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Grilled Cheese is for Vegans

Grilled Cheese is for Vegans

In honor of National Grilled Cheese Month, we experimented with a variety of dairy-free cheeses and approaches to the consummate comfort food. Vegan cheese has come a long way, baby, with so many delicious options available, we can belly-up to the table to enjoy this classic sandwich made with compassion as the first ingredient, because grilled cheese is for vegans.

Cheese is the last holdout for many would-be vegans, but sadly, the dairy industry is just as cruel as the ones that raise animals for slaughter. We’