Can you believe I am asking you to grill lettuce? Isn’t that the one vegetable that we can just leave the heck alone? I know it sounds bonkers, but it really is quite something. As different to raw lettuce as microwaved egg is to scrambled in butter. Another level.
I hadn’t heard of grilled lettuce until I saw it in the description of a dish at The Gardener’s Cottage, here in Edinburgh. This beyond-idyllic converted gardener’s cottage, just off the roundabout at London Road and Leith Walk (1 Royal Terrace Gardens, to be precise), has become known for inventive, seasonal cooking. In fact it is not only seasonal but local. So local that much of what appears on its mismatched plates grows in the enviously-verdant gardens you walk through to enter its calming, uncluttered space. This dish had rosy-pink medallions of venison, sea coriander/plantain, freshly picked broad beans and grilled lettuce. It was stunning, all of it. But the revelation was the lettuce. It tasted of the best – but crunchy – vegetable stock: a bit salty, a bit sweet, a bit edgy and definitely herbal. When I asked how it had been done, our server leaned back into the open kitchen and asked. A smiling “only a bit of oil and the heat of the grill” was the reply. Luckily Mr A also chose this dish so I didn’t have to (grudgingly) sacrifice any tender morsel of this minerally delight. We each gave Miss R the merest of slivers and watched, knowingly, as her eyes lit up like sparklers. The whole meal had us mmming and sighing like we’d never eaten out before.
And so I have started bingeing on grilled lettuce. Plain – with just oil; dunked in vinaigrette and griddled (a bit soggy but delish); and now painted with vinaigrette (how restrained!), griddled quickly and sliced to add into salads. You could even leave them whole and artfully arrange other grilled edibles on top and strew with fresh herbs and flecks of strong cheese, like feta or goats’. But I don’t do artful, so this is what I serve. If you think about it, most of us enjoy grilled vegetables so lettuce is perhaps not such a leap of faith.
I am already dreamily considering other ways to serve grilled lettuce. I think herby sausages and lentils braised with red wine, bay and rosemary is next on the list. Or perhaps with slow-dried tomatoes and tiny bits of crisped bacon or white beans on sourdough toast – a kind of funky BLT.
What would YOU pair with grilled lettuce?
This Week in 2011: Watermelon and Green Tea Soothie
This Week in 2012: Chermoula and Sardine-stuffed Tomatoes + Chermoula-White Bean Dip
Miss R’s Track of the Week: Wretch 32 ft Jacob Banks “Doing Okay” (one swear word) – positive rap for rap-phobes like myself
File this under “bonkers but brilliant.” You will never look at a head of lettuce in the same way again.
Use firm cos, romaine, gem or little gem lettuces. Round ones could work, maybe even iceberg- cut into thick slices as if they were a loaf of bread – but the longer-head lettuces work a treat. You can keep it ultra-simple by just slicking with oil and griddling/grilling, but the hot edge of Dijon or wholegrain mustard, with the nip of a few drops of vinegar are just too good to forgo. Serve alongside grilled or poached foods, in soup or in salads, such as this nearly store cupboard one. Vegetarians and vegans perhaps grill some mushrooms in place of the fish, or add in some warmed and vinaigretted (new word alert) cooked white beans.
2-4 heads gem lettuce, trimmed and halved lengthways OR 1-2 Romaine or Cos lettuce (amount is up to you – they shrink a bit while cooking)
2 tbsp olive oil or rapeseed oil
2 tsp cider vinegar or other vinegar (not malt or added-flavour one)
1 tsp Dijon or wholegrain mustard
1. Whisk together the dressing and paint it over the halved lettuce. Lay the lettuce halves on a hot griddle pan, or directly onto an outdoor grill. Check and flip when char marks appear. Don’t overcook or it will get soggy (but still taste amazing). Sometimes I make a larger amount of dressing and dunk the lettuces in it, shaking to remove excess. This is delicious but a bit wet for good griddling. Make double of the vinaigrette if you are having the salad, below.
Eat immediately or slice and use in the following salad or to add into other salads, or as a mulchy bed for cooked and spiced lentils and sausages (winter idea).
I keep cooked, peppered mackerel in my freezer to use in salads and to make quick pates. Maybe this a particularly British product but I imagine most countries have an equivalent. In Britain the mackerel is filleted and dry-smoked, sometimes with other bits added, like peppercorns or mustard seeds. It is cheap, usually sustainable and a brilliant source of Omega 3 fatty acids. See below for more nutrition information. Anyone who eats fish should include oily fish, like mackerel, at least once a week. Unlike supplements, oily fish is safe and healthy for most adults.
Make this vegan: substitute the mackerel for griddled mushrooms or warmed white beans.
Serves 2, generously (with some leftover for one small lunch portion)
4 heads gem lettuce OR 2 heads Romaine/Cos
Vinaigrette (as above)
8 new potatoes, cooked in their skins; cooled a bit and cut into bite-sized pieces (leftover potatoes are brilliant)
10-16 baby cornichon, diced (according to taste)
2 whole fillets of peppered mackerel, torn into pieces
10-15 French radishes or round radishes, trimmed and sliced (I used about 20 quite small ones)
Extra vinaigrette, for serving
Extras to add: sliced hard-boiled eggs, cooked, cooled green/fine beans, grated carrot. Anything you fancy, really!
1. Prepare the lettuce as described above and toss lightly with the remaining ingredients, adding more vinaigrette if you like, plus a grind or two of fresh pepper. Serve immediately. Although I am proposing this in summer I look forward to adding this to my repertoire of winter salads too.
Nutrition Notes: Lettuce and mackerel are the stars in this simple recipe. Mackerel is an easy sell, nutrition-wise. Lettuce, not so much. But lettuce has its own little stash of goodies to help keep us well: Vitamins A (this recipe will give you over 100% RDA), K, C, folate, potassium, as well as fibre. People go on about the tryptophan, but there really isn’t enough of it in modern, cultivated lettuce to help us convert it to the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin. Some people do swear by lettuce soup to help them fall asleep. As for mackerel, it is one of our best sources of Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin D (of which there are few) and Vitamin B12, as well as selenium, the B vitamins (not folate), phosphorus, potassium and protein. Omnivores and pescatarians, try and have a serving of oily fish one or two times a week.
I am popping these simple recipes over to Four Seasons Food, hosted by Anneli at Delicieux and Louisa at Chez Foti. This month they want barbecue and side dish salads so this, I think, is pretty spot-on. Over at Credit Crunch Munch – run by Helen of Fuss Free Flavours and Camilla of Fab Food 4 All – it is all about tasty food on a budget. Grilled lettuce, radishes, mackerel – very cheap to make. This month the roundup is hosted by Sian at Fish Fingers for Tea. And last, but not least, over to the brilliant Mark at Javelin Warrior’s Cookin’ W/ Luv for his popular and always-interesting Made With Love Mondays. Thanks all for these fabulous showcases for us fellow bloggers. I really appreciate the behind-the-scenes work these roundups entail. Cheers guys!