Vegan Kale Caesar with Smoky Tempeh Crumbles

5 from 1 vote
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You won’t believe how satisfying this Vegan Kale Caesar Salad with Smoky Tempeh Crumbles is. Rich in protein and fiber, this plant-based powerhouse mimics the tangy-salty punch of the classic.

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Vegan kale caesar topped with smokey tempeh crumbles in a wooden salad bowl.

Why You’ll Love this Vegan Kale Caesar

  • Make-Ahead Friendly. Because kale is a heartier green, kale salads can be dressed hours in advance without wilting. In fact, the longer this salad sits, the better it gets. (The same is true of this
  • Filling. The combination of plant protein, fiber, and healthy fats make this salad more satiating than most.
  • Bold Flavors. The smoky, hearty tempeh crumble gives a croutons a serious run for their money.

Truly, this is what every kale salad aspires to be.

Just like my Sweet Potato Kale Salad, this lineup is satisfying enough to enjoy as a full meal, but also a suitable side dish. (Even the biggest meat lovers agree!)

The dressing alone is double-batch worthy, and can be used to elevate roasted veggies, grain bowls, or sandwiches and wraps.

The smoky tempeh bits are a fantastic stand-in for both croutons and meat, lending heartiness and a hit of umami. (If you end up with leftovers, they’re fantastic in stir-fries or tacos, too!)

How to Make a Vegan Kale Caesar

If you’re new to handling kale, it’s important to massage a little olive oil and salt into the greens before mixing in the dressing.

This helps soften the fibrous greens, making them easier to chew and digest.

It also helps the dressing better cling to the greens!

The Ingredients

Recipe ingredients arranged in separate bowls on a wooden serving tray.

See the recipe card below for the complete list of ingredients and quantities.

  • Kale: Kale is an excellent source of vitamins C and K, as well as fiber. There are a few different varieties of kale–lacinato, green curly, purple)–however any will work in this salad.
  • Tahini: Tahini lends savory depth and unctuous creaminess, plus a hit of heart-healthy fats.
  • Lemon: To brighten the dressing with a hint of acidity.
  • Garlic: You can use fresh or granulated garlic in the vegan Caesar dressing.
  • Miso: A fermented soybean paste and secret weapon for adding worlds of savory depth. Look for either white or sweet miso paste, which aren’t quite as intense as the darker varieties.
  • Capers: Capers are the silent workhorses of the dressing, adding the quintessential briny bite of the classic anchovy-based Caesar. They contribute the perfect dose of acid and salty tang to really elevate the whole shebang.
  • Tempeh: Tempeh is a plant-based protein made with fermented soybeans and a mix of grains. It’s nutty, chewy, and a lot heartier than tofu.
  • Smoked Paprika: To give the tempeh a smoky, meaty-like flavor profile.
  • Tamari: A gluten free alternative to soy sauce that adds depth of flavor. Alternatively, you can use soy sauce.
  • Maple Syrup: A little sweetness helps balance the bitter notes of the tempeh.
  • Vinegar: Apple cider vinegar works best!

There is also an optional Pine Nut Parmesan, which is a simple mix of pine nuts and nutritional yeast. This combo lends cheesy flavor and nutty crunch.

I usually keep a stash of this on hand to sprinkle over salads and roasted veggies. Don’t let its simplicity fool you—it can instantly upgrade anything in need of some savory swag.

The Directions

Step 1: Prepare Vegan Caesar Dressing by tahini, lemon juice, garlic, capers, mustard, salt, and black pepper; stir with a whisk.

Whisk in water, 1 Tbsp. at a time, until you reach a creamy, pourable consistency.

Step 2: Prepare Tempeh by combining olive oil, vinegar, tamari, maple syrup, and smoked paprika in a small bowl.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium. Once hot, add tempeh and cook until golden and crisp, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add tamari mixture; cook 2 minutes, stirring to coat tempeh. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Crumbled tempeh being cooked until golden, and tossed in spice mixture in a skillet.

Step 3: Massage Kale with olive oil and salt until it starts to soften. Add half of the Vegan Caesar Dressing, and toss to combine.

Kale being massaged until soft and tossed in Caesar dressing in a clear glass mixing bowl.

Step 4: Top with Smoky Tempeh Crumbles and remaining dressing. Sprinkle Pine Nut Parmesan overtop (if using), and enjoy.

