Creamy Sunflower Caesar Salad

vegan caesar salad

Before I went vegetarian I would usually order caesar salad when on vacation with family. At diners, cafes, pizza parlors, seafood restaurants, bar and grill type establishments, and steakhouses, I could usually count on finding it on the menu. Unfortunately most caesar dressing recipes contain anchovies, so once I stopped eating animals I found the task of ordering a bit trickier. The same types of “American” restaurants sometimes served greek salad, but rarely anything other than a “house salad” consisting of poor quality lettuce, tomato, onion, carrot, croutons, and maybe a few chickpeas. I had better luck at pizza restaurants, which tend to have a salad bar, or at least some ingredients in the back to make a generic green salad more interesting i.e. olives, artichoke hearts, spinach. My family vacation spots tended to have at least one Mexican or Chinese restaurant in the nearby town, where I never had a problem eating vegetarian thanks to customer demand for lard-free beans (in the former case) and separate vegetarian menus. At a Chinese restaurant I could order steamed vegetables or sezchuan eggplant and/or tofu, depending on my dietary restrictions at the time, and even in my strict raw phase I could order pico de gallo and avocado if the family dinner took place at a Mexican restaurant.

That said, our itineraries would involve a local restaurant—where I would order the garden salad.

Thinking about this today inspired me to make a vegan caesar dressing using sunflower seeds as a base. I’ve tried a few different types of vegan caesar i.e. the house-made kind in the salad bar at while foods and various natural foods stores and co-ops. I’ve also tried the packaged kind made by Follow Your Heart. All of these contained oil or vegan mayo. Some tasted similar to the real thing, and others like something else entirely.

I’ve seen recipes for vegan caesar on other blogs, many of which look like they would taste authentic. However, most call for nutritional yeast (which I can’t buy in bulk at the moment and it costs a lot more in a package on the shelf). Others call for cashews, which I tend to avoid for a number of reasons. To give salad dressings, spreads, dips, and sauces a creamy texture I like to use sunflower seeds, which grow locally in North America…whereas cashews grow only in tropical climates and require a significant amount of processing to make edible.

I imagine also that in a recipe for caesar dressing the sweetness of the cashews would skew the flavor profile. I don’t often care so much about the authenticity of a recipe, but in this case I really wanted the end result to taste like the classic caesar salads I remember from my past.

Sure enough, my efforts to think inside the box paid off. It really does taste like caesar salad. Someone asked me about croutons, which came as a surprise because I don’t recall the classic version having any. Most restaurants offer the option of adding chicken or sometimes salmon, which I didn’t order anyway, so my memory of it doesn’t extend past romaine lettuce, dressing, and fresh parmesan. Obviously my version doesn’t call for any cheese, but the flavors in the dressing include the same aged, slightly-sharp quality that parmesan might otherwise add to caesar salad.

Creamy Sunflower Caesar Salad


1 head romaine lettuce, rinsed and chopped
1 cup roasted unsalted sunflower seeds
2 Tbsp horseradish mustard
Juice of 1 meyer lemon
2 tsp roasted garlic
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp sea salt
pinch of cayenne


for the dressing
In a blender or food processor, blend ingredients until a smooth and creamy texture is achieved. It should be moderately thick, but add a small amount of water if the ingredients are too thick to blend. Be careful not to add too much, or the result will be watery and won’t stick to the lettuce. Think ranch dressing, not vinaigrette.

Toss with the chopped romaine, enough to coat each piece.

*Note: I saved part of this salad for leftovers, and found that after a few hours in the fridge the lettuce had lost some of their crunch due to the “marinade” effect of the dressing. If this happens, toss in a fresh handful of chopped romaine immediately before serving. However, it’s best to prepare each portion of the salad immediately before serving and keep the extra dressing in the fridge (in a sealed container for up to 5 days).

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5 thoughts on “Creamy Sunflower Caesar Salad

  1. This looks really good but it looks like there is some sort of plant protein “chicken” chunks that you added? Can you tell me what they are so I can try them in the salad?

    thanks! Looks delish!

    • Hi Faith Steward, thanks for your comment/question. Actually, I didn’t use “chicken” chunks. I considered making a gluten-free version that would resemble the seitan (wheat gluten “meat”) I made in my early vegan days, but decided not to. When I tried Gardein years about 2 years ago, it tasted so freakishly similar to meat that I felt turned off from re-creating meat entirely. I still like to make “creamy” or “cheesy” sauces and dips that resemble or mimic original versions, but as far as meat goes, I have little interest in making vegan versions of it.

      *The photo does, however, suggest that I included vegan chicken chunks. Good eye. I didn’t notice it before.

      • Looking back on this comment, I should have specified that what look like faux chicken chunks in the photo are actually chunks of romaine heart. I try to use all of the lettuce, even the very bottom part (furthest from the leaves).

  2. Hi dear!
    You have a beautiful blog, I love the concept of paleo and vegan.
    I don’t ever want to reintroduce animal products in my diet but have to go kind of paleo for health reasons. Now I see that many of your tasty looking recipes contain a lot of sunflower seeds which makes me worry. Wouldn’t I have to eat a lot of flax seed or chia seeds to compensate the fatty acids and get enough omega 3?
    I am quite at the beginning. It seems there is not much info about vegan paleo…
    Greetings from Switzerland!

  3. Pingback: How ‘The Perennial’ designed itself around preventing Climate Change | MARRIOTT HARBOUR BLOG

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