If you’re just craving a healthy, jam-packed salad for lunch or dinner then this Chicken Caesar Salad with Cornbread Croutons is just the thing that you need and it's entirely dairy-free! Simply add a splash of color, flavor, and nutrients with a variety of ingredients like kale, roasted chickpeas, cornbread croutons, vegan parmesan, and an easy dairy-free dressing. Vegan, Gluten-Free, + Make ahead options.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links via Amazon for products that I wholeheartedly love.
Seriously, when it comes to salads, I've always been apprehensive about creating recipes because there are just SO many options in this department on the internet. Haha. However, after I started experimenting with ingredients and different flavor combos, I realized that I could still bring some uniqueness to salads and hence, this Chicken Caesar Salad with Cornbread Croutons was born! I remember getting caesar salads from places like AppleBee's and Just Salad as my main options because I absolutely LOVE the simplicity, yet umami, bold flavors of this kind of salad. Plus, this Cheesy Kale Garlic Bread makes for a great side! Plus, this Fall Harvest BBQ Chickpea Kale Salad is so delish!
I Just Love this Chicken Caesar Salad....
That's why I had to make this one at home once I reduced my eating out to a minimum and of course, switching things up a bit is always a must for me. The Southern part of me had to make sweeter, satisfying croutons than the standard, but if you're looking to keep things traditional in that way, then my Homemade Croutons are just the thing you need! But trust me----making your croutons out of cornbread is a life changer! Lastly, I had to use kale as my base because I seriously enjoy it more than regular lettuce and keeping this entire salad dairy-free allowed me to enjoy it in it's fullness. It's a win, win. And these Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders are the perfect thing to top this salad with for a nice switch up!
Be sure to see this beauty (and other recipes) come to life via IG Reels for a nice visual!
Overall, this chicken caesar salad is definitely comfort food in a healthy form, includes simple steps, and can totally be personalized based on preference----i.e. sub with your favorite side dish or eat without meat by subbing things like mushrooms, tofu, cauliflower, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, etc. instead of the chicken.
What Does a Chicken Caesar Salad Contain?
OK, so incase you aren't familiar with chicken caesar salads, here's the real deal on what it is. Usually, this type of salad uses Romaine lettuce, Chicken, French bread, Parmesan, and a tangy, bold dressing made using Worcestershire sauce.
How To Make Chicken Caesar Salad with Cornbread Croutons
The awesome thing about this chicken caesar salad recipe is that most of the ingredients are household staples. Plus, it's easy to mix and match ingredients with whatever you have on hand, so there's no need to make an extra trip to the store. Instead, embrace the laid-back nature of this healthy meal and substitute whatever you don't like.
Here's what I like to toss into my chicken caesar salad:
Chicken breasts. Choose organic chicken for this recipe. If you have time, I recommend marinating them overnight before you prepare the salad. You could also use chicken thighs for this recipe if you prefer dark meat. Marinate overnight if you can!
Dried herbs. I like to season the chicken with herbs + seasonings like salt, black pepper, garlic powder, basil, oregano, + thyme.
Kale or lettuce. I love to use organic kale for most of my salad bases. However, you can substitute the greens with another leafy salad base, such as arugula, romaine, Boston, spinach, or red leaf lettuce.
Olive oil. you can also use avocado oil or lemon juice, if you prefer. This is used for massaging your kale and for the croutons.
Cornbread. I love switching it up with croutons made from cornbread, but you can keep it traditional if desired. You'll need day old or leftover cornbread for this or you can "dry it out". I talk about this in the post!
Italian seasoning. You can use a store-bought version or create your own blend.
Vegan Parmesan. I love to freshly-grate my cheese, however, you can use your favorite shredded brand---quality does matter! Just make sure that everything is dairy-free or vegan.
Salad dressing. Feel free to use your favorite dressing on this salad, but I highly recommend my Dairy-free Caesar Dressing.
My easy method to massage kale is to add the de-stemmed and chopped kale to a large bowl and then drizzling it with 1-2 tsps of lemon juice or Extra virgin olive oil and using your clean hands, rubbing the leaves together gently for about 2-3 minutes. They should look glossy and slightly reduced in volume when massaging is achieved.
What Can Be Used in Place of Kale in This Chicken Caesar Salad?