Recipe Variations

  • Use Romaine: If you’re not a fan of kale, you can certainly use romaine lettuce instead. Just wait to dress the greens until right before serving.
  • Omit Tempeh: In place of tempeh, you can use crumbled extra-firm tofu OR 1 can of drained, rinsed, and partially mashed chickpeas. Just follow the instructions for the savory crumble as written.
  • Add Parmesan: If you’re not making the salad plant-based, feel free to top with shredded Parmesan cheese for extra oomph.

Make-Ahead and Storage Tips:

  • Make-Ahead. The dressing can be prepared 3 days in advance. You can also chop and massage the kale in olive oil and salt 1 day ahead. Keep covered in the refrigerator.
  • Store. Refrigerate leftover salad (with crumbles) in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Enjoy chilled or closer to room temperature.
Vegan Kale Caesar Salad with tempeh crumbles being tossed with gold salad tongs in a wooden bowl.

Guaranteed to become a regular in your weekly rotation, this texture riot of salad is what vegan dreams are made of!

If you give this recipe a try, snap a pic and tag #dishingouthealth so I can see your beautiful creations. Also, follow along on Facebook and Pinterest for the latest recipe updates.

5 from 1 vote

Vegan Kale Caesar with Smoky Tempeh Crumbles

Vegan kale caesar salad with smoky tempeh crumbles and pine nut parmesan. This plant-based powerhouse is rich in protein and fiber, and packs all the briny, creamy punch as the classic.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Total Time: 23 minutes
Servings: 4 servings

Equipment

  • Mixing bowls
  • Medium skillet

Ingredients  

Vegan Caesar Dressing

  • 3 Tbsp. tahini, well-stirred
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 1 tsp. minced capers
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Smoky Tempeh Crumbles

  • 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp. lower-sodium tamari
  • 1 tsp. maple syrup
  • 3/4 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 (8-oz.) pkg. tempeh, crumbled

Kale Salad

  • 1 large bunch (or 2 small) green curly kale, stems and ribs removed, roughly chopped
  • 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pine nut Parmesan: 1 Tbsp. finely chopped pine nuts mixed with 1 Tbsp. nutritional yeast (optional)
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Instructions 

  • Prepare Vegan Caesar Dressing combining tahini, lemon juice, garlic, capers, mustard, salt, and black pepper; stir with a whisk. Whisk in water, 1 Tablespoon at a time, until you reach a creamy, pourable consistency (I typically use 3 Tbsp. water). Set aside.
  • Prepare Smoky Tempeh Crumbles by combing 1 Tbsp. of the olive oil with vinegar, tamari, maple syrup, and smoked paprika in a small bowl.
    Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium. Once hot, add crumbled tempeh and cook until golden and crisp, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add tamari mixture; cook 2 minutes, stirring to coat tempeh. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
  • Place kale in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons olive oil and a pinch of salt. Use your hands to massage oil and salt into kale leaves until they start to soften, about 30 seconds. Add half of the Vegan Caesar Dressing, and toss to combine.
    Transfer kale to a serving platter or bowl (or leave in mixing bowl) and top with Smoky Tempeh Crumbles and remaining dressing. Sprinkle Pine Nut Parmesan overtop (if using), and enjoy.

Notes

  • Make-Ahead. The dressing can be prepared 3 days in advance. You can also chop and massage the kale in olive oil and salt 1 day ahead. Keep covered in the refrigerator.
  • Store. Refrigerate leftover salad (with crumbles) in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Enjoy chilled or closer to room temperature.

Nutrition

Serving: 2cups | Calories: 256kcal | Carbohydrates: 23g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 18g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Sodium: 540mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 1.5g

I calculate these values by hand to ensure accuracy, however expect up to a 10% variable depending on food brands.

If you love this recipe, please leave a star rating and review below!
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6 Comments

  1. Kelsey says:

    5 stars
    Made this tonight – it was delicious!! SO easy to make & will absolutely be a repeat. Thanks so much for this recipe!

    1. Jamie Vespa says:

      I’m so glad the recipe was a hit! Thank you for taking time to leave a review!

  2. Liz says:

    This looks amazing! I love the bowl inspiration going on here!

    1. dishingouthealth says:

      Thank you, my sweet friend!

  3. The Modern Proper says:

    I love how sturdy kale stands up to dressings. This looks so yummy! You make me want a salad!

    1. dishingouthealth says:

      Me too! The make-ahead factor is always such a plus during busy weeks. Kale for president!