For all the grief the Caesar salad gets in the culinary world, I proudly admit to adoring the classic flavor combination - garlicky-lemon dressing mixed with anchovy-umami undertone that can only come from salty fish, topped off with nutty, pungent parmesan. If I could eat only one salad for the rest of my life, it would be some form of Caesar.
Today's recipe for Brussels Sprouts Caesar with Sardine Croutons is a pivot on the standard version. The dressing is my quick weeknight version, using a tiny bit of mayo for creaminess instead of raw egg. Instead of romaine, I use shaved raw Brussels sprouts, which significantly boost the protein over other lettuces and greens. And, the bright lemony dressing completely covers any lingering cruciferous notes from the raw Brussels that may bother some palates.
I leave off the bread croutons, a move originated in honor of my daughter's intolerance of gluten, but one that works out well for those watching carbs. Instead, I lightly saute up sardines and cut them into cubes to stand-in as croutons, boosting protein, omega-3s and salty flavor. I skip the anchovy paste, no longer necessary, in the dressing.
If the sardines scare you, I'd like to encourage you to give them a try, in this recipe or in another. A can of sardines will only set you back a buck or two, and are handy to have in the pantry. If you are a canned sardine newbie, I'd suggest looking for the words "boneless and skinless" on the label. The bones are actually barely detectable, and the skin is tasteless, but the skin is hard to remove, and its silvery color is a bit of a turn-off for my kiddos. So maybe start slow.
When you open the can, gently remove the sardines (don't worry if they break a little; they are delicate.). Blot them in a paper towel to remove excess oil - and fishy flavor - thoroughly. Final tip: Serve sardines with plenty of citrus to appreciate a marriage of flavors that just works. If I can't convince you, though, I've made this Caesar recipe with canned tuna instead - just drain the tuna and spoon right on top of the salad.
BRUSSELS SPROUTS CAESAR WITH SARDINE CROUTONS
Start to finish: 20 minutes
1 pound Brussels sprouts, sliced or shredded (about 4 cups total)
1 small can (3.75 ounces) skinless, boneless sardines, drained and blotted dry with a paper towel
1 tablespoon flour
Olive oil in a mister
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon finely minced fresh garlic
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ounce of Parmesan cheese (for shards)
Extra lemon and black pepper for serving, optional
Place shredded Brussels sprouts in a large salad bowl and set aside. Heat a small nonstick saute pan over medium-high heat. Gently dredge the sardines in the flour, lightly coating the sardines with the flour on both sides. (You may skip this step entirely, and just saute the patted sardines. Spray the pan with a light coating of olive oil and cook the sardines until lightly crusty and golden, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, make the dressing: whisk all the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. Spoon the dressing onto the shredded sprouts and toss to coat well. Top with sardines (serve whole or cut into cubes), a few shards of parmesan cheese and additional black pepper and serve with extra lemon wedges, if desired.
Nutrition information per serving: 122 calories; 56 calories from fat; 6 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 31 mg cholesterol; 166 mg sodium; 9 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 9 g protein.
Food Network star Melissa d'Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook, "Supermarket Healthy."