Grilled Romaine with Feta and — Wait For It — Nuoc Cham

An Asian riff on romaine salad.

An Asian riff on romaine salad.


This romaine salad is not your usual suspect.

It’s not even your typical odd uncle of grilled romaine.

Not when it’s garnished with feta — and nuoc cham, the ubiquitous Vietnamese dipping sauce.

The creative combo of ingredients that make up “Grilled Romaine with Feta and Nuoc Cham” comes from the mind of Bill Kim, the South Korea-born chef of Urbanbelly and bellyQ, both in Chicago.

Kim, who immigrated to the United States at age 7, grew up helping his mother cook at home, before going on to work at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, Bouley Bakery in New York, and Susana Foo in Philadelphia.


It’s featured in his new cookbook, “Korean BBQ” (Ten Speed Press), co-written with Chandra Ram, editor of Plate magazine, a publication I’ve been fortunate to contribute to.

As the name implies, this book, of which I received a review copy, is all about grilling with bold Asian flavors. In fact, if you master Kim’s seven master sauces, which includes nuoc cham, you’ll be good to go to not only make any recipe in this book, but jazz up any type of barbecue dish you routinely make already.

The recipes in this book are all about taking the familiar and twisting it on its head. There’s “Korean Baba Ghanoush”  (made with nuoc cham, sambal oelek, curry salt and Korean chili flakes), “Korean Al Pastor” (incorporating gochujang and Kim’s singular “Ko-Rican Sauce”), “Kimchi Potato Salad” (that also features extra-hot horseradish), and “Grilled Peaches with Caradamom Crepes.”

Grilling the romaine wilts their edges and lends a smokiness to the leaves. An easy nuoc cham is stirred up in seconds with fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, garlic and Thai chilies. Those peppers are tiny but carry a powerful kick. So depending upon your tolerance for spice, you might want to use only 1 chili or remove the seeds.

There is no oil in the nuoc cham, making this a very light-bodied dressing. It definitely carries more than its weight in flavor, though, what with the irresistible funkiness of fish sauce. The feta adds the element of fat, as well as a briny saltiness that mingles well with the fish sauce.

Light in body, but bold in flavor.

Light in body, but bold in flavor.

A handful of chopped roasted peanuts over the top would be a fun addition, too.

With the start of grilling weather upon us, this is a salad guaranteed to shake things up deliciously.

Grilled Roamine with Feta and Nuoc Cham

(Serves 6)

3 hearts romaine lettuce, halved lengthwise

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup Nuoc Cham Sauce (recipe follows)

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro


Heat the grill for direct heat cooking to medium-high (400 to 450 degrees).

Brush the lettuce with the oil. Place romaine halves, cut side down, on the grill grate and cook for 1 1/2 minutes, until lightly charred.

Transfer the lettuce, cut side up, to a serving platter. Pour the Nuoc Cham Sauce over the romaine, top with the feta and cilantro, and serve.

Nuoc Cham Sauce

(Makes 1 cup)

1/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup fish sauce

1/2 cup water

1 clove garlic, minced

2 green Thai chilies, minced, with seeds


Combine the brown sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, water, garlic, and chiles in a small bowl and whisk until the sugar dissolves. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to 2 months. Or freeze in standard ice-cube trays, then transfer the cubes (2 tablespoons each) to plastic freezer bags and freeze for up to 2 months.

From “Korean BBQ” by Bill Kim with Chandra Ram


Another Romaine Salad to Try: Romaine Hearts with Miso-Mustard Dressing

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