Romaine lettuce is a variety of lettuce that grows into a tall head. Each leaf has a firm center rib.
Romaine lettuce is also called “cos” lettuce. There are several theories about why the lettuce is referred to as “cos.” That name can be traced back to the Greek island of Cos, where the lettuce is said to have been introduced. Some food historians think that the word “cos” comes from the Arabic word for lettuce, “khus.”
Romaine was associated with the ancient Egyptian god of fertility. It can be used in the Passover Seder as a bitter herb, symbolizing the bitterness inflicted by the Egyptians while the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. The ribs contain a milky fluid that gives the bitter taste.
Romaine is a common lettuce used in salad mixes and is the preferred salad green in Caesar Salad.
Romaine can also be cooked. I made a Romaine soup, and one of my favorite methods of preparation is to grill romaine halves.
Grilling will slightly soften the center and char the leaves next to the grill, giving a smoky, caramelized flavor. Romaine holds up better to grilling than most other lettuce varieties.
There are a number of Grilled Romaine recipes available. The one I like to use most often has a Caesar Salad-like dressing. Mustard and mayonnaise are the emulsifiers, and the anchovies, garlic and vinegar add the delicious flavor.
Be sure to paint the dressing into the crevices between the leaves when the romaine comes off the grill.
I have grown my own romaine for several years now due the occasional warnings that commercially grown romaine may be contaminated with E. coli. Locally grown romaine is now available at area farmers markets.
Many local farmers prefer heirloom varieties that have been grown or developed in various parts of the world with the seed saved and passed on from generation to generation. Parris Island Cos is named after the island of the same name and is one of the most common green varieties. Little Gem is very small and heat tolerant.
There are also red romaines. Forellenschluss is an Austrian variety, whose name is German for speckled like a trout. De Morges Braun is from Switzerland with leaves that are apple green in the center and bronze to pink on the outside. Red Romaine and Cimmaron have primarily red leaves, especially when grown in cool weather. Cimarron has been cultivated since the 18th century. Rouge d'Hiver has dark-red leaves and was cultivated in France at least since 1885. Petite Rouge is a baby red romaine lettuce with red-tinged leaves.
Look for some of these varieties when you go shopping and enjoy this seasonal crop while you can.
Try grilling your salad for a nice change.
For the Salad
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 head romaine, bottoms trimmed neatly
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
For the Dressing
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
3 anchovy filets, minced
1 teaspoon mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste.
For a gas grill, turn on burner to high. Lower cover and heat 15 minutes, then turn to medium.
Meanwhile, make dressing. Put minced garlic in a bowl. Add anchovies. Using a whisk, mix and mash ingredients together until they form a paste.
Add the mayonnaise and mustard and whisk. Add the olive oil, whisking while adding vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
To make the salad, slice the romaine in half. Drizzle the olive oil over the halves. Lightly grill these directly over fire until lightly golden. Remove from the grill.
Using a pastry brush or small spoon, paint the dressing over the romaine, making sure the dressing gets between the leaves. Sprinkle the lettuce with Parmesan. (You can put the romaine back on a cool spot on the grill for about one to two minutes to allow the cheese to melt and soften the lettuce a bit more.)
Remove romaine from grill and serve immediately.
This recipe makes two servings, but it can easily be increased.