An uncomplicated side salad with grilled little gem lettuce and a punchy vegan tahini ranch dressing. Don’t be fooled by its simplicity; the flavours will surprise you.
Why You’ll Love Grilled Little Gem Salad
Grilled lettuce? Yes. You can grill lettuce! Especially little gem lettuce. This miniature lettuce’s shape and texture is the perfect candidate for getting some charred marks on it.
When you grill little gem lettuce, it transforms. The process changes the flavour, adding smoky depth to the vegetable.
I love this little gem salad. Not only because it is so simple to make but the surprised looks I get from friends who have never tried grilled lettuce before. With the added vegan tahini ranch dressing drizzled over the top, the combination of creaminess with a tangy finish is divine.
This is an uncomplicated but flavourful, one vegetable side salad that will entice you to come back for more.
What Is Little Gem Lettuce?
This palm-sized vegetable is one of my favourite lettuce varieties. You will be surprised how many different ways you can use it with minimal wastage.
Little gem lettuce is the smaller variety of romaine lettuce known as cos lettuce in Australia and Great Britain. It has a more elongated head compared to iceberg lettuce which is round. I find little gem lettuce has sturdy but tender outer leaves with a tight ribbed like centre.
Little gem lettuce also has a few different names, so it can be confusing when searching it up! Other names include baby gem, sucrine or even mini cos lettuce. You will find it in most greengrocers and supermarkets and often sold in packs of 2 or 3.
A great healthy option to add to your salad recipes, little gem lettuce is very low in calories with a good dose of vitamin A, C and K plus calcium, dietary fibre and potassium.
How to Cook Lettuce
Besides eating raw lettuce into your salad, there are many different ways to use lettuce, including cooking. So what are the best ways to how to cook lettuce?
First up is grill as we have done in this little gem salad. Little gem lettuce or the larger version of romaine lettuce is fantastic for grilling and radicchio and endive. Grilling always helps bring out the natural sweetness and complex flavours.
I haven’t tried iceberg, but I feel it will work grilled as well. Possibly just long enough to get the charred marks and the smoky flavour before the leaves wilt on the grill.
The following method you can try is stir-fry. Say what? Yup, stir-fried iceberg lettuce is one of my favourite Asian dishes. Add a little oyster sauce and chilli, and you have a delicious Asian style side dish perfectly matched with meats and a big bowl of steamed rice.
I also like to add shredded lettuce to my fried rice. Add a cup full at the last minute and stir it through. Lettuce adds bright green colours and slight crunch as it does not cook through.
Another popular method on how to cook lettuce is braised. Think of little gem lettuce and romaine lettuce as a substitute for braised cabbage. They absorb other flavours well and would hold up in the slow cook process.
Finally, when having your next bowl of noodle soup, add a few lettuce leaves as your greens. You will be surprised how deliciously sweet they turn when in soup.
What Is Ranch Dressing?
Ranch dressing is by far one of the most popular salad dressings in America. Invented in the 1950s, this creamy dressing now goes beyond salads.
It turns up regularly to parties as a dip for French fries, chicken wings, corn chips, vegetable crudites and anything that likes a good dunk. And I have read for the real fans; it is often drizzled over…well, pretty much everything!
Main ingredients in a ranch dressing includes buttermilk, salt, garlic powder, onion, chives, dill and spices. Together they create a creamy but not too heavy mixture with a good kick of garlic and herby flavours.
When I decided to create my own version, I didn’t have buttermilk, sour cream or yoghurt in the house! Basically, all the options for the base of the dressing.
However, I did have tahini. So I decided to try a vegan and possibly slightly more healthy ranch dressing. I substituted buttermilk with tahini as a base and added a good dose of fresh herbs and garlic in the mix.
The result was delicious! Still creamy but with a nutty edge.
Flavours/Textures: Even though the baby gem lettuce is gently grilled, the little gem salad’s overall texture still has a crunch to it. I love the charred bits on the end of the baby gem that gives a slightly bitter flavour.
Together with the tahini ranch dressing, I enjoyed the creamy yet nutty flavours oozing out of the baby gem with a touch of zing from the herbs, red onions and lemon juice.
Ease: Not sure how much easier it gets to char a few cut baby gem lettuce heads over a grill pan and then whip up a delicious dressing over the top. That’s it.
Time: Will take about 10 minutes to prep and grill the baby gem lettuce and another 10 minutes to prepare the tahini ranch dressing.
Baby gem: when choosing little gem lettuce, look for fresh, bright-looking leaves and ones that are not wilted or with blemishes. The head should be compact and firm.
Extra virgin olive oil: good quality extra virgin olive oil delivers a sharp, fruit and peppery flavour. You only need a little oil to brush over the little gem.
Red onion: I prefer to use red onions in salads as it is sweeter than brown onion. Plus, it adds a lovely colour too.
Dill / Chives: Dill and chives are important for ranch dressing to add the herby freshness. Dill brings a hint of licorice, whilst chives will add delicate oniony flavour.
Garlic: In most ranch dressing recipes, they call for garlic powder. However, I prefer to use fresh garlic to give the dressing a good punch.
Tahini: A staple in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, tahini is a paste made up of ground-up sesame paste. It is fantastic to add to salad dressings, dips, stir through stews or even drizzle on falafel.
You can buy tahini made from hulled or unhulled sesame seeds. Unhulled tahini is darker in colour and more robust in flavour.
Tahini is thick in consistency, but good quality tahini will have silky, smooth texture: no lumps and not dry or chalky.
Water: As tahini is too thick to add straight into dressings, we usually add a little water to break it down and thin it out.
Olive oil: Good quality olive oil is always needed in the pantry for salads.
Lemon juice: The thick consistency of tahini needs a little citrus to cut through the richness. Fresh lemon juice brings balance to the mixture.
Dijon mustard: Tangy and sharp, dijon mustard adds a little spice to tahini ranch dressing.
Maple syrup: Adding natural sweetness to balance the nutty and creamy flavours. Maple syrup is a great vegan alternative to honey. I find it to be more mellow when it comes to sweetness.
Salt and pepper: To taste
How To Prepare Dressing
Let’s prepare the tahini ranch dressing first. This way, you can prepare ahead and prepare the little gem salad when you are ready to serve.
Finely chop ¼ red onion.
Wash and finely chop chives and dill.
Use garlic presser or knife to crush garlic cloves.
In a small mixing bowl, add tahini and water. Mix until you have a smooth consistency. If still too thick and gluggy, add a little more water.
Add olive oil, lemon juice, red onion, chives, dill, dijon mustard and maple syrup. Mix until well combined.
Taste and then season with salt and pepper.
How to Prepare the Salad
Cut little gem lettuce into halves or quarters lengthwise (depending on the size of your little gem lettuce). Lightly brush cut side with extra virgin olive oil.
With the heated griddle pan, grill for 2 mins or until lightly charred but still holding shape. Don’t wait until the leaves are falling apart.
Remove from the pan and place on a platter.
How To Assemble Salad
On a serving platter, layer the grilled little gem lettuce and then drizzle the tahini ranch dressing over the top.
Variations and Substitutions
Other vegetables: Other than little gem lettuce, you can use other vegetables for this salad. I would try half little gem lettuce and half radicchio. Bittersweet of grilled radicchio would be amazing. Another option would be grilled fennel. Sliced into chunky pieces, grilled and drizzled with tahini ranch dressing.
Little gem substitute: If you can’t find little gems, you can use larger romaine or cos lettuce.
Tahini substitute: For the tahini ranch dressing, if you don’t have tahini and do not need a vegan salad dressing, you can substitute the tahini for buttermilk, sour cream or yoghurt. I would start with 2 tablespoons and then check consistency and taste. You could reduce or omit the lemon juice if that is the case.
Red Onion substitute: Instead of using ¼ red onion in the dressing, you can use one red shallot.
Great Mains for This Salad
Grilled Pork Chops with Blueberry Balsamic BBQ Sauce: While you have the grill fired up, throw on these double-cut pork chops. Paired with their Blueberry-Balsamic Glaze, they bring out the nutty flavour of the tahini dressing.
Lemon Honey Glazed Salmon: Perfect seared salmon is bathed in a lemon honey sauce and topped with fresh herbs. It’ll pair perfectly with a grilled little gem salad topped with tahini dressing.
Carne Asada Recipe: smoke and flavour to match a grilled salad. The clean spicy flavours in the marinade will complement the richness of the tahini in the salad.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I make this salad in advance?
You can make the dressing a day in advance and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Little gem lettuce is best grilled at the time of serving. Only a couple of minutes to prepare, so no fuss.
If you are heading to a barbeque, just pre-cut the little gem lettuce and put on the barbeque grill towards the end after the meats are cooked. Within minutes you will have a delicious side salad ready.
You will find tahini in most larger supermarkets in a variety of forms – hulled, unhulled, roasted or not roasted. Middle Eastern grocery stores will also have an excellent selection to purchase from.
This vegan salad dressing would keep in the fridge for a few days and be used later for steamed vegetables, grilled fish, or even a dipping sauce for buffalo wings.
As mentioned, tahini is a versatile ingredient and can be stored in your fridge. Check use-by dates on your jar. Great salad ideas with tahini include:
Purple Cauliflower Salad with Lemon Mustard Tahini
Roasted Spiced Pumpkin and Red Onion Salad
Baby Cauliflower and Spiced Chickpeas with Beetroot Tahini
Asian Eggplant Salad with Miso Dressing
Tahini Maple Syrup Dressing
Tahini Miso Dressing
This is a no-fuss, one vegetable side salad that seriously feeds the taste buds. I love the charred bits on the little gem salad. I love more healthy ranch dressing drizzled on the top and falling in between the lettuce leaves giving the salad a creamy and nutty flavour.
Match our little gem salad with your favourite main or even have it over a good slice of sourdough toast. It won’t disappoint.
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Ingredient Pairing Ideas
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Grilled Little Gem Salad with Tahini Ranch Dressing
- 4 baby gem lettuce
- 1 tbsp olive oil, extra virgin
Click on the toggle below for conversion to US Cooking Units.
- Finely chop ¼ red onion.
- Wash and finely chop chives and dill.
- Use garlic presser or knife to crush garlic cloves.
- In a small mixing bowl, add tahini and water.
- Mix until you have a smooth consistency. If still too thick and gluggy, add a little more water.
- Add olive oil, lemon juice, red onion, chives, dill, Dijon mustard and maple syrup. Mix until well combined.
- Taste and then season with salt and pepper.
- Cut little gem lettuce into halves or quarters lengthwise
- Lightly brush cut side with extra virgin olive oil.
- Grill for 2 mins on a griddle pan or until lightly charred but still holding shape.
- Remove from the pan and place on a platter.
- On a serving platter, layer the grilled little gem lettuce.
- Drizzle the tahini ranch dressing over the top.
- Serve immediately.
- Prepare tahini ranch dressing ahead of time and then grill little gem lettuce just before ready to eat.
- For some variety, try other vegetables such as radicchio, endive, fennel or romaine lettuce. They also grill very well and perfect match with the tahini ranch dressing.
- You can substitute tahini with buttermilk, sour cream or yoghurt if you don’t have tahini at hand. This will be more of a classic ranch dressing recipe and will no longer be vegan.
- Replace ¼ red onion with one red shallot if you prefer not to cut a full-sized onion.
*Disclaimer: Nutritional information provided is an estimate only and generated by an online calculator.
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