(Note: this post was originally published on May 8, 2019. The date above reflects migration to the new platform.)
A Show-Stopping Spring Salad
No boring salads allowed here! Salads should be vibrant, colorful, interesting, and multi-dimensional. They should make you love veggies and want to eat more veggies.
In my mind, one of the keys to making a killer salad is having a diversity of flavors. A bunch of raw veggies is just one-note. But grilling the lettuce (or at least some of it, as I've done here) is a game-changer. Likewise, incorporating some roasted or grilled veggies in with other raw veggies adds so much depth.
I love grilling lettuce. In this spring salad, I've grilled some of the lettuces (the romaine hearts and the green endives) and left other lettuces raw (the red endives and the radicchio). I think having a mixture of grilled and raw flavors really makes this salad intriguing.
How to Grill Lettuce
Grilled lettuce can be a true delight, but it can also be a bit tricky. If you're new to grilling your greens, I highly encourage you to try it out! Grilled greens can add so much flavor to a salad and can yield a really beautiful dish. Here are a few tips to get you going:
1.) Go as hot and fast as possible. You want to lightly char and mark the lettuce, not make it warm and wilty. I get the grill (or indoor grill pan) screaming hot and leave the lettuce on for only a minute. When you're finished, the inside of your lettuce head or spears should still be cool.
2.) Make sure to oil the grill so the delicate lettuce doesn't stick! This is absolutely critical. Use more oil than you think you need; there's nothing worse than having your beautifully-charred lettuce stick to the grate and fall apart.
3.) You only want to grill the more robust lettuce varieties (romaine, endive, radicchio, etc). Softer lettuces (e.g. leaf lettuce or butter lettuce) will just turn into a slimy mess. Dark leafy greens, like kale, also grill nicely.
4.) Don't forget about texture. If you grill your lettuce, it will end up a bit softer than fresh lettuce. Compensate for that softer texture by adding lots of crunch or, even better, by leaving some of your lettuce raw (like in this salad!).
An Ode to Spring
In addition to both grilled and raw lettuces, this salad has some other iconic spring produce. Grilled lemon halves or wedges drive the spring theme home and are really eye-catching. Asparagus and artichoke hearts are super-seasonal, plus their intricate shapes really complement the look of all the lettuces.
Especially in the spring, I like bright, clean, crisp flavors. So instead of dressing this salad in a traditional way, I drizzle the whole thing with juice from some grilled lemon halves as well as some pesto, then add some freshly ground pepper and sea salt over the top. Sometimes keeping things simple really is best! Along with all the complex grill flavors, the lemon juice and pesto really make the lettuce sing.
This salad will make for a show-stopping addition to any spring meal. The springy ingredients are perfect for April and May, and the complex, charred flavors make it work even on chilly spring days. Because the flavors in this salad are pretty light and neutral, it would work beautifully alongside any spring fare, but especially a celebratory meal like Easter or a baby shower. It would even be great as a brunch dish!
Looking to make this salad into a meal? Just add your grilled protein of choice on the side, or perhaps a big dollop of lemon hummus on top. Because this salad has such a diversity of flavors, textures, temperatures, and ingredients, it really doesn't need much else.
The only thing that's not so versatile about this salad is that I really don't suggest preparing it in advance. Lettuce is best fresh off the grill; if you let it sit, it will get soggy. So if you're entertaining, you can cut everything in advance and keep it in the fridge; then just blast it on the grill and assemble when you're ready to eat.
Let's Talk Ingredients
Here's what you'll need for this recipe, as well as some thoughts, tips, and possible substitutions. If you make any substitutions, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below.
Lettuce. Obviously! These photos show a couple romaine hearts, two green endives, one red endive, and a small head of radicchio, but choose whatever you like. Just remember to check out my lettuce grilling tips above before you dive in.
Artichoke hearts. Fresh are such a delight, but gosh are they a pain. If you want to use fresh, go for it! Otherwise, a can of water-packed artichoke hearts provides a much easier alternative.
Pesto. I always keep homemade in the freezer so I can easily use a couple spoonfuls at a time. Either homemade or store bought is fine though.
Roasted pine nuts
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt. The flavor profiles in this dish are simple, so having a flavorful finishing salt is really important here. I love fleur de sel or sel gris. Make sure you choose a light, flaky salt for finishing dishes rather than a coarse-grained one; the latter will be too assertive and crunchy.
Isn't this salad a spring dream? To me, it just evokes such joy and energy. These spring ingredients are really short-lived and special, so I really try to go all-out with them during the short season. This platter is truly a celebration of spring ingredients and flavors.
It makes me so happy to hear from you and see your creations! Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think about this recipe. If you post a photo on Instagram, hashtag #TheRogueBrusselSprout and tag me (@TheRogueBrusselSprout) in the post text so that I'm sure to see it.
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Generous flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the grill to high heat and oil the racks very well.
Prep the asparagus by cutting off the tough ends.
Prep the lettuce (romaine, endives, and radicchio) by cutting all the heads into narrow spears.
Cut the lemons in half and remove the seeds.
Grill the asparagus lightly so that it is tender but still retains its shape and bright color, about 5-10 minutes. Set it aside.
Grill about half of the lettuce. You can either grill all of a certain kind, leaving other kinds raw, or grill half of each type. Make sure to grill it very hot and fast, in order to get some char on the cut side but not warm the lettuce through. Don't over-cook it or the lettuce will wilt!
Grill the lemon halves until charred; keep a close eye on them because the sugars will burn quickly.
Drain the artichoke hearts and cut them into halves or quarters.
Cut the avocado into halves or wedges.
Assemble your salad. Start by arranging the biggest spears of lettuce in a symmetrical, circular pattern. Then layer the smaller spears on top. Nestle the asparagus spears among the lettuce, and keep the small artichoke hearts for the top. Put the avocado in the center or interspersed with the lettuce.
Drizzle the whole creation with the juice from some of your grilled lemons, then add small dollops of pesto scattered across the whole salad.
Finish with generous freshly ground pepper and sea salt, as well as a big handful of pine nuts. Serve additional grilled lemon wedges for squeezing onto individual portions.