A bowl of chopped salad with cashew dressing.

At the end of January, I spotted a dressing recipe in Bon Appetit that intrigued me. It was cashew-based, but unlike many cashew-based dressings, which require soaking raw cashews in water for a couple of hours, this one called for roasted cashews and no soak.

Why, you might be wondering, would one include cashews in a dressing in the first place? Well, because cashews lend a creaminess and richness to dressings, precluding the need for dairy or eggs. For these reasons, cashew-based sauces are particularly popular with vegans. Gena Hamshaw of The Full Helping, describes “cashew cream” as a “secret weapon vegan ingredient” she wishes she “could share with every person who’s nervous about giving up dairy.”

Bon Appetit’s recipe was in fact inspired by the vegan Caesar dressings served at NYC’s Lalito and Scarr’s Pizza, but BA takes the dressing a different direction, adding honey and fish sauce, both of which push it out of vegan territory.

I made the dressing immediately and was surprised by how quickly it came together. All of the ingredients — cashews, rice vinegar, honey, oil, fish sauce, crushed red pepper flakes, and garlic — get thrown into a food processor at once. While it’s whirling, you stream in water, and depending on how much you add, you can use the resulting emulsion as either a dip or dressing.

When I first made it, I used it as a dip for crudité, and I found it completely irresistible. The small amount of fish sauce gives it a funk, evoking Caesar, but the flavor is more complex: there’s spice from the hefty amount of crushed red pepper flakes, a sharpness from the high ratio of rice vinegar to oil, and a bit of bite from a clove of garlic. The cashews make it silky smooth.

I’ve since been thinning the dressing with more water and using it as a dressing for chopped dinner salads. This is my favorite combination:

Charred Broccoli Chopped Salad

You can use this spicy cashew dressing on any vegetables you like, just keep in mind this is a bold, assertive dressing, too powerful, I think, for delicate, buttery lettuces or other tender produce. I have been using what has looked good at my store.

These have been the constants:

  • Tuscan kale or Romaine
  • Endive
  • Scallions
  • Raw, unpeeled, golden beets, shredded in the food processor
  • Broccoli, pan-charred or broiled
  • Currants, soaked in vinegar à la Zuni Cafe

Optional add-ins:

  • Salami or Soppressata, thinly sliced. I like the Applegate brand.
  • Grated or cubed cheese
  • Olive oil-toasted bread crumbs
  • Poached eggs or soft-boiled eggs for serving

Note: This really can be a choose-your-own-adventure salad. There should be some sort of sturdy green such as kale or Romaine. The inclusion of a chicory such as Belgian endive or radicchio provides a welcomed contrast of texture and subtle bitterness. I love raw, grated golden beets, but carrots or turnips would work well, too. Cauliflower could replace the broccoli, etc. Cooked chickpeas would be a wonderful addition.

I hope you find this chopped salad as irresistible as I. The best part? It holds up beautifully, so I can always count on this being dinner (for my husband and me … this is not one for the kiddos) as well as lunch the next day.

Here’s the play-by-play: Make the dressing:

Cashew dressing ingredients.

Blend cashews, garlic, honey, rice vinegar, fish sauce, crushed red pepper flakes, and olive oil in a food processor or blender. While it’s whirling, stream in water.

Cashew dressing in food processor.

Purée until smooth. Taste. Adjust with salt to taste.

Cashew dressing blended.

The below recipe yields over 2 cups, and it is so nice to have on hand.

A jar of cashew dressing.

Gather your vegetables…

Scallions, kale, endive, beets, broccoli.
A cutting board with chopped broccoli.

I love charred broccoli. You can do this under the broiler, too. The key is to get some nice browning, while keeping the broccoli firm.

A sauté pan filled with charred broccoli.

Chop up some kale,

Chopped kale on a board.

scallions,

Chopped scallions on a board.

and endive.

Chopped Endive on a cutting board.

Shred some raw, golden beets in the food processor, if you wish.

Shredded beets.

Combine them all in your largest bowl with vinegar-soaked currants.

A large salad bowl filled with the vegetables for a chopped salad.

Optional add-ins: chopped salami or soppressata, grated parmesan or other cubed or grated cheese.

Chopped salami on a cutting board.

Add them to the bowl of vegetables and …

A large salad bowl filled with the ingredients for a chopped salad.

… toss with the spicy cashew dressing.

A large salad bowl filled with a chopped salad.

Serve on its own or …

A bowl of chopped salad with cashew dressing.

…with a hunk of bread.

A bowl of chopped salad with cashew dressing aside toasty bread

To use the dressing as a dip, cut back on the water.

A platter of crudités with spicy cashew dip.