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Grilled romaine a smoky delight

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    A grilled BLT salad with buttermilk dressing.

When I first heard about folks grilling romaine lettuce, I was pretty skeptical. Lettuce is supposed to be crisp. Grilling would make it soggy. What’s the point?

Now I see the point. Grilling romaine not only amplifies its flavor, it also adds the same lip-smacking smokiness that grilling produces in any food. And all it takes is two minutes on the grill to get the job done.

For this recipe the romaine is halved and grilled on just one side and then served as a wedge, the same way that iceberg lettuce is served in the steakhouse (minus the grilling). Here the wedge is topped with the fixings of a BLT sandwich, including grilled bread.

Does the grilling soften the lettuce, as feared? Indeed it does, but only the outside layer. Happily, the core remains crunchy.

Rather than slathering this salad with glops of too-rich mayonnaise, I’ve drizzled it with an herbed buttermilk dressing: 2 parts buttermilk to 1 part mayo. Most of the buttermilk in supermarkets these days is low-fat, but if you can find a whole-milk version, and if you don’t mind the extra calories, I would highly recommend it.

The dressing’s one essential ingredient is garlic, but the other flavorings are up to you. Not a fan of tarragon or scallion? Use dill, chives, basil or oregano instead. Are there family members who don’t eat meat? Swap in smoked salmon for the bacon.

Looking to move this salad from the side of the plate to its center? “Beef” it up by adding grilled chicken or shrimp. However you do it, you’ll discover, like me, the unexpected joys of grilled lettuce.

GRILLED BLT SALAD WITH BUTTERMILK DRESSING

  • 2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 slices bacon
  • 3 slices rustic bread, crusts removed
  • Extra-virgin olive oil to brush lettuce and bread
  • 2 hearts romaine, halved lengthwise, cores intact
  • >> Dressing
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped scallion (white and green parts)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Heat grill to medium.

To make dressing: Whisk together ingredients. Add salt and pepper; set aside.

In a colander, toss tomatoes with salt and let drain while preparing the rest of the salad.

Heat a large skillet over medium, add bacon and cook until crisp on both sides. Transfer to paper towels to drain and crumble when cool.

Brush bread on both sides with oil and grill until toasted on both sides, about 1 to 2 minutes a side. Transfer to a rack, let cool and cut into squares to make croutons.

Brush cut sides of romaine with oil and grill, cut side down, until lightly charred on cut side, about 2 minutes.

Transfer romaine halves to each of 4 plates, cut side up.

Top with tomatoes, croutons and bacon; drizzle with dressing. Serves 4.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving, for the salad: 168 calories, 8 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 34 mg cholesterol, 546 mg sodium, 19 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 5 g protein.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving, for the dressing: 79 calories, 8 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 6 mg cholesterol, 160 mg sodium, 1 g carbohydrate, no fiber, 1 g sugar, 1 g protein.

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