Romaine Lettuce and I have never really been close friends. Sure when we were kids we used to hang out around dinner time, but I don’t think we ever really enjoyed each others company all that much. In restaurants, romaine became a popular starter salad item due to everyone’s (well not me, but most folks) profound love of Caesar salad. I always thought romaine needed to wear way too much perfume (dressing) to hide the harsh truth of its nature. It’s just a cold, bitter, flavorless filler. Needless to say, I didn’t really care if I ever saw it again.
In recent years though, I’ve learned that I can more than just tolerate the stiff pale leafy green. I can grow to love it for it’s own unique qualities. It appears that I have grown soft with age. Touching isn’t it?
I’m reminded of a favorite quote (that may or may not be falsely attributed to Albert Einstein) ““Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Perhaps Romaine just isn’t meant for the cold salad life. Has it really been miscast this whole time?
And then one day a few years ago while on a break from college, I was tasked with making a dinner for family and friends down in AZ. With the ground rules laid that they wanted things grilled, I set out to make some items that I had never really tried to make before at the time (rookie mistake).
Grilled jumbo shrimp stuffed with jalapeno cilantro cream cheese. Grilled chicken soft tacos with guacamole and pico de gallo. When it came time to decide on a salad, I was left pondering some options.
Why is a salad needed with that much food you ask? My father raised me to believe that every dinner, HAD TO HAVE SOME GREENS INVOLVED. Had to. The meal would feel lost without it.
Ingredients for the salad were already purchased by someone else at this point, I don’t remember who. “Hey great stuff you bought here! Wait, what’s this??”
Romaine Lettuce, we meet again. This wasn’t the time to back down. I shall tame this beast!
With a charcoal grill already humming away, why waste those precious coals. Lets just grill the salad too! I mean what did I care if it tasted like garbage, I wasn’t planning on eating it really! That’s the spirit!!
In the end, I was both shocked and incredibly pleased at how the salad turned out. It was basic, but the smoky flavors and tender greens were a hit with everyone to my great relief. I even enjoyed it quite a lot.
And just like that, I welcomed Romaine Lettuce back into my life with open arms. We may not be “best friends”, but in certain situations we just click!
Present day: With another nod to my pops, I have incorporated a favorite ingredient of his (and mine) into this new version. Roasted Green Chile (Anaheim Pepper)! With 4 supplied in our Bountiful Basket pickup this past weekend, it becomes more challenging to see what combos and dishes we can create next!
Special shout out to Katie’s Mom Sherry! She bought me a sweet bottle of 25 year old white balsamic vinegar for my birthday, and man is it awesome! It has a little cleaner finish then traditional balsamic vinegar and slightly less sweet. While it is truly scrumptious on its own, it wont greatly alter the flavor of this vinaigrette compared to its dark brethren, but it will leave the dressing with a more pleasant color!
When we finally got plated up after making this thing, Katie admitted that she was a wee bit skeptical of the salad, but trusted my judgment anyways. Her risk was rewarded however, she was again surprised by how much she enjoyed it. Nothing like some low expectations to brighten any result, right?
The best surprise of the whole meal hands down, was the roasted green chile vinaigrette! Man is this stuff awesome. I literally couldn’t find enough things to dip in it. I imagine it would make for an awesome party dip as well!
Is this salad pretty? Only if you know what it tastes like
- 1 large head of romaine lettuce
- 2 thick slices of rustic bread
- 1 cup of grape/or sunburst tomatoes
- 3-4 tbsp goat cheese
- 1/4 cup shaved parmesan cheese
- 1/2 tsp lemon zest
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1/2 cup olive oil plus more for brushing
- 1/3 cup of white balsamic vinegar plus more for brushing
- 1 large anaheim pepper
- 1 clove chopped garlic
- 1 tbsp chopped shallot
- 1 tsp chopped cilantro
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tsp worcester sauce
- 1 tsp fish sauce (optional)
- Kosher salt and pepper to taste
- First step, is to roast the Anaheim pepper/green chile. This can be done ahead of time by as much as a day or two if you would like, and can be performed either on the grill, in the oven, or for those of you lucky enough to have a gas range, right on the stovetop over open flames. What you are looking for is near complete charring of the pepper. When that level has been reached, we need to steam the chile so that the burnt skin can easily come off, leaving you with smoky, spicy tender chile flesh. To steam it, simply toss the roasted chile (while its hot, so IMMEDIATELY) into a plastic bag. Twist it up, and let the bag do its thing for a while. Go take a nap and/or have a beer and relax now, there’s nothing else you can do at the moment…Or you could…
- Prepare the romaine lettuce for the grill. First, split the head of lettuce vertically down the middle. Follow by splitting the two new halves vertically once again, so that the lettuce becomes 4 long wedges. Brush the wedges with 2 parts olive oil to 1 part balsamic vinegar. Do the same with the slices of bread. Set both aside, and preheat the grill. Looking for one hot side (high for gas) and one more subdued medium heat sight. This will help with controlling the grilling chaos later.
- After 30 minutes or so, the chile pepper should be able to slide right out of its blistered black skin. Once peeled, you have the option of de-seeding the pepper to reduce heat, or leave those little capsaicin pods for a spicy dressing. In any case, you will need to chop the pepper once peeled, and set aside for the vinaigrette.
- Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, toss cherry tomatoes with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, fresh cracked pepper and some kosher salt, then pour mix onto an aluminum foil lined baking sheet. Bake the tomatoes for 30- 35 minutes, or until skins are sagging and slightly blistered. Set aside.
- In a food processor or blender, mix in 2/3 cup of balsamic, chopped green chile, chopped garlic, chopped shallots, cilantro, worcester sauce, honey, lemon juice and zest, and fish sauce if you dare! Pulse until mixed, then turn onto a low level and slowly pour in the olive oil to emulsify the vinaigrette.
- When your grill is finally preheated brush the grates of any old food debris. Start the Romaine on the colder side of the grill, this will ensure more even cooking without simply burning the leaves. Move around and make sure all sides have had some grill time, maybe 1-2 minutes per side, depending on the heat you’re working with. With the romaine is tender, but not limp, lay it over the hot side flames for a bit of charring, 30 seconds at most really. This will add a great smoky depth of flavor to the greens. Remove and set aside.
- Grill the bread until toasted to your desire. A few minutes on each side is sufficient usually.
- Once the bread is done grilling, your greens should have had enough time to cool considerably. Rough chop them and the grilled bread into bite size pieces. In a large bowl, toss the grilled romaine and bread with the green chile vinaigrette, tomatoes, and thin sliced red onion. Shower with shaved parmesan and serve!