Although, kale is the most common veggie that I love to use as my salad base, you can definitely use other greens such as romaine lettuce, spinach, collard greens, bokchoy, etc. for a nice twist! When it comes to vegetables, there are so many benefits as we all know. While some veggies pack a greater punch when it comes to nutrients, we’ve curated a special list of our Our Top 12 Favorite Healthy Green Leafy Vegetables! Most of these are super popular while others are under utilized in many dishes. Lettuce Eat, Shall We?
SHOP MY FAVORITE TOOLS FOR COOKING, ESPECIALLY FOR THIS SALAD!
Here, I’ve curated a list of cooking + baking essentials that I use to achieve my favorite baked goods or cooked meals, especially with this Chicken Caesar Salad with Cornbread Croutons. Everything from my fave baking sheet, dutch ovens, immersion hand-blender, mixing bowls, and more. SEE THEM HERE!
Roasted Chickpeas: A Beautiful Addition
In case you're thinking of making this chicken caesar salad and would love to add a bit of a crunch or extra texture, then I recommend adding roasted chickpeas. It's super easy to do and only requires one (15 oz.) can of chickpeas, a bit of olive oil, and herbs + seasonings and you let the oven work it's magic. Check out my recipe here for easy steps!
What Are Good Ingredients to Add to a Salad?
If you want to take this already delicious caesar salad to the next level, have fun tossing in your favorite salad toppers. I especially love the following ingredients with the kale and tangy caesar dressing in this recipe:
Beans + legumes (i.e. black beans, kidney beans, etc.)
To top your delicious veggie salad and add a bit of heat, make a dairy-free/vegan caesar dressing with:
Vegan mayonnaise. Use any kind you like. I love Follow Your Heart.
Worcestershire. This adds a powerful umami flavor. However, you can sub with soy sauce, red wine vinegar, etc.
Lemon juice. Freshly squeezed! You can also use lime juice.
Olive oil. I like the neutral taste of olive oil, however, you can sub with sesame oil or Tahini for a nuttier taste.
Almond milk. Helps to make the sauce creamier. You can use your fave plant-based milk.
Herbs + seasonings. You'll need salt, black pepper, and garlic powder.
Dijon mustard. Helps to bring a bit of tanginess and strong flavor to the dressing.
Meatless Options for this Chicken Caesar Salad
While this Chicken Caesar Salad with Cornbread Croutons is perfect as is---I definitely wanted to give options for those of you who don't eat meat or just might make this salad more than once and want to switch things up with a meatless option from time to time! Here are a few great ingredients that you can substitute with the chicken in this delicious salad.
Other plant-based meat alternatives (store-bought)
Ingredients for Homemade Cornbread Croutons
For the best Homemade Cornbread Croutons, it’s all about the simple ingredients!
Here’s what you need for the croutons:
Cornbread. I love using day old or leftover vegan cornbread and cutting them into 1" cubes.
Olive oil. Don’t skimp on the oil! It helps concentrate the bread and makes for a nice crispy texture once baked. You can also use Grapeseed oil as well.
Italian seasoning. You can use a store-bought version or create your own blend.
How To 'Dry Out' Fresh Cornbread
So, if you didn't have any leftover cornbread and end up using freshly baked cornbread, no worries at all! To ensure that they're prepped for their transition into a crouton, simply let your cornbread cool completely before slicing it into 1" chunks. Once done, do the following:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
Add cubed cornbread unto baking sheet
Bake for 5-10 minutes or until golden and edges are crisp
How to Make Homemade Italian Seasoning
If you're thinking about making your own Italian seasoning blend, then look no further! All you need is handful of herbs + spices, mix them together, and wallah! You'll need 2 teaspoons of each simple ingredient:
Red pepper flakes
How to Store Homemade Italian Seasoning
You can keep leftover seasoning in a small tightly sealed jar and at room temperature for up to 6 months like your other herbs + spices.
What to Serve with Chicken Caesar Salad with Cornbread Croutons
You can enjoy this Chicken Caesar Salad with Cornbread Croutons on its own as a nice lunch or dinner. Or, if you'd like to add additional protein to round out your meal, add crispy tofu or nuts to keep things plant-based. If you're not vegetarian or vegan, you can add seared salmon or another meat.
Can I Make This Chicken Caesar Salad with Cornbread Croutons for Meal Prep?
Absolutely! The baked chicken can be made up to 2 days beforehand and stored in an airtight container and refrigerated. While the chickpeas can be roasted and stored in the fridge for up to 2 days and reheated. Also, the cornbread can be made up to 2 days prior and cut into cubes, which helps to make the process of making the croutons much easier. The dressing can be made and refrigerated in a separate airtight container. The salad can be chopped up to 30 minutes before serving.
