Yesterday (Nov. 20) in dire Thanksgiving menu news, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that everyone should avoid eating romaine lettuce, the classic dressing-vehicle of a Caesar salad—not because it can be bland and floppy, but because it could be life-threatening. Romaine, it seems, is the likely source of a new, multi-state outbreak of E. coli that has so far sickened at least 32 people and hospitalized 13. Those unfortunate souls reported eating romaine both in restaurants and at home, so the CDC is advising everyone to stay away from it, including any you have in the refrigerator.
This is bad news for the rest of us too, because a Caesar salad at the Thanksgiving table brings some welcome crispness and acidity to cut through the stuffing and the sweet potatoes. But let’s be honest. A Caesar salad is not really about the lettuce. It’s about the crazy magical combination of flavors—parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, oil, lemon, and egg yolk—that combine in a dressing that is rich enough to coat the tongue and bracing enough to wake up the taste buds.
Perhaps even more miraculous is the Frankie’s Spuntino version from the Genius Recipes cookbook, which replaces the raw egg, lemon, and oil with jarred mayonnaise and wine vinegar, so it’s simpler to make and will keep in the fridge.
Here are a few greens besides romaine that deserve your best Caesar dressing.
Tuscan kale (pictured at top) is hearty enough not to droop beneath even your most parmesan-heavy Caesar, but tender enough to leave raw in a salad. But you knew this already.
Cruciferous stuff, creatively
The November 2018 edition of Bon Appetit includes a recipe for Caesar salad that uses broccoli florets and trimmed stems along with thinly sliced Napa or savoy cabbage instead of lettuce. The lazy cook’s version of this salad might just use the pre-bagged “Cruciferous Crunch” mix from Trader Joe’s, which includes kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage—but thankfully, no romaine.
“Focus your palate as you take a bite,” wrote Helen Rosner, in her spirited defense of iceberg, the most maligned (and consumed, in the US) of lettuces. “Notice a clean sweetness blooming beneath the watery crunch, deepening, in the pale ruffle of the inner leaves and stems, to a toasty bitterness, with whispers of caraway and coriander seeds.”
Rosner makes the point that iceberg deserves more than the wedge—wonderful salad though it is—and while I don’t think she was picturing replacing the blue cheese dressing with Caesar, you could certainly give it a try. If you really want to get crazy, why not first try her suggestion of slicing, oiling, and grilling the lettuce, and then drizzle it with the dressing? Give the family something to talk about.