We are always told to eat more salads to be healthy, but lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, croutons, and Italian dressing can get old, really fast. If you're getting tired of eating the same thing over and over because it's good for you, make this cajun caesar salad with blackened chickpeas to fall in love with the way healthy tastes again. This easy lunch or dinner recipe is a delicious combination of spice and greens, that will make you want to eat more vegetables and plant-based protein.

Chickpeas are widely considered one of the healthiest plant-based foods, and luckily, these small protein-loaded beans are the core ingredient in this salad. In just one cup of chickpeas, there are 11 grams of protein, excellent for energy and plant-based eaters, and 35 grams of fiber, helpful for digestion and weight loss.

In this salad, the chickpeas are covered in a spicy and flavorful cajun seasoning, a spice popularly used for chicken or salmon but in this plant-based recipe, you can still enjoy traditional tastes with a healthier protein. The best part about this salad is that everyone loves it, even your meat-eater dad, friend, uncle, brother whoever, and this recipe is a great start to help them add more plant-based options to their diet.

"If you’re a Caesar salad fanatic like me, prepare to be blown away! Spicy Cajun dressing and blackened chickpeas elevate this meal from beloved classic to showstopper status. Crunchy romaine and creamy avocado perfectly balance the heat, while the chickpeas taste like crisp, chewy flavor bombs. I served this dish at a party, and it was devoured even faster than the truffle mac ‘n’ cheese. Bottom line —this salad is a must-try!"

Making the salad as a side to go with your meal? Enjoy it with a Smoky Gouda Melt and you have yourself the most delicious vegan lunch that you can't get anywhere but your own kitchen.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Cajun Caesar with Blackened Chickpeas

Yields 4 servings

Ingredients

Cajun Caesar Dressing

  • 2 (14-oz [400-g]) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
  • 3 tbsp (45 ml) avocado or grapeseed oil
  • 1⁄4 cup (25 g) Cajun spice mix (store-bought or see Fresh Tips!)
  • 1 cup (160 g) raw cashews, soaked for 6+ hours or boiled for 10 minutes, or hemp seeds
  • 1⁄2 cup (120 ml) water
  • 1⁄4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
  • 2 large cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp (9 g) nutritional yeast
  • 2 tsp (10 ml) Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp (2 g) Cajun spice mix
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) lemon juice, plus more to taste
  • 1⁄2 tsp salt, plus more to taste

Caesar Salad

  • 3 hearts romaine, chopped or 2 (10-oz [283-g]) bags of romaine
  • 1⁄4 cup (30 g) shredded vegan Parmesan (store-bought)
  • 2 cups (80 g) croutons of choice (optional)
  • 1 cup (149 g) small tomatoes, halved
  • 2 ripe avocados, diced

Cajun Spice Mix
Combine:

  • 2 teaspoons (4 g) of paprika
  • 2 teaspoons (2 g) of dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons (4 g) of onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons (5 g) of garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C). Oil two baking sheets. Dry the chickpeas very, very well.
  2. This is a crucial step in making them crunchy. If they aren’t dry enough, they won’t crisp up. I like to roll them around several times in a fluffy towel laid over the counter. Once you think they’re dry enough, dry them even more!
  3. In a large bowl, toss the chickpeas in the oil until evenly coated, then add the Cajun seasoning.
  4. Mix until well combined. Spread the chickpeas across the baking sheets. Make sure they are not touching much. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until very browned and very crunchy. Shake the pans halfway through cooking.
  5. While the chickpeas roast, make the dressing. Combine the nuts, water, oil, garlic, yeast,
    mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Cajun spice mix, paprika, lemon juice, and down the sides as needed. Taste, then add lemon juice or salt if needed. I like my Caesar dressing very thick, almost paste-like, but if you prefer a thinner dressing, salt in a blender.
  6. Blend on high until smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes. Stop to scrape add 2 to 3 extra tablespoons (30 to 45 ml) of water or olive oil. The salad is best served chilled, so pop the dressing in the fridge or freezer until ready to use.
  7. Toss the romaine with the dressing, Parmesan, and croutons (if using). Divide among serving bowls.
  8. Top with the blackened chickpeas, tomatoes, and avocados. Serve immediately.

Fresh Tips!
Not all Cajun spice mix contains salt. Check the label. If yours doesn’t, add 1 teaspoon
of sea salt when seasoning the chickpeas. Or, make a homemade blend using the mix below. There is a lot of seasoning on the chickpeas.
It’s normal for there to be a lot that blackens on the pan. If your chickpeas retained moisture after drying, they will require a longer cook time.

Reprinted with permission from Vegan YUM by Megan Sadd, Page Street Publishing Co. 2020. Photo credit: Megan Sadd