You can spice up your mealtime routine with Creole Caesar Salad with Cornbread Croutons, adapted from “Meals, Music, and Muses” by Alexander Smalls (Flatiron Books, $35). LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

Kitchen Curious: Creole flavors jazz up a classic salad

Ten weeks into having adopted a pandemic lifestyle, my daily routine has become so predictable that the only shake-ups occur at mealtimes.

Twists, spins and riffs on classic dishes are welcome diversions in otherwise boring days that keep me mainly at home and out of COVID-19’s way. The spice cabinet and a pantry of dry goods are my toys. Cookbooks are my BFFs. The kitchen is the playground.

Salad has a place at my table at least once a day, so when I opened the pages of Alexander Smalls’ new “Meals, Music, and Muses: Recipes From My African American Kitchen” (Flatiron Books, $35) to find Creole Caesar Salad with Cornbread Croutons, complete with a Creole-inspired dressing, I marked it for my next lettuce playdate.

The James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur calls for a mélange of fresh corn, red onion and crunchy cornbread croutons on a bed of crisp romaine. It gets tossed in a creamy dressing punched up with the onion-bell pepper-celery Creole trinity and a hit of cayenne.

There’s one other ingredient that Smalls called for: okra. He seasons the spears with cayenne, soaks them in buttermilk for 15 minutes, dredges them in a mix of cornmeal and rice flour, then fries them in a cast-iron skillet. This fellow okra addict would have loved to have crowned my Caesar with some fried okra. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my hands on any, and driving around town in search of 2 cups’ worth of okra isn’t a prescription for quarantine cooking.

This Caesar is delicious even without okra. Smalls noted that you can bulk up the salad with shrimp, chicken or duck. I’ll add that you might even want to bring the shaker of Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning to the table. Anything to mix things up is music to my ears.

Creole Caesar Salad with Cornbread Croutons

Creole Caesar Salad with Cornbread Croutons
  • 2 heads romaine lettuce, leaves separated
  • 1 cup cooked fresh corn kernels, chilled
  • 2 1/2 cups cubed cornbread, toasted
  • 1/2 cup sliced grape tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup sliced seedless cucumber
  • 1/4 cup sliced red onion
  • Creole Caesar Dressing (recipe follows)
  • Place the romaine, corn, cornbread, tomatoes, cucumber and onion in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss until well coated. Divide the salad among 6 serving plates. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: (without dressing) 327 calories (percent of calories from fat, 20), 12 grams protein, 56 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 8 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 39 milligrams cholesterol, 673 milligrams sodium.

Creole Caesar Dressing

Creole Caesar Dressing
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 roasted red bell pepper
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped celery
  • 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • In a small saucepan, combine the oil, garlic and onion. Cook over low heat until the garlic and onion are golden and tender, about 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the garlic and onion to a food processor; reserve the oil.
  • Add the vinegar, bell pepper, celery, sugar, cayenne, mayonnaise, Parmesan, and a pinch each of salt and black pepper to the food processor. Pulse until smooth. With the machine running, add the oil in a thin stream and process until emulsified. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
  • Make about 1 1/4 cups.

Nutritional information

Per serving: 89 calories (percent of calories from fat, 91), 1 gram protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 9 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 1 milligram cholesterol, 31 milligrams sodium.

Adapted from “Meals, Music, and Muses: Recipes From My African American Kitchen” by Alexander Smalls with Veronica Chambers. Copyright © 2020 by Alexander Smalls. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. All rights reserved.

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