Skip Expensive Store-Bought Kits with DIY Caesar Salad plus Homemade Croutons
I like to save money. This is why I’m such a huge fan of children’s resale events, for example. So when Kimmie was shopping with me one day and I grabbed a Caesar Salad kit off the clearance pile, little did I know I was setting a bad precedent.
The next time Kimmie came to the store with me, she was intent on buying another Caesar salad kit!
I am all for saving on food waste by shopping the clearance section if I’m getting ready for that night’s dinner. And in situations like these, pre-packaged salad kits are usually cheaper than buying the individual ingredients from scratch.
But honestly, homemade croutons are SO much tastier (and cheaper!) than the store-bought ones, that I whip up a batch whenever I have a few minutes.
Especially since the girls seem to think that NO salad is complete without croutons. I used to think that making my own homemade croutons was too much of a bother. But once I realized that a loaf of crusty bread on clearance made as many croutons as several store-bought bags, but cost a fraction as much as one bag does, I figured I needed to master this skill.
Add some store-bought dressing, some shredded Parmesan, and some shredded romaine lettuce, and you have a quick Caesar-style salad that’s just as tasty as the store-bought ones. Better, in fact, because of those yummy homemade croutons. (Kimmie likes it SO much that she brings the leftovers to school in her lunchbox!)
So if you’re ready to add this skill to your repertoire, read on:
Easy Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons
Serves 4-6 / Prep time approx 15 minutes / Total time approx 30 minutes
NOTE: I’ve adapted the crouton recipe from the one on p. 209 on the 1997 edition of The Joy of Cooking, which has a from-scratch Caesar salad recipe on pp. 209-210. If you’re looking for a real treat, I encourage you to make the full Caesar recipe you’ll find there sometime; Dear Husband makes it for me sometimes, and it’s amazing. But for a quick everyday version that’s as good as the store-bought kits, just use prepared Caesar dressing from the store.
Also, *the proportions below for the croutons are based on the Joy of Cooking recipe. But I scale up or down depending on how much bread I have. You can make these croutons ahead and store them in an air-tight container for up to several weeks, if they last that long. (They’re so tasty that I have to hide them, or else we’ll all snack on the leftovers and they’ll be gone in 24 hours tops.)
Whenever I’m making the croutons, unless I’m using up leftover bread, I just make an entire loaf’s worth, with a loaf of crusty/artisan-style bread from the day-old pile at the grocery store bakery. (Hint: great way to use up leftovers, or save by buying from the clearance pile!) I cube however much bread I have first, measure to see how much I have, and scale the rest of the crouton ingredients accordingly.
What you’ll need:
For the homemade croutons:
- 3 1/2 c bread cubes*, preferably freshly-cut from day-old crusty or artisan bread from the grocery store
- 2 T unsalted butter*
- 2 T olive oil*
- 1 clove (1/2-1 t.) chopped garlic* (Or more to taste; I usually use the pre-chopped jarred kind because it’s faster/easier.)
- Salt and pepper
For the Caesar salad itself:
- 1 head Romaine lettuce, washed/dried/shredded
- 1/4-1/2 c. shredded Parmesan cheese, to taste (You can make your own shreds if you have a hunk of Parmesan lying around. Or you can just buy some pre-shredded from your store’s prepackaged deli section. We use the jars of pre-shredded Parmesan from Costco because we go through it fast enough to make buying it in bulk cost-effective.)
- 1/4-1/2 c. Caesar dressing, to taste (our family’s favorite, after trying several, is Wish-Bone Caesar dressing, but Newman’s Own Caesar Dressing is also good)
The basic idea:
For the croutons:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the bread into small cubes (approximately 1/2-1 inch, or 1-2 cm). Put the cubes into a large bowl.
2. In a small saucepan, heat the butter, oil, and garlic over medium heat until the butter is melted, stirring occasionally. (Watch closely, and don’t let the garlic get more than slightly browned.) Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat when butter is melted.
3. Drizzle the saucepan mixture over the bread cubes, and toss well to combine.
4, Spread the oiled bread cubes in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan or cookie sheet. (Lining it first with foil or parchment paper will make cleanup super-quick.)
5. Bake the bread cubes, stirring once or twice, for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. If not using right away, allow to cool completely, then store in an airtight container.
For the Caesar salad:
1. Wash, dry, and then chop one head of Romaine lettuce into ribbon-strips. Put the lettuce into a bowl. (If I’m making the salad at the same time as the croutons, vs. prepping the croutons ahead, I just use the bowl I tossed the bread cubes in.
2. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top of the lettuce, then drizzle the dressing on. Toss thoroughly to combine.
3, Sprinkle 1-2 c. homemade croutons over the top of the salad, and toss lightly. (If I’m making a large bowl of salad and expect leftovers for the girls’ lunches, I’ll use fewer croutons and won’t toss them in. That way, we’ll eat the croutons off the top of the salad, and I can pack a small container of croutons to go to school with them, so they don’t have a salad full of soggy croutons.)
4. Refrigerate any leftovers promptly.
Mix it up:
- These croutons are specifically designed for Caesar salad, but of course you can use them on whatever salad you like.
- If you don’t have garlic on hand, substitute garlic salt for the regular salt, or add in some garlic powder.
- If you’re going to use these croutons on other salads, experiment with other seasonings. Options to try includeItalian seasoning herb blend, powdered Italian or Ranch salad dressing mix, cumin and chili powder.
- You could even sprinkle a little grated or shredded Parmesan cheese onto them before you put them into the oven.
- While I used to think these were really fussy to make, I’ve realized that they are a great way to team up on oven use when I’m baking a casserole (or heating one from the freezer). It’s very easy to pop these in the oven alongside a casserole or whatever else you might be baking. If the cooking temp of your meal is higher or lower than 350 degrees F, just adjust the cooking time accordingly and keep an eye on them.
- I’ve even been known to stick the baking pan right on top of a casserole pan in our good-sized toaster oven for 10-15 minutes!
- Have some leftover cooked chicken breast? Slice that up and put it on top for an instant-lunch chicken Caesar salad.
- Or, one of my favorite lunches is to fry two eggs until the yolks are just set, then put them on top of this salad.
- Or, if you have any large wraps/tortillas lying around, make yourself a Caesar wrap (with or without added protein) for a lunch on-the-go.
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