How to Store Leftover Chicken Caesar Salad with Cornbread Croutons
Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days, depending on the ingredients. Always determine the ingredients in your salad and keep it no longer than the shelf life of your fastest-spoiling ingredient.
Can I Make this Caesar Salad Vegan or Gluten-Free?
Of course! To make this salad GF-friendly, just ensure that the cornbread is GF-friendly as well as any ingredients in the dressing that may be needed.
VEGAN OPTION: See post above for 'Meatless options' for the topping of this salad instead of chicken.
3-4cupsvegan cornbread, cut into 1" cubes(Best when you use leftovers, however, see Post for details on the "dry out" process)
2-3TbspsExtra virgin olive oil
2tspsItalian seasoning, homemade or store-bought
2bunchesorganic kale(You can keep things traditional with romaine lettuce or other mix of greens)
1cupfreshly-grated vegan parmesan cheese
2cupsroasted chickpeas, optional(See Post for details)
VEGAN CAESAR DRESSING:
½cupAlmond milk(You can use your fave plant-based milk)
3tspsapple cider vinegar
4tspsvegan Worcestershire sauce
2tspsdijon mustard, premium(This is optional)
4tspsfreshly-squeeze lemon juice
¼cupExtra virgin olive oil(You can sub with sesame oil or Tahini, if desired)
BAKE THE CHICKEN:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line a small baking sheet with parchment paper.
If you marinate your chicken overnight in the refrigerator, remove and let it sit at room temperature for 30-45 minutes before adding to prepared baking sheet and baking it for for 30-35 minutes or until fully cooked through. NOTE: When done, the chicken should look "dark" in color from the seasoning and crusted, but juicy + clear on the inside. Remove from oven and slice into "strip-like' chicken or chunks, if preferred.
TO MAKE THE CORNBREAD CROUTONS:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper.
In a bowl, add the cubed cornbread, olive oil, and Italian seasoning, tossing everything together until bread is fully coated. Add the cornbread unto the baking sheet (spreading it out evenly) and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the bread has become golden and are crisp. Remove and let it cool.
TO MAKE THE VEGAN CAESAR DRESSING:
Add all ingredients into a high-powdered blender and blend until sauce becomes creamy. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.
CHOP + MASSAGE THE KALE:
Strip the leaves from 2 large bunches kale and discard the stems if you haven't already. Roughly chop the leaves and add them to a large bowl. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of olive oil atop chopped kale and using clean hands, rub together the kale gently for about 2-3 minutes to soften the leaves and help to infuse the 'flavors' of the kale.
TO ASSEMBLE THE SALAD:
To the bowl with the kale, add the sliced cooked chicken, roasted chickpeas (if using), cornbread croutons, grated vegan parmesan, and the Vegan Caesar dressing, tossing everything together. NOTE: You can add the dressing to the salad when tossing OR set aside until serving.
To serve, add the salad to your bowl(s) and add additional grated parmesan, if desired.
Tips & Tricks
STORAGE: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days, depending on the ingredients. Always determine the ingredients in your salad and keep it no longer than the shelf life of your fastest-spoiling ingredient.
MAKE AHEAD: The baked chicken can be made up to 2 days beforehand and stored in an airtight container and refrigerated. While the chickpeas can be roasted and stored in the fridge for up to 2 days and reheated. Also, the cornbread can be made up to 2 days prior and cut into cubes, which helps to make the process of making the croutons much easier. The dressing can be made and refrigerated in a separate airtight container. The salad can be chopped up to 30 minutes before serving.
GLUTEN-FREE OPTION: To make this salad GF-friendly, just ensure that the cornbread is GF-friendly as well as any ingredients in the dressing that may be needed.
VEGAN OPTION: See post for Meatless options for the topping of this salad instead of chicken.
GREENS: If preferred, you can always add greens like Romaine lettuce, Arugula, Mustard Greens, Spinach or Collard Greens to this pasta dish for added flavor.
EQUIPMENT: Here, I’ve curated a list of cooking + baking essentials that I use to achieve my favorite baked goods or cooked meals, especially with this Chicken Caesar Salad with Cornbread Croutons. Everything from my fave high-powered blender, baking sheets, wooden spoons, salad chopper, mixing bowls, and more.