat vegetable oil until shimmering in a large heavy skillet.  Fry tortilla strips until golden and crispy, turning once if necessary.  This will take about 3 minutes.  Remove with tongs and let them drain on a paper towel-lined towel.  Sprinkle with coarse salt.

To assemble salad, use your hands to toss the romaine with most of the cheese, dressing, and about 1/2 the croutons. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese and croutons on top, and drizzle with remaining dressing.