Kale is closing in on romaine as the Caesar salad green of choice; the hearty, nutrient-dense leaves, with their pungent earthiness, pair surprisingly well with the tangy Caesar dressing_perhaps even better than romaine.

While raw kale may sound healthiest, we learned that soaking the kale slightly helps to break down the fibrous cell walls, making nutrients such as vitamins A and C and iron more available for absorption. A 10-minute soak in warm water did the trick and also tenderized the kale.

How else could we improve on the salad? We traded white-bread croutons for whole-grain; their rustic chew tasted right at home in our bowl.

At first, an egg-based dressing sounded like the way to go, but we found a thicker mayonnaise-based dressing stood up better to the greens. What to do? We cut half of the mayonnaise with yogurt, then decreased the oil to just 2 tablespoons.

We added three anchovy fillets, which brought savoriness and healthy omega-3 fats. Decreasing the Parmesan lowered saturated fat without sacrificing the cheese's nutty flavor.

With our dressing reworked, the salad was ready to toss; we did, and gave it a 20-minute rest to blend flavors before serving.

KALE CAESAR SALAD

Servings: 4

Start to finish: 45 minutes

12 ounces curly kale, stemmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (16 cups)

3 ounces rustic 100 percent whole-grain bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (1 1/2 cups)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

3 tablespoons organic plain low-fat yogurt

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

3 anchovy fillets, rinsed and minced

1 garlic clove, minced

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 F. Place kale in large bowl and cover with warm tap water (110 F to 115 F). Swish kale around to remove grit. Let kale sit in warm water bath for 10 minutes. Remove kale from water and spin dry in salad spinner in multiple batches. Pat leaves dry with paper towels if still wet.

Toss bread, 1 tablespoon oil, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper together in bowl. Spread on rimmed baking sheet and bake until golden and crisp, about 15 minutes. Let croutons cool completely on sheet. (Cooled croutons can be stored at room temperature for up to 24 hours.)

In large bowl, whisk mayonnaise, yogurt, 1/4 cup Parmesan, lemon juice, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, anchovies, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper together until well combined. Whisking constantly, drizzle in remaining 1 tablespoon oil until combined.

Toss kale with dressing and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or up to 6 hours. Toss dressed kale with croutons and remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Serve.

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Nutrition information per serving: 310 calories; 189 calories from fat; 21 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 30 mg cholesterol; 833 mg sodium; 20 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 12 g protein.

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For more recipes, cooking tips and ingredient and product reviews, visit https://www.americastestkitchen.com . Find more recipes like Kale Caesar Salad in "Nutritious Delicious ."

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America's Test Kitchen provided this article to The Associated Press