Your Secret Weapon for the Best Summer Salads
Hint: it’s outside.
I am not shy about the fact that I live with a grill guy. My husband is that dude who believes that grilling is not a purely weather-based decision. He will grill in the middle of winter, and on a sweltering day, and in a driving rainstorm. For him, the magic that happens when food meets heat and smoke is worth some time of personal exposure to the elements.
I’m fine with this, because if the grill is going, I am off the hook for most of the dinner heavy lifting. I am in charge of sides or starters or dessert, which is perfectly okay by me, and makes us a pretty good team in getting dinner on the table either just for the two of us or for a crowd. I’ve also gotten creative at using the grill once he is finished, grilling pineapple or stone fruit over the dying coals for a quick dessert with some sorbet or ice cream or cookies. Grilling halved citrus for squeezing over steamed veggies. And grilling hardy lettuces for salad.
I know, lettuce is usually the last thing you think of to toss on the grill. And let’s be clear, I am not talking about tiny spring mix leaves, or floppy green leaf or delicate butter lettuces. Microgreens would fall through the grate.
I am talking about the sturdy, large-headed, crisp lettuces. Romaine, endive, radicchio, little gems, escarole, and yes, even iceberg are all excellent with a quick visit to the grill.
Watch: How to Make Grilled Watermelon
A grilled lettuce brings some excitement to the salad. You get a combo of warm and cold, slightly softened and still crisp. The balance of bitter and sweet. That little bit of char is a whole new taste sensation for your lettuces. It is the perfect start to a grilled dinner, since your meats have to rest for around 15-20 minutes before serving anyway, which leaves the grill free to give a little time to your salad. Dying coals, or residual heat from a recently turned off gas grill, is plenty to do what you want to do with your lettuce, since you don’t want to actually cook the greens. You just want to get some grill marks on them.
How to grill lettuce
To prep your lettuce for grilling, just remove any damaged outer leaves and give a good wash with a dunk under the faucet. Trim the bottom of the core flush with the bottom of the head, but don’t remove it, since it will hold the pieces together. Halve smaller heads through the core, quarter larger heads, and brush lightly with a neutral oil or give a light spray with canola cooking spray.
Cook just 30 seconds to a minute per side to get some good charred grill marks on both sides. Serve on a platter with the garnish and dressing of your choice.
Some great riffs on classic salads
Grilled Escarole Niçoise with grilled tuna, baby potatoes, green beans and hard boiled egg in a Dijon vinaigrette
Grilled Iceberg Wedge with roasted cherry tomatoes and homemade buttermilk ranch
Grilled Radicchio with fennel, oranges, cured olives and red onion with sherry vinegar and olive oil and red pepper flakes
Grilled Romaine Caesar
Grilled Endive with pear, gorgonzola and toasted walnuts with white balsamic vinaigrette
Grilled Little Gems with shredded jicama and carrot and roasted peanuts with a sesame miso dressing