Connecticut Voice

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Grill & Chill

Turning Up the Heat on Salads Can Elevate a Casual Meal

By Amy S. White  /  Photography by Mary Quinn

It’s summer, and I wonder…is there anything that tastes better in summer than food that’s cooked on the grill? The clear answer is “Nope.”

This year, I encourage you to elevate your favorite summer meal by using your favorite summer cooking method and try grilling a salad. If you’ve never tried to grill a salad before, I get it. Lettuce seems a little too delicate to survive the heat of a grill, right? Salads are meant to be served cold, right? Repeat after me as I say again: “Nope.”

The truth is that grilling transforms something as mundanely familiar as, well, lettuce, into something uncommonly delicious. Warm but still crisp, with charred ruffled edges, the tender crunchy leaves take on a smoky flavor that serves as the perfect palette to all of your summer salad fantasies. The simple act of grilling creates that elusive thing we all want in a salad – an amazing contrast of flavor and texture.

I tend to believe that there are no real rules in cooking. That said, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when grilling greens, or really, any fruits or vegetables. Make sure your grill grates are very clean, and brush them lightly with a little olive oil to prevent sticking. Grill at medium-high heat to create those pretty grill marks and infuse that smoky grill taste. And when cutting a head of lettuce, try to keep the leaves connected to the core so things don’t fall apart on the grill.

Here I offer a few starter recipes for grilled salads, but really, think of them as mere suggestions. In the first recipe, grilling a head of romaine lettuce modernizes the classic Caesar salad. A bonus recipe shows how to make your own garlic croutons, also using the grill. In the second recipe, the inherent bitterness of radicchio is effortlessly tamed by a few minutes on the grill, while creamy goat cheese, sugary glazed walnuts, and acidic balsamic vinegar merge with it to form a sweet and colorful accompaniment to any barbecue. Finally, the grill adds smoky, savory sweetness to a simple fruit salad by caramelizing the natural sugars in the fruit.

As with all salads, you can keep it simple with store-bought additions, or you can challenge your culinary self by making your own. Buy a bag of croutons, or make your own with some stale bread. Shave parmesan cheese off a wedge using a vegetable peeler, or grab a container of some that’s already thinly sliced. Purchase bottled salad dressing or try your own creation. Let your mood, your time constraints, and the contents of your fridge be your guide. But most of all, keep calm and grill on, all summer long.

Amy S. White is a Connecticut teacher, writer, and line cook.