Really truly, grilled lettuce is amazing. One bite, and you will wonder who ever decided that lettuce was just for eating cool and raw. Clearly, lettuce is also for eating warm, smoky and lightly dressed with salt and oil, or drizzled with the creamy tahini based dressing that follows. Lettuce is for grilling. Don’t believe anyone who tells you different.
Lettuce is a vegetable, after all, and a tender, crunchy one at that. We especially love the Speckled Troutsback variety for this recipe; the heads are tight and firm, and stand up well to the heat of grilling, but any of the Romaine types work as well. If you get the grill temps just right, the tips of the lettuce become crispy as potato chips, while the center becomes succulent; still crunchy, but softened and mellowed by the high heat of the grill, like the best kind of bok choi. (which, note, is also excellent on the grill.)
Don’t take my word for any of this.
I began grilling lettuce a few years ago, when I had a super-abundant crop of Troutsback lettuce that was beginning to bolt. There was no way we would eat that much salad in the weeks we had left, before it went to seed. Simply rubbed with oil and generously salted, the heads disappeared at a steady rate once we began to grill them. The dressing and chickpea topping came later, adapted from a recipe that caught our eye from Sarah Britton. While we have changed some of the process and quantities, the seed of the idea for the toppings came from her delicious and delightful books. Hat tip to Sarah, and to all of those intrepid culinary explorers who surprise and delight us with new ways to envision ingredients and process. Grill your lettuce. Ferment your nectarines. Put salt in your jam, and flowers on your cheese. The world is wide and full of flavors, still waiting to be found and savored.
Prepare the dressing and the Chickpea topping first, if using.
To make the dressing, combine all ingredients in a blender and blend at high speed until the desired consistency is reached. Add water to thin out the sauce if you want a fine drizzle, or use the amount specified for a thicker, creamier consistency.
To make the chickpea topping, preheat the oven to 400° F. Spread the drained, rinsed chickpeas out on a clean kitchen towel or work surface. Pat the beans dry, and remove the papery outer skin.
Transfer the chickpeas to a bowl, and toss with the coconut oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder. If the coconut oil is too cool, it will be firm and difficult to distribute evenly; warmer room temperatures are perfect for this application, though.
Transfer the chickpeas to a rimmed baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven, and allow the chickpeas to cool somewhat before serving. They will become more crunchy as they cool. If desired, these can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to a week.
Prepare the lettuce. Remove the outer leaves to expose the tight inner head.
Cut the heads in half, lengthwise.
Rub all surfaces with olive oil or coconut oil, paying especial attention to the tips of the lettuce and any inner leaves that are exposed. Salt the oiled lettuce halves liberally.
Place the lettuce halves cut side down on a hot grill surface, just shy of actual flame. Cook until char marks appear on the lettuce, no more than 3-5 minutes. Flip the lettuce over and cook on the other side for 2 or 3 more minutes.
Serve warm, drizzled with the creamy dressing and sprinkled with the crunchy chickpea topping.
Lettuce is for grilling.
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