Grilled Lettuce with Polenta Croutons

The first time I was introduced to Grilled Lettuce was at a bar in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Roark and I were running our wedding DJ company at the time, and he was booked for a Saturday evening wedding in the cute little mountain town.  I, of course, came along for the ride as I never need a reason to get out of town, and we made plans to visit the famous Lookout Mountain the next day to check out the view.  You gotta love it when business and pleasure can be combined, right?

While he was away at work, I wondered off from our hotel to find dinner and ended up at a wood fired pizza restaurant eating alone at the bar.  Like all women that sit at bars alone (whether we like it or not), I was soon enveloped in conversation with the man next to me, who I later found out was the owner of the establishment.  His initial curiosity on how I thought my drink tasted turned into tasting session of the drink and food menu, all on the house I might add.  One of the dishes I got to try was the grilled lettuce salad.  Because they had a 900F wood fired oven, the cook would literally hook a head of lettuce on a fire poker, hold it over the flame for 30 seconds, and voila- the salad was cooked.

Because grilling lettuce brings out it’s naturally sweet flavors, you only need a splash of olive oil as dressing, and it’s best accompanied by garden fresh vegetables.  However, the version I’ve been eating recently is a nice spin on the simple and natural version.  It features a Vegan Buttermilk Dressing and Polenta Croutons giving it a different, rich, yet Southern, flavor.

The recipe as I list it below is vegan, but if you eat cheese, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano offers a nice flavor balance.  Also, because I don’t actually have a grill (the perils of living in an apartment), I cook my lettuce in the oven.  After some trial and error, my best advice it to turn your oven on as hot as it goes, have your lettuce washed but throughly dried, and place it directly on a middle rack.  I turn mine every 2 minutes using tongs so it crisps evenly, and I can make sure it doesn’t burn.  At 500F, my lettuce only needs to bake for 6 minutes.  However, if you’re lucky enough to have your own grill, I would just suggest cooking the lettuce until it starts to char a bit.

I hope you enjoy all these flavors like I do.  It’s a perfect use for all the grape tomatoes that seem to be overflowing from everyone’s garden right now, and a great celebration of the last days left for grilling!

Grilled Lettuce with Polenta Croutons
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • ⅓ Cup of Almond Milk
  • 3 Tablespoons Vegenaise
  • 2 teaspoons White Wine Vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons of Fresh Basil Leaves, shredded
  • 1 Clove of Garlic, minced
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 3 Cups of Water
  • 1 Cup of Polenta or Corn Grits
  • 1 teaspoon of Cayenne Pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • Pint of Grape Tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 8 Heads of Romain Lettuce, grilled or baked until crisped
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the Almond Milk, Veganaise, Vinegar, Basil, and Garlic to make the dressing. Add Salt and Pepper to taste. The dressing can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 days and can be stirred to refresh it.
  2. Bring the Water to boil in a medium pot. Add in the Polenta and cook it until thickened. Stir the pot occasionally so that it doesn't burn along the bottom. It will be done once all the water is absorbed. Mix in the Cayenne Pepper into the Polenta.
  3. Preheat the oven to 450F.
  4. Coat an 8x8 baking pan with Olive Oil and then pour the Polenta into it. Using a spatula, even out the top of the polenta as though you were baking brownies. Set the pan aside and let the Polenta cool and firm up. Once it has cooled, use a knife to cut the polenta into 1-inch cubes.
  5. Remove the cubes carefully as not to smush them, and place them on a larger sheet pan. Bake the polenta cubes in the oven for 30 minutes, turning them every 10 minutes. They should be crisp and browned when done.
  6. Grill or bake your Lettuce and separate 2 heads per plate. Evenly divide the tomatoes and Polenta Croutons onto the four plates and add the dressing. Serve immediately. Makes 4 salads.

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