Yesterday our neighbor gave us a big head of romaine lettuce straight from his garden.
The first thought that came to mind was Caesar Salad!
But we had a problem - traditional caesar calls for anchovies and lemons and parmesan - all things we didn't have in our kitchen.
A couple years ago, I would have just shelved the idea, and either saved the romaine or made a more basic salad.
But now I embrace missing ingredients. When I am missing an ingredient and need to substitute, I get excited. It engages my creative and improvisational neurons, and often results in a cool discovery.
The same principle is true in most areas of life - from business to politics. We get so hung up on process, recipes, and "the way it's supposed to be done" or "the industry standard" that we miss opportunities to innovate in ways that will achieve similar or better outcomes with fewer resources.
Constraints are powerful. When you are limited to the just the ingredients you have right now, you can either get take out, go hungry, or work with what you have and come up with a plan.
I'm a big believer that great recipes don't have to be that complicated. Cooking is fairly forgiving and most everything has an acceptable substitute.
Last night I decided to substitute fish sauce for anchovies, lime juice for lemon juice, and olive oil for vegetable oil. I used a stale baguette for croutons, and omitted the parmesan because we didn't have any. To summer things up, I added fresh basil to the dressing, and cherry tomatoes to the salad.
The result was a citrusy, herby, summery caesar salad which took less than 5 minutes to make and was better than what you'll find at most restaurants.
Summer Caesar Salad
- 1 egg (you can use just the yolk if you want)
- Juice from 1 big lemon or 3 - 4 smaller lemons or limes (around 1/4 cup)
- 1 to 2 tsp of Fish Sauce (I like Red Boat)
- 1 to 2 cloves of garlic
- 1/4 cup oil (whatever you have around. Classic caesar recipes usually call for a more neutral oil like grapeseed or Canola, but extra virgin olive oil works totally fine.)
- Salt and Pepper
- Handful of fresh basil (optional)
- Romaine Lettuce - chopped into bite size pieces
- Baguette, ideally stale or getting stale (optional)
- Parmesan Cheese - shaved or grated (optional)
- Cherry Tomatoes - sliced in half (optional)
- Finishing Salt
- Black Pepper (coarsely ground)
- If you're using the baguette: cut it in half lengthwise and throw it in the toaster. Or if you're feeling fancy, brush it with olive oil, salt and pepper, and maybe a sprinkle of dried herbs and throw it in the oven on broil for a few minutes (but be careful it doesn't burn). After it's done toasting, cut into crouton-sized chunks.
- Crack the egg into the blender** and then add the citrus juice, fish sauce, garlic, salt, pepper, and the basil if you're using it. Turn the blender on medium-low and slowly begin to add the oil until the mixture is all combined and emulisified. It should end up thicker than juice but not as thick as mayonnaise.
- Combine the romaine, cherry tomatoes, homemade croutons, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper (or whichever combination you are using) and toss it all together. Then drizzle the dressing around the mixture, toss again and serve.
*This amount of dressing will be good for a 2 to 4 person salad.
**If you don't have a blender, no problem. Simply use a mixing bowl and a whisk or a fork. First mince the garlic and basil if you're using it, and then whisk those ingredients with the citrus juice, fish sauce, salt and pepper. Then, just as with the blender, slowly drizzle the oil into the mixture while you whisk it around. Once it is all combined, keep whisking for another minute or so until its gets to a good thickness.