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, having tried it myself, I see the point. Grilling the romaine not only really 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 for Grilled BLT Salad with Buttermilk Dressing, the romaine is halved and grilled on just one side and then served as a wedge. This, of course, is how iceberg lettuce is served in the steakhouse (minus the grilling, but plus Russian or blue cheese dressing). Here the wedge is topped with the fixings of a BLT sandwich, including grilled bread. Does the grilling soften up the lettuce, as feared? Indeed it does, but only the wedge's 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: two parts buttermilk to one part mayo. Most of the buttermilk to be found in the supermarket these days is low-fat, but I've recently discovered a whole-milk version, and if you don't mind the extra calories, I 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

Start to finish: 45 minutes

Servings: 4

For the dressing

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic

3 tablespoons finely chopped scallion (white and green parts)

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Kosher salt and black pepper

For the salad

2 cups halved cherry tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

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6 slices bacon

3 slices rustic bread, crusts removed

Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing the lettuce and the bread

2 hearts romaine, halved lengthwise, leaving the cores intact

Preheat the grill to medium.

Make the dressing: In a medium bowl combine all the ingredients and whisk well. Add salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

Make the salad: In a colander toss the tomatoes with the salt and let drain while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat, add the bacon and cook until crisp on both sides, about 5 minutes total. Transfer to paper towels to drain and crumble when cool.

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

Brush the cut sides of the romaine with oil and add the romaine to the grill, cut side down. Grill just until the romaine is lightly charred on the cut side, about 2 minutes.

Transfer the romaine halves to each of four plates, cut side up. Top each portion with one-fourth of the tomatoes, croutons and bacon; drizzle some of the dressing over each portion.

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