My approach to food is pretty simple. I firmly believe that if you can eat it, you can grill it.
When I wrote my first cookbook, I compiled my favorite grilled foods. Some were familiar, but some seemed pretty crazy back in 2005! Of those crazy foods, grilled romaine lettuce remains one of my favorites. And I'm not alone. Today, it is so popular it's on restaurant menus all over the place, a sure sign that Americans have embraced the idea that a salad can be grilled.
I paired my grilled romaine classically, with a homemade blue cheese dressing and crispy apple wood smoked bacon. It's the ultimate steakhouse wedge salad. And it's perfect for Dad on Father's Day.
The real beauty of this recipe is how the heat of the grill wilts and caramelizes the lettuce, intensifying the flavor and adding a wisp of smoke. The texture becomes crispy on the edges and silky inside. Mix that with the rich and slightly pungent blue cheese and the salty, smoky bacon, and you've got a salad that eats like a main course. Meaty, rich and delicious!
I usually make the blue cheese dressing the day before because it benefits from sitting overnight in the refrigerator. The flavors truly blend and blossom during this extra time. It also makes this salad that much easier to grill and serve. The bacon can be fried in advance, as well. But if you do that, just before serving place it in a paper towel and microwave it for 15 to 20 seconds, or until the fat begins to sizzle. I dice the meatiest bacon I can find into 1/4-inch pieces before frying so that they fry up into bits and don't need crumbling. You also could use pancetta.
The grilled salad works best with hearts of romaine and they must be washed and very dry before cooking. I usually purchase the already cleaned hearts to make this step foolproof. Slice the hearts in half lengthwise and make sure to leave the stem attached (this prevents the leaves from falling apart during grilling).
The whole grilling process takes just a few minutes because you want the inside of the lettuce to be raw and crunchy and barely warmed. The key is to cut across the grilled heart of romaine and mix the crispy pieces with the fully cooked soft and silky pieces and the crunchy interior pieces. It's literally an explosion of textures and big bold flavors.
Grilled Hearts of Romaine with Blue Cheese Dressing
Start to finish: 10 minutes
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 ounces crumbled blue cheese (more or less to taste)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon grated shallot
1 clove garlic, grated
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 hearts of romaine lettuce, halved lengthwise
4 slices apple wood smoked bacon, diced and cooked until crisp
To make the dressing, in a medium bowl combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, blue cheese, lemon juice, shallot and garlic. Mix well, then season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours to allow the flavors to develop. The dressing keeps for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
When ready to prepare the salads, heat the grill to medium-low.
Lightly brush all 4 romaine halves on all sides with olive oil. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Using a pair of tongs, place the lettuce directly on the cooking grates cut side down. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Do not grill longer; the lettuce should be slightly raw and crunchy at the center. Remove to a clean platter and let rest for 5 minutes.
Place each half on a serving plate, then drizzle with blue cheese dressing and top with the diced bacon. Serve immediately.
Nutrition information per serving: 300 calories; 240 calories from fat (80 percent of total calories); 27 g fat (9 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 35 mg cholesterol; 7 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 7 g protein; 740 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."