Absolutely nothing takes me back to summer more than my Grilled Romaine Salad with Smoky Tomato Dressing, Feta, and Candied Walnuts. This salad has everything going for it: the char and crisp of the grilled romaine, the herb-deliciousness of the smoky dressing, the tang of the feta cheese, and the sweet crunch of the walnuts. It really is perfection on a plate, that hits all the taste buds at once.
You really are getting three great recipes in one, with this post. Each of the components (the dressing, and the walnuts) can be used in so many different ways, you’ll be referring back to this post time and again.
Let’s start with the Smoky Tomato Dressing. I love the versatility of this dressing; I use it on salad, as a veggie dip, and have even dressed a potato salad with it, which was a huge hit! First, we need to prep the tomatoes. They need to be peeled and seeded. To peel the tomatoes, we are going to need to blanch them quickly in boiling water, and then shock them in icy water. To prepare the ice bath, pour cold water and ice into a bowl that is deep enough to cover the tomatoes completely, and set it aside. Next, cut shallow crosses (just skin deep) into the bottom of the tomatoes. Now, place the tomatoes in a saucepan with boiling water for 20 seconds (seconds… not minutes!), when time is up, remove the tomatoes quickly with a slotted spoon, and submerge them in the ice water bath to stop the cooking. After the tomatoes have cooled enough to handle, the skins should peel right off. Next, we need to seed the tomatoes. Over a bowl, cut the tomatoes in half, and squeeze out the seeds and tomato water, you can even take your fingers and run them inside the tomatoes to make sure there are no seeds in there hiding out. Reserve as much of the tomato water as you can after straining out the seed. Chop the tomatoes directly into the reserved tomato water bowl. On a side note: make sure you are using a ceramic or glass bowl for this step. A metal bowl can react with the acid in the tomatoes and make them taste tinny, and a plastic bowl will absorb the liquid smoke, a flavor you don’t want in every dish that next touches that bowl. To the tomatoes, add the liquid smoke, olive oil, sugar, and chopped garlic. Give the ingredients a quick stir, and then cover the bowl with saran wrap (so your kitchen doesn’t smell like a BBQ joint), and allow it to marinate on the counter for 45 minutes to an hour.
To finish up the dressing, place the marinated tomato mixture in a blender, along with mayonnaise, and basil. Blend to smooth and season with salt to taste. The dressing can be served right away, but it’s even better after it’s been refrigerated, to give it time to firm up and for the flavors to meld.
Now, let’s work on the candied walnuts. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Combine the walnuts, confectioners’ sugar, light corn syrup, and water- stir until it’s all nicely combined. Spread it in a single layer onto a cookie sheet that has a Silpat mat, then sprinkle with a little Kosher or finishing salt on top. Bake for 12 minutes, in the middle of the oven, making sure to keep an eye on them. A Silpat mat isn’t a necessity for this step, but if you are baking without one- I would start watching for the walnuts to be done around 8 minutes. Also, make sure to place the pan on the top rack of the oven, and not in the middle.
CAUTION, DANGER, ACHTUNG, WARNING: Walnuts can go from being nicely browned to burnt in a blink of an eye. Believe me, I’ve done it a time or two. Watch these bad boys closely and keep your nose on high alert.
Set the walnuts aside to cool a bit. Once they are cooled, break them up, the caramelized sugars will have “glued” them together. This recipe will make extra candied nuts, that can be stored in an airtight container for snacking or for more of this salad later because it is that addictive! The walnuts can also be substituted for pecans. I’ve tried it with both and they are equally delicious, so if you have a preference, go with it.
Onto the salad part of this salad… So, the first time I heard about grilling romaine, I was skeptical. Warm, wilted lettuce didn’t sound too appealing to me. I was wrong- so, so very wrong. It turns out romaine stands up to grilling perfectly, so much so, you may never go back to eating raw bitter romaine again. The bits of char on at the end of the grilled leaves add amazing flavor and smokiness plus the warmth of the grill brings out a sweetness in the romaine that makes it extraordinary. The trick to grilling romaine is making sure you have a smoking hot grill. Cut the romaine head in half, and place it directly cut side down onto the hot grill, apply a little fingertip pressure to the backside of the romaine to give it some pretty grill lines. Cook the front and back sides of the romaine for two to three minutes each side, with the grill top closed. Grill long enough to add some char to each side, and to warm the lettuce through a little- then get them off the grill and onto a plate. Four halves of the grilled romaine heards are left in current form, and two of the halves are chopped into one-inch pieces.
To plate: place a half of head of grilled lettuce onto a nice long plate, pile on top a handful of the chopped romaine, then drizzle all of it with the smoky tomato dressing, crumble the feta cheese on top of that, and then sprinkle with the candied walnuts, and enjoy!
- 3 Vine-Ripe Tomatoes
- 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 2 Tablespoons Sugar or Honey
- 2 Tablespoons Liquid Smoke
- 3 Cloves of Garlic, chopped
- Kosher Salt
- 2 oz. Fresh Basil, leaves and stems
- 1 Cup Mayonnaise, I prefer Hellman's
- 3 Cups shelled Walnut halves
- 1/4 Cup Confectioners’ Sugar
- 2 Tablespoons Light Corn Syrup
- 2 Tablespoons Water
- Kosher Salt
- 6 Romaine heads
- 4-5 oz Feta Cheese, crumbled
- Smoky Tomato Dressing
- Candied Walnuts
- Peel and seed the vine-ripe tomatoes, reserving the tomato water and straining out the seeds.
- Chop tomatoes into reserved tomato water.
- Add the olive oil, sugar/honey, liquid smoke, and chopped garlic.
- Marinate in non-reactive glass or ceramic bowl for 45 minutes to an hour on countertop.
- Place marinated tomato mixture into a blender with fresh basil (leaves and stems), and mayonnaise.
- Blend until smooth and refrigerate for an hour.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine walnuts, confectioners' sugar, light corn syrup, and water, mixing well.
- Assemble in a single layer on a cookie sheet, lined with a Silpat mat.
- Bake for 10 minutes, in the middle of the oven. Watch closely.
- After nuts have baked and cooled break apart.
- Preheat grill to high heat.
- Slice romaine heads in half.
- Place lettuce cut side down onto very hot grill. Apply finger pressure to create great grill lines.
- Cook each head 2-3 minutes on both sides with a closed grill top.
- Leave 4 halves in current form and slice 2 of the heads into one inch pieces.
- Place a half of head onto a long plate, top with a handful of lettuce from the chopped heads.
- Drizzle with the Smoky Tomato Dressing.
- Sprinkle with Feta Cheese.
- Top with the Candied Walnuts.
- Serve and Enjoy.
- For instructions on Peeling and seeding the tomatoes, read instructions above.
- When marinating the tomatoes, make sure you are using a ceramic or glass bowl for this step. A metal bowl can react with the acid in the tomatoes and make them taste tinny, and a plastic bowl will absorb the liquid smoke, a flavor you don’t want in every dish that next touches that bowl.
- For the candied nuts, pecans can be substituted.
- Make sure to watch the walnuts while baking. Walnuts can go from being nicely browned to burnt in a blink of an eye. Believe me, I’ve done it a time or two. Watch these bad boys closely and keep your nose on high alert.