Culinary columnist Sara Jeran challenges readers to move beyond burgers and hot dogs this Memorial Day Weekend. How about giving this Grilled Caesar Salad a whirl? And yes, you can grill lettuce, as she explains here. / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran

Sara Stirs: Grilled Caesar salad in combination with versatile homemade tomato garlic sauce will take your Memorial Day spread to the next level

Editor’s note: For even more recipes, you can follow culinary columnist Sara Jeran on Instagram at @sarajstirs and subscribe to My Buckhannon to get new articles and recipes from Sara twice a month!

BUCKHANNON – Memorial Day: It’s the unofficial start of summer and the grilling season. This holiday also kickstarts summer cookouts. For most, school is nearing an end. The days are longer and warmer, Mother Nature is displaying her beauty everywhere, and positivity is in the air. In June, my herbs begin to flourish, and I discover a renewed enthusiasm in the kitchen. I adore this time of year.

Grilling with family and friends is a summer staple. Easy, casual, and crowd-pleasing. Demeanors become relaxed in this environment. Have you ever had a serious conversation with someone while grilling? Electronic devices are less prevalent outdoors than indoors lending to enhanced listening while conversing – a bonus to outdoor food preparation and dining. Cookouts are the ideal impromptu gathering. Menus are a breeze. Grill some meat, guests will bring their specialties (I know you have a baked bean friend, a potato salad friend, and one who brings cocktails due to kitchen fright) and top this shindig off with ice cream. Voilà — an instant success!

As with all cooking, grilling ruts can form easily. Burgers, ribs and chicken cannot be beat. Corn, potatoes, and peppers shine over hot coals. Traditional fare is delicious, but this outdoor cooking method has so much more to offer. From breakfast to cast-iron cakes, a grill can manage all of it.

A long weekend is the perfect opportunity for expanded grilling endeavors. The two recipes I am sharing showcase grilling in a new light. I want to share methods that may be new to your culinary comforts. Both are prepared with ease and will leave guests impressed.

By now, you have caught on that I am a salad lover. A loaded salad is my ideal meal. Caesar salad is arguably my all-time favorite, but it is not a dish that I prepare frequently. This salad is simplistic in preparation, but delivers a complex flavor. There are two main ingredients – lettuce and dressing. I continually advocate for homemade dressings, and this is no exception. Caesar dressing can make or break the salad. While it is my favorite, I sadly have tasted terrible attempts.

The goal is a creamy dressing without the weight. A neutral oil choice such a grape seed aids in lightness. Anchovies are the critical flavor: These little fish are a must. Basic staples blended with a little Parmesan cheese becomes magic. Romaine is the traditional lettuce choice. Any crunchy sturdy lettuce will serve as an excellent dressing vessel. I typically pick romaine, but I grill it.

Full stop: Yes, you can grill lettuce. I slice a romaine heart in half lengthwise season it will olive oil, salt and pepper and grill it cut side down until slightly charred. This takes this salad over the top. Think warm lettuce with crispy edges and hint of smokiness. Along with the lettuce, I grill two lemon halves cut side down. This sweetens the citrus lending way for a fabulous salad finisher. Grilled lettuce does not have to be confined to Caesar; it is also delicious paired with vinaigrettes, honey mustard, or creamy blue cheese.

Grilled tomato and garlic sauce might possibly become a summer obsession. If you enjoy roasted garlic, grilled garlic will be right up your alley. The method remains the same. I roast an entire bulb in foil over hot coals, which gives me sweet cloves to use in the tomato sauce and extra for another use (garlic mayonnaise will elevate your BLT).

Grilling cherry tomatoes brings out their candy like sweetness. These grilled delights combined with fruity olive oil, fresh herbs, and flaky salt becomes pure bliss. Now the only decision is how to use the sauce. It is sensational as a pizza sauce or spooned over grilled veggies. Whipped ricotta with herbs (simply pulse ricotta, herbs, salt and pepper in a food processor until smooth) on toast with tomato sauce is a treat. For a lighter summery take on chicken parmigiana, grill chicken breasts, and near the finish melt mozzarella over the top. Then, serve with the tomato garlic sauce. Lastly, it is divine in wraps and as a sandwich condiment.

These recipes together create an elegant summer dinner. Grilled Caesar salad along with short cut pasta tossed in grilled tomato sauce will have you feeling extra fancy. For summer I prefer meals that may be served at room temperature and this one fits the bill. Next time you fire up the grill, throw on something new. Summer is laid back, so allow your cooking to reflect this vibe. Casual is not isolated to “burgers and dogs.” Take a stroll through upcoming farmers markets, purchase a beautiful ingredient and give it a try. Invite a guest or two and share your project — even better, include them in the grilling process. Good food is important but good conversation is priceless.

Happy Cooking. Peace.

Caesar Dressing
(For 1 cup of dressing)


  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • Juice of 1 lemon (3-4 tablespoons)
  • 3-4 anchovy fillets
  • 1/3 cup grapeseed oil (or vegetable)
  • 1-2 garlic cloves (depending on size and taste preference)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

Directions: Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Keeps refrigerated up to 10 days.

Grilled Caesar Salad will freshen up your Memorial Day weekend spread, while adding much-needed nutrients. / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran

Grilled Tomato Garlic Sauce
(Makes roughly 1 cup)


  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 1 head of garlic (this all will not be used in the sauce)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh herbs (basil, oregano, or parsley)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (more for grilling) Salt Red pepper flakes (optional)


In a bowl toss tomatoes with olive oil and salt.

Cut the top of the garlic bulb off exposing each clove. Drizzle with oil, season with salt, and completely wrap in aluminum foil.

Place garlic wrapped foil onto a hot grill over direct heat. Grill for 15-20 minutes until tender.

Grill tomatoes over direct heat until they char, but remove before they burst open.

In a bowl combine grilled tomatoes, olive oil, and 2-3 garlic cloves (more or less depending on taste) mash until combined. Stir in herbs and season with salt.

Pair your Grilled Caesar Salad with pasta topped with this savory Homemade Tomato Garlic Sauce, which is used here in a wrap. / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran

Sara Jeran is a culinary enthusiast, gardener, beekeeper and Buckhannon native. Follow her on Instagram at @sarajstirs.

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