We're romanced by most tools and foods that encourage slowing down at ordinary meals. Think dipping sauces, chopsticks, and vegetables that require you to get in there with your paws like edamame and artichokes. The fork and knife pair is no exception. Here we put them to work on a salad equal parts elegant and comforting: Romaine leaves get grilled to a brilliant green, humble button mushrooms are made filling and satisfyingly savory when covered in a salty layer of crunchy almonds and buttery walnuts, and to top it off we've adapted a date-mustard dressing by using a more potent stone-ground mustard and toning down the acid to ensure it works in harmony with a smattering of pert capers.
Grilled Romaine Salad with Nut-Crusted Mushrooms, Capers, and a Sweet-Hot Mustard Dressing
For the mushrooms:
8 oz button mushrooms
3/4 cup raw almonds
2 TBSP walnuts
1/2 tsp salt
freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup chickpea flour
1 TBSP cornmeal
5 TBSP water
For the sweet-hot mustard dressing:
adapted from Choosing Raw
2 large dates, pitted (about 1 1/2 ounces after pitting)
2 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP stone ground mustard [see Note]
2 TBSP water
1 head romaine, washed and dried
1 TBSP capers
Preheat the oven to 425.
Cut the mushrooms into thirds (or quarters if very large), which should yield 1/2-inch-thick slices.
In a chopper or food processor, grind the almonds, walnuts, salt, black pepper, smoked paprika, and garlic powder into a coarse meal. Transfer nut mixture to a pie plate. In a medium bowl, whisk together the chickpea flour, cornmeal, and 5 TBSP water.
Dip the mushroom slices into the chickpea batter, shake off excess, and press into the nut mixture on both sides. Bake for 12-15 minutes, turning over the mushrooms halfway through.
While the mushrooms bake, blend together all the dressing ingredients until smooth. (This should not need any seasoning. Between the prepared mustard and the rest of the salad, the dressing can, and probably should, easily stand alone. But this may depend on the prepared mustard you use. If you must season, do so cautiously.) If the dressing is too thick, blend in more water.
Meanwhile, preheat a countertop electric grill, or a grill pan on the stove (in warm weather, naturally, you can grill outdoors).
After turning the mushrooms, your grill should be ready. Gather 12 large romaine leaves and grill them six at a time--two layers of three leaves--on the countertop grill (ours closes, which allows both layers to have contact with the hot grill; if yours does not, flip halfway through). Cook until lettuce is bright green and slightly wilted, a minute or two. Transfer to two large plates, sprinkle the capers over the lettuce, drizzle the dressing over the salads, and top each salad with half the mushrooms. (Note that you may not use all the dressing (yields 1/2 cup), but it's the smallest amount our immersion blender would process.)
[Note: To get the "hot" in the "Sweet-Hot Mustard Dressing," make sure you use a prepared mustard with very visible mustard seeds. We used Inglehoffer brand. If you use a milder mustard, we're sure the dressing will still be tasty, but it won't have the same punch.]