Since setting foot on Grounds as a new, fresh-eyed first year, I’ve known Roots as a staple in the University community. Founded in 2015 by two University graduates, Roots has become well-known for their affordable, healthy and delicious signature salads. Although they have a number of signature bowls that have gained popularity across Charlottesville and some other cities, my personal favorite has always been the Pesto Caesar.
The perfect combination of tanginess, richness and lightness, the Pesto Caesar has been my go-to meal over the past four years. In fact, I have to admit that I probably got Roots at least once a week last year — it became such a staple in my diet that I actually craved it over the summer, so I tried to tackle making it at home away from Charlottesville.
I was surprised at how easy and fun it was to recreate the salad at home. Although it doesn’t perfectly measure up to the Roots version, it’s a more affordable option to make at home if one of your goals for this year is to cook more and eat more veggies.
What I liked most about recreating this salad is that you can customize it to your current needs. Sometimes I choose to omit the bulgur when I’m in a rush or I’ll add roasted broccoli if I want some new, nutty flavors in the salad. Some of the ingredients or steps may sound daunting, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly and easily you can whip up this salad.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Chicken of your choice — I always get chicken breast.
- Chopped kale, pre-bagged or a bunch
- Bulgur — I always cook the whole package according to the package instructions and save it for throughout the week
- Cherry tomatoes, halved — I like to use about 5 cherry tomatoes, but feel free to add as many as you like, or omit if you don't like tomatoes
- Pita chips — my personal favorite are Stacy’s, but I also love the Trader Joe’s brand
- Shaved parmesan
- 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- Approximately ½ cup vinegar of your choice — I like to use rice wine vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar
- Seasonings of choice
- 2 cups basil leaves, stems removed
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon anchovy paste or 2 filets
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 large egg yolk
- 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice juice
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Thinly slice your red onions and place them in a container, either a Mason jar or a different glass container.
- Cover the onions with your vinegar, about ¾ of the way full. This should be about ½ cup of vinegar, but if it doesn’t cover the majority of the onions, add more! Add about a teaspoon of sugar, a pinch of salt, and mix around. Let sit until they’re bright pink and tender.
- While you’re waiting for your onions to pickle, start by making your bulgur. Cook according to package directions.
- Next, make your chicken. I like to chop mine up, pour some olive oil into a pan and sauté the chicken with salt, pepper and garlic powder until golden brown and cooked through, but feel free to cook your chicken however you like.
- In a salad bowl — I like to use a big bowl for a filling salad — fill the bowl with kale. Drizzle a little olive oil and massage the kale.
- Next, throw in all your toppings. I normally halve my tomatoes and toss them in, then add a healthy sprinkling of shaved parmesan and pita chips.
- Once that’s all done, it’s time to make the dressing. I make the dressing in two steps — I first combine all of the ingredients for the pesto vinaigrette in the blender, then make the caesar dressing, and then blend it together until it’s the perfect consistency. Make sure that you only add enough pesto vinaigrette or caesar dressing so that you enjoy the ratio — I sometimes omit the caesar dressing and just use the pesto vinaigrette, and find that it’s just as good!
- Dress your salad to your heart’s desire, and enjoy.
The final product is a nearly perfect recreation of the famous Pesto Caesar — it’s easy to prepare and your friends will be so impressed at how much the final product tastes like the real thing. I’ve even started making it for my family members back home, and they tell me that it’s better than Sweetgreen, a similar fast-casual salad chain.
I like making a big batch of this salad to meal prep, and then I can enjoy it throughout the week. To keep it fresh, make sure that you don’t dress the salad until you’re eating it, otherwise some ingredients will get soggy — especially the pita chips.
This salad makes for the perfect lunch or dinner throughout a busy week. Once you do the heavier legwork of cooking your bulgur and chicken and making the dressing, you can easily throw all the ingredients together in a big bowl, mix it up and enjoy.