vegan kale caesar salad in mixing bowl

Tahini Kale Caesar Salad with Smoky Tempeh

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This vegan kale caesar is made with tender kale, crunchy veggies, and smoky tempeh tossed in a creamy, tangy tahini dressing.

You need to try this plant-based Caesar-inspired kale salad! While I can’t promise it tastes exactly like Caesar salad, it’s also not meant to. Rather than trying to replicate animal-based dishes, I like to draw inspiration from these recipes and recreate them in my own way with plant-based ingredients. This kale caesar is one of my favorite ways to eat kale, so I hope you’ll like it too!

vegan kale caesar salad ingredients

Key Ingredients

  • Tempeh ⟶ Inspired by bacon bits, the smoky tempeh adds protein and textural contrast that pairs wonderfully with the creamy dressing and crunchy veggies.
  • Tahini ⟶ Instead of mayonnaise, the base of this plant-based dressing is tahini.
  • Nutritional Yeast ⟶ For umami and “cheesy” flavor. You can also use vegan Parmesan or omit if necessary.
  • Kale + Romaine Lettuce ⟶ Traditional Caesar salad is made with romaine lettuce, but I love adding kale or making it exclusively with kale.
    • Tip: My top tip for kale salads is massaging the kale first! This breaks down the tough leaves and makes the kale more tender and easier to chew. You can massage kale with some dressing, olive oil, or even just lemon juice.
  • Carrots/Cucumbers/Red Onions ⟶ Not typically used in Caesar salad, but they add a delightful crunch and some extra nutrients. Feel free to add other veggies too like bell peppers or tomatoes.

Tips for Success

Massage kale ⟶ Massage some of the dressing into the kale first to soften the leaves. This makes them much more tender and easy to chew.

Save time by skipping the tempeh ⟶ If you’re short on time, you can omit the tempeh, but I recommend throwing in some white beans or chickpeas (boiled or roasted) for protein.

Or make tempeh the day before ⟶ You can also make the tempeh the day before so you can just throw it into the salad the next day for a quick lunch.

Swap tempeh for tofu ⟶ If you’re not a fan of tempeh, try my smoky tofu instead!

Vegan Kale Caesar FAQ

Is this good for meal prep?
Yes! Since the dressing is tahini-based, it isn’t super watery meaning the salad won’t get so soggy over time. However, the lettuce may wilt, so if you want to make this salad ahead of time and dress it, I recommend omitting the romaine lettuce and using an entire bunch of kale. Also opt for thin Japanese or Persian cucumbers since these are less watery than the typical American cucumber.

How long does kale caesar last?
Undressed, the salad will last for up to 5 days in the fridge. For dressed salad, I recommend consuming within 3 days.

Does this taste like caesar salad?
Honestly, I haven’t had a true dairy-based Caesar salad in years so I can’t really say. But this salad is not really meant to be a Caesar salad copycat, more of a Caesar-inspired salad. Just think of it as a fun, tasty new way to enjoy plants 🙂

More Satisfying Salads

If you make this tahini kale caesar, don’t forget to leave a comment/rating down below and tag me in your photos on instagram I love seeing all of your tasty recreations!

vegan kale caesar salad in bowl

Tahini Kale Caesar with Smoky Tempeh

This vegan kale caesar is made with tender kale, crunchy veggies, and smoky tempeh tossed in a creamy, tangy tahini dressing.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Course Lunch, Salad
Cuisine Gluten-Free, Vegan
Servings 4


Smoky Tempeh

  • 8 oz tempeh, cut into small cubes
  • ½ tsp smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp nutritional yeast
  • ½ tbsp tomato paste or ketchup
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce, or tamari for gluten-free
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp liquid smoke, optional

Tahini Dressing (make half if you don't want leftover dressing)

  • 5 tbsp tahini
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 ½ tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 1 ½ tsp miso
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 2-4 tbsp water, or more as needed

Kale Caesar

  • ¼ small red onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ bunch kale
  • ½ head romaine lettuce, chopped, or more kale
  • 1 small carrot, shredded
  • 1 cucumber, thinly sliced into half moons

Toppings (Optional)

  • hemp seeds
  • nutritional yeast or vegan Parmesan cheese
  • croutons
  • freshly ground black pepper


Smoky Tempeh

  • Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
    Tip: If you have time, you can let the tempeh marinate for 30 minutes or up to a day before. In this case, don't preheat the oven until you're ready to bake the tempeh.
  • Steam tempeh: Add tempeh cubes to a microwave-safe bowl with 2 tbsp of water. Cover and microwave for 1 minute to steam.
  • Season: Mix tempeh with remaining ingredients. If you have time, marinate the tempeh for at least 30 minutes.
  • Bake: Arrange tempeh spaced apart on the lined baking sheet – try not to let the pieces touch. Bake 10 minutes, then flip tempeh and bake another 10 minutes or until crisped on the edges.

Tahini Dressing

  • Add all dressing ingredients to a jar and shake well to combine. Taste and add more salt/pepper/vinegar if desired. Store in fridge until ready to use.
    Tip: Dressing will thicken more as it sits, so you may need to add extra water.

Kale Caesar

  • Prep onions: Add red onion slices to a small bowl. Squeeze juice from half a lemon over and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Toss and set aside to let the onion flavor mellow.
  • Massage kale: Remove kale stems and tear or chop the leaves. Add to a large mixing bowl and drizzle some of the tahini dressing over. Use your hands to massage the dressing into the kale until kale is dark green and tender (about 2 minutes).
  • Toss: Add romaine lettuce, carrot, and cucumbers. Drain liquid from the onions and add onions to the salad. Add in the baked tempeh. Drizzle tahini dressing over and toss until well combined. Sprinkle desired toppings on and serve.
    Tip: Wait to dress the salad until you're ready to serve or the lettuce may wilt. Alternatively, use an entire bunch of kale instead of romaine lettuce, so leftovers will still be crunchy.

*Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases, but the price remains the same to you. Thank you for supporting Ellie Likes Cooking!

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