Grilled Caesar salads are a summertime classic and can be a quick, well-rounded meal. This bright-tasting dressing is easy to prepare—no need for a blender or food processor—and is egg and anchovy free. Anchovy fans may absolutely serve them alongside, of course, and I’ve included my favorite ways to turn the salad into a complete meal.
Nearly every Saturday morning, my husband and I stroll through the aisles of “Market.” Officially, of course, it’s Lancaster Central Market, but when you’re the country’s oldest farmers’ market—120 years and counting—and you’ve been ranked with the best markets in the world, the locals know what you mean.
Jack and I divide and conquer because I tend to be a little slow for his taste. He enjoys the trip as much as I do though, as much for the social element as for Wendy Jo’s pecan bars. He carries more than his fair share of heavy bags, too.
I bring a list, but my plan for the week often shifts as I take in the vast array of seasonal produce, fresh meats, and local cheeses. Sometimes, inspiration comes from the stand holders themselves.
Such is the case with the following recipe. I began frequenting Brogue Hydroponics’ stand when they first brought their produce to Market nearly three years ago. Between the incredibly fresh vegetables and the delightful demeanor of stand holder Mary Kilgore, it’s always a favorite stop.
In an area where traditional farming has long been a mainstay, the hydroponic concept piqued my curiosity. Bob and Nancy Kilgore started the company in 1983 on their property in York. Currently, their son, Jesse, who is also Mary’s husband, manages the operation. Though the family property is vast, most of the land is wooded, hilly, and not well suited to traditional farming. Hydroponic farming circumvents these obstacles by using water instead of soil as the growing medium in the controlled environment of a greenhouse—the Kilgores have 10 of them.
The Kilgores also employ aquaponics in their operation. According to Mary, this is essentially the marriage of aquafarming (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) where fish and plants are grown in a single integrated system. The fish waste provides an organic food source for the plants, and the plants naturally filter the water in which the fish live. Mary mentioned the added benefit of water conservation as the water is constantly reused.
Though the Kilgores’ operation isn’t certified organic, they do employ an organic approach, which can be partially illustrated through one of their pest management techniques. Lettuces, for example, attract aphids, which can ultimately destroy the lettuce. For pesticide-free control, ladybugs are brought in and released because they feed on the aphids.
All of these elements allow the Kilgore family to grow a wide variety of produce throughout all but the coldest months of the years. Interestingly, Mary didn’t always work for the company, but as a Lancaster City resident and frequent Market shopper, she long thought the company should secure a stand there. She felt passionately enough about the market presence that she told her husband and in-laws she would quit her job to take on the responsibility of running a new stand. And that’s exactly what happened. Mary admitted that the days are long and tiring but stressed that she truly loves it and, in her words, “it’s been a real blessing.”
Because Mary knows I enjoy leafy greens, she shared her family-favorite side salad with me last spring. It’s a recipe Mary prepares often as she typically has the ingredients on hand. I, in turn, have used some of the dressing to marinate chicken and salmon—shrimp would also be good—for an easy, complete meal. Brushing some of the dressing on hearty bread and lightly grilling it, too, offers a welcome departure from the traditional crouton. (If at Market, stop by Ric’s Bread or Thom’s BREAD for some worthy options. For the gluten-free crowd, Udi’s white bread is a surprisingly delicious alternative that holds up well on the grill.)
Bonus recipe! This is a super simple recipe for watercress that Mary shared with me, and I recently made it for the first time. The ginger is an unexpectedly good partner to the peppery watercress. It’s Mary’s favorite way to enjoy this uber-healthy green, which she sells it year-round.
Yield: 2 servings
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon shredded or minced ginger
- 1 bunch (about 4 ounces) watercress — chopped, trim some stems
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a skillet with a 9- to 10-inch diameter, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the ginger and sauté for one minute. Add the watercress and wilt for about a minute. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Yield: 4 servings (adjust as needed: each head of romaine will yield 2 salads)
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 heads of romaine lettuce, cut in half lengthwise *
- Olive Oil
- Options for serving: additional grated Parmesan; hearty bread or croutons; chicken, salmon, or shrimp; anchovies
For the dressing: combine the lemon juice, Dijon, and garlic. Add the olive oil in a steady stream while whisking in constantly. Stir in the cheese. The dressing may be made in advance, covered, and refrigerated until serving. Stir or shake well before using.
Preheat the grill to high heat. Lightly brush both sides of the romaine halves with olive oil or spray with an olive oil mister (I’ve also brushed with the dressing). Place the romaine, face down, on the hot (uncovered) grill for 1-2 minutes or until light golden grill marks appear. Flip, and grill for another minute or two. Watch the romaine closely. The outside of the lettuce should be slightly caramelized while the insides are still cool and crisp.
Remove from the grill, and brush the cut sides of each romaine half with the dressing. I like to use a pastry brush to work some of the dressing into the crevices. Sprinkle with a little extra Parmesan, croutons, or your favorite Caesar salad toppings. Serve immediately with extra dressing, to taste.
- *Discard any limp or blemished outer lettuce leaves. For smaller, more compact salads, hearts of romaine may be used. You may also wish to chop off the top 1-2 inches of the lettuce head—the tips of the leaves tend to be less crisp and don’t hold up as well on the grill–and shave off a thin sliver of the root end if browned. Just be sure to leave the root end intact so that the lettuce head holds together.
- The dressing recipe may be cut recipe in half, depending on how many people are being served. Any extra dressing, however, will keep in fridge for about a week or can be used to marinate chicken, salmon or shrimp or to baste bread before grilling.
- To round out the meal, make enough dressing to use on the salads and to marinate your choice of chicken, salmon, or shrimp. (Figure on approximately 1/3 cup marinade per pound of protein when marinating in a zip-top bag.) Start grilling the protein before the romaine, as the lettuce doesn’t take long. Chicken can be marinated all day; fish will benefit from a 30-60 minute soak. For a hint of last-minute flavor, I have brushed the chicken/fish with the dressing just prior to grilling and basted with more while cooking. Finally, for a tasty extra, brush both sides of some hearty bread and grill that, too. Bread should be grilled just long enough to toast and create some grill marks. Be careful as it can burn quickly. Serve whole pieces on the side or cut the grilled bread into cubes and use as croutons.