Grilled Romaine Lettuce

Okay, it sounds funky to many people, but you have to try it before passing judgment. Grilling adds a sweetness to the leaves and the stems become succulent – still a bit crunchy, but also tender. The cores remind me a bit of asparagus. The little bits of charring are a nice contrast to the bright lettuce flavor. If you have a good balsamic vinegar, this is a great time to break it out. You only use a little of the vinegar to dress the leaves.

INGREDIENTS:
1 large head of romaine lettuce, or two smaller ones
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon good quality balsamic vinegar

METHOD:

Get the grill hot.

Quarter the lettuce lengthwise, or if the heads are smaller, split them in half down the length.

Wash the lettuce well, keeping the leaves attached at the root end. Get water into the area near the root. When clean, shake out the water, but leave the leaves a little wet.

Drizzle a little oil over the cut surfaces, and rub onto the surface of the lettuce, gently getting the inside of the lettuce. Get a little oil onto your palms, and rub the outside of the lettuce, coating it all.

Place the lettuce, cut sides down, onto the grill. Cook until marks form and the lettuce softens a little. Rotate the lettuce to get the other cut surface onto the grill. Repeat as above. Once the next surface is marked, flip the lettuce and grill the outside. When leaves are charred and the lettuce is tender, but not limp, remove to a serving platter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle with the balsamic vinegar.

Serve hot or room temperature.

Chef’s Notes and Tips:

  • This recipe with Little Gem lettuces as well as Romaine. Just split the Little Gems through the stem and proceed as above. I like to use a better quality vinegar because it is usually a little thicker so it doesn’t run off onto the plate. More importantly, the flavor is better with the grilled lettuce and is not as strong, so the lettuce flavor is not over-powered. The vinegar is an accent.
  • If all you have is a less expensive, thinner balsamic vinegar, you can thicken and concentrate the flavor by cooking it down. To do this, put 1½ cups of vinegar in a very small pan and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook down until reduced and slightly thickened. Taste it – you might want to add a little sugar to it to mellow it out. Be careful not to reduce it too much or it will burn.
  • The grilled Romaine is nice with a sprinkle of Parmesan or Romano cheese, or some freshly sliced tomato.
  • Use grilled Romaine as a base for grilled chicken or thinly sliced grilled beef.
  • Grilled Romaine also makes an unusual salad with strawberries that are halved and sprinkled with a little sugar and balsamic vinegar, allowed to marinate and then either grilled or roasted. The heat concentrates the strawberry flavor while the vinegar adds spark to the fruit. For this salad, chop the lettuces into small pieces and toss with the strawberries. Dress with either a balsamic dressing or a cool creamy yogurt-mint dressing.

YIELD: 2 – 4 servings