Grilled Lettuce, Home Made Crème Fraiche, and Low Fat Ranch Dressing

Grilled lettuce—before.

Grilled Lettuce—after.

Whenever I cook with other people, and almost every week with this column, I learn from others and pick up good ideas. It’s time to share some of this good stuff.

Let’s start with the low fat ranch dressing. Last week, I offered up a fine—full fat—recipe for a homemade version of a very popular salad dressing, that also works well as a dip for vegetables. Elsie Sealander from Blue Hill wrote to offer a reduced calorie version, which uses yogurt. She said, “Since I do not keep sour cream in my house, the yogurt is a great substitute.” That’s one way to avoid sour-cream temptation! Her recipe is below.

This prompted me to think about other ways to bring down the calories in the dressing, or any variation on it. You could probably employ a whole range of possibilities including low fat sour cream, fat free yogurt, low fat yogurt, low fat mayonnaise, etc., etc. You may recall the process I suggested a while back, for turning regular yogurt into the thick Greek-style one by draining it for an hour or two in a cloth-lined sieve. I use a clean dishtowel. The stuff thickens right up and works as beautifully as the super thick Greek yogurts do.

In fact, the popular onion soup dip that calls for sour cream works well with thick yogurt, too. Of course, it is not going to be as rich and creamy, but it is quite flavorful anyway. I haven’t tried it myself, but I wonder about beating in some low fat cream cheese to smooth it out some.

All these products are what I think of as White Stuff. Add to them ricotta cheese, mascarpone, cottage cheese, and all the creams—light, whipping, heavy, half and half, and so on. All very useful and within some limits, pretty interchangeable, depending on the flavor and texture you are trying to achieve. I use them in everything from potato salad to cream soups.

Another member of the White Stuff family is crème fraiche (pronounced “fresh”), a cultured cream useful in savory and sweet dishes. For example, berries or fruit with a dollop of crème fraiche, instead of whipped cream, is wonderful. Buying crème fraiche is not necessary. One can make it at home, I learned this weekend, from cooking instructor and Chef Bill Irish, at Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School, where I had more fun teaching two classes last week. We needed White Stuff in a potato parsley soup I was demonstrating, and he offered crème fraiche. I said, “Va-va-voom!” and he said, “We make it ourselves.” Two tablespoon of buttermilk in one cup of cream, preferably heavy. Stir together, let stand for a day or slightly more, until it thickens, then store in the fridge. Bill makes it by the gallon. Don’t worry about it spoiling as it sits out to thicken.

Then, finally in the good ideas department this week, is a cool way to use Romaine lettuce. I learned this one from my island neighbor Marny Heinen. She and her husband are both good cooks, and open to experimentation. I own I would never, ever, have thought of grilling lettuce. And now that I have tried it, I suspect that there are a whole bunch of vegetable grilling possibilities out there. The trick, if there is one, is selecting something that will hang together and is not too watery. I think spinach might be a tough assignment in the grilling department, while a whole head of Romaine isn’t. It is easier to do a spear of asparagus than a green bean, for instance.



Grilled lettuce, chopped, and ready for serving.

Instructions follow for the grilled lettuce. You can put the reduced calorie ranch dressing on it, and use crème fraiche on your dessert, whatever it is.

Reduced Calorie Ranch-Style Dressing

1 cup buttermilk

1tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon fresh dill

1 clove garlic, pureed

½ cup plain low fat yogurt

2 teaspoons minced onion

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine, blend and refrigerate.

Makes about a cup and a half of dressing


Grilled Romaine Lettuce

1 head of Romaine

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper

Oregano, thyme, (optional)

Trim the first inch of two off the top of the head of lettuce, and pull off any unsightly leaves. Trim the bottom to make a fresh end. Shake or whisk together the olive oil and vinegar (or use your favorite vinaigrette), add salt and pepper, and optional herbs. Brush the outside of the head with the olive oil and vinegar mixture, and lay it on the grill, turning it every minute or two until the outer leaves are wilted and show just a bit of charring. Serve chunks of it warm on a plate, or chop it into salad.

Makes two to three servings.


Looking for….Shrimp salad recipes. This query came from a fellow food writer looking for variations on seafood salads to put into sandwiches or rolls. I checked around in a few places but didn’t see anything that grabs me. What do you do besides using mayonnaise?

Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.