The Best Greens To Use When Making A Charred Salad

If you're looking to revamp your average weeknight dinner, a charred salad is an excellent way to add smoky flavor and sophisticated visual appeal to any meal. To give your salad the char mark treatment, it's best to use greens that are connected in bunches and hearty enough to stand up to heat without becoming overly wilted. Romaine is the most versatile charred salad green since its taste is seriously amped up when roasted over a flame. But other lettuces connected by a root or bulb, such as rainbow chard, kale, bok choy, and endive, are definitely worth grilling up, too.

Romaine can get a bad rap for being relatively bland. When grilled, it takes on charred flavors flawlessly and wilts just enough. Romaine lettuce leaves are firm and crisp, and its bundled nature makes it easy to lift from the grill with tongs. It also makes for ideal serving sizes when the heads of lettuce are sliced. The result is a bed of greens that are scorched lightly on the exterior and perfectly tender to the core.

Charred romaine's smoky yet neutral taste and al dente yet crunchy texture goes well with a variety of dressings and salad additions, from a basic Caesar salad recipe to a Mediterranean salad with tahini dressing. For more vegetal, earthy flavors, you can also try grilling dark greens like kale or chard. For a lettuce that's more spicy, opt for endive or radicchio. The charred choice is all yours.

How to grill your greens

If you go for greens like romaine, bok choy, or endive that are connected tightly and stay intact when cut down the middle, all you need to do is slice them in half or quarters before seasoning and grilling. For kale and other loose bunches of greens, simply cut and grill the leaves individually. Lay the slices or leaves out on a sheet pan to prepare with seasoning. 

Prior to grilling, it's important to drizzle the salad generously with oil, then use a pastry brush (or your hands) to distribute the fat evenly. This will prevent any chance of sticking to the grill. Next, season with salt and pepper. Additionally, toss the heads of greens with fresh chopped garlic and chili flakes for extra flavor. 

With your grill heated to medium, place your romaine or other root-connected greens face down on the grates. Char the lettuce for about two to three minutes on the flat side, until grill marks form and the exterior begins to wilt. Flip the bunch or individual salad leaves, and let them sear for just a minute more. Just be careful not to overdo it — a nice char is all you're looking for. Then, remove from the heat and serve immediately with flavorful fixings.

Tips for plating your charred salad

One of the best things about charred salads is their simplicity and ability to stand strong on their own. Unlike raw and other seasonal chopped salads, greens with a bit of char don't need much other than a flavorful dressing and some basic garnishes for added texture and presentation. Whatever green you choose, once it's seared sufficiently, drizzle on a little balsamic glaze or homemade ranch dressing. Cherry tomato halves and grilled corn complement the bite of crisp grilled romaine seamlessly, but feel free to get creative with whatever additional veggies you serve with your charred salad. 

Sprinkle on some grated Parmesan or breadcrumbs. Top a head of grilled endive with fried pancetta bits and a lemony vinaigrette to contrast the green's bitterness. Or whisk up a bit of soy sauce, sesame oil, and citrus to pour over smoky bok choy. Whatever way you dress it, a charred salad is best eaten fresh off the grill — knife and fork required.