Savory, gooey, fiber-filled protein vegetarian sandwich.
RECIPE The gamut runs from traditionally simple cheese toast to over-the-top gourmet creations. The Grilled Cheese Invitational has been blanketing downtown Los Angeles in bread, butter and cheese for a dozen years. To give you an idea of how far these sandwiches stray from tradition, in 2009, chef Eric Greenspan won with his short rib with Taleggio and apricot caper puree grilled cheese. In 2013 the winner, Lucky McNutty, combined seven different cheeses inside and outside of "The Recumbent Vicar."
Perhaps these two victories have you salivating to try something beyond a typical slice of American cheese between two pieces of white bread. Fortunately, you don't have to wait for the Invitational to have grilled cheese. The most savory sandwiches are rich enough to require a week's worth of Weight Watchers points so you may have to pause until your scale is no longer your enemy before indulging it this masterpiece. It can be modified to use purely olive oil but butter was made for grilled cheese, right?
I wanted something with sufficient protein and fiber to become a meal in itself. With my double-decker Grilled Cheese Kale, I may have come up with something worthy of the Invitational. Grilled avocado is preferred over tomato but either imparts a useful dimension. I am still experimenting with the ideal cheese, preferring the nutty Baby Swiss to the flavorful Havarti. Baby Swiss has a more buttery taste than regular Swiss cheese. I successfully combined Havarti with cheddar and mozzarella slices. The Invitational requires 60% cheese so let's use three favorites (a bit more than what's pictured). It takes about 10 minutes to prepare a single serving.
- 3 Tomato slices (or gilled avocado)
- 1/8 cup Meatless chicken strips
- 1 Tbs Sweet hot mustard
- 4 Tbs Unsalted butter
- 2 Tbs Olive Oil
- 1/32 tsp Pico de Gallo (cayenne, salt)
- 1/16 tsp Flax seed meal (optional)
- Sea salt and cracked black pepper
- 3 Slices wide sourdough bread
- 3 Thin slices Baby Swiss cheese
- 3 Thin slices Sharp Cheddar cheese
- 3 Thin slices Mozzarella cheese
- 1 Sliced kale leaf
- 1 tsp Minced cilantro (optional)
- 1/4 Sliced white onions
- 3 Sliced green olives (not canned)
Slicing: Warm a skillet with medium heat while thinly slicing onions. Rinse and remove the main stem from the kale before rolling lengthwise and thinly slice (chiffonade style). Though kale is a good source of fiber, it does not impart much flavor and color. You can mix with spinach and cilantro for extra kick. Also slice the green olives separately.
Sautéing: Thaw three or four griller strips in the refrigerator for an hour or in the microwave for 30 seconds; chop into small pieces. Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to the pan with the onions. Lowering the heat a little, lightly season with salt and pepper while moving round in the pan until translucent. Add the kale, cilantro, and griller strips. Lightly sprinkle a little more salt and pepper while mixing everything together. (I sprinkle a dash flax seed meal in the mix for omega-3 fatty acid.) Sauté until kale is softened. Remove and set aside mixture. Clean out pan. If you are good at multitasking, get two pans going and perform sautéing and grilling simultaneously. This way, everything stays hot during the assembling stage, which is important for a good melt.
Grilling: Coat the warm pan with a tablespoon of oil. Spread softened butter on both sides of the bread or just add to the oil in the pan. (I used Land O' Lakes softened butter and olive oil blend.) It's important to get the bread coated well so flip them over if melting butter in the pan to soak it all up. Lower the heat a bit so the bread browns without burning. Lightly sprinkle one side of each buttered slice with Pico de Gallo and cracked pepper. (Yep, I season the bread!) With wide sourdough, you will likely only be able to fit two slices in the skillet. The third slice may be added after stacking the first two slices. Don't let it burn though. Lower the heat or remove the cooked stack until the third slice catches up if necessary.
Assembling: Flip the toast when crisp and add two slices of cheese to each slice of toast until cheese begins to melt. (One side of center toast receives mustard before cheese.) On the base slice, add the olive and tomato (or grilled avocado) slices. Top with the second slice of cheese toast. On top spread the Sweet and Hot Mustard and two more slices of cheese. Pile on the kale and onions. Now top with the third slice of cheese toast. By now the bottom slice should be golden brown. Lower the heat and flip the entire sandwich over for the final grill on the crowning piece of toast and to fully melt the cheese. Cover the pan and remove from heat to melt the cheese without burning the bread if necessary.
That's it! Remove the yummy, golden masterpiece, cut in half (or thirds) and serve while hot. If you want every bite to be full of goodness, trim the ends before serving. When done correctly, this mastodon of a sandwich is quite satisfying. The pungent olives contrast the hint of sweet and tangy mustard. With wide sourdough, half a sandwich may be all you can eat. Try it out and let me know if you think it could win at the 12th and final annual Grilled Cheese Invitational on April 12, 2014. It's hard to believe that I never even attended. Have you ever tried an exotic grilled cheese sandwich?
Photography by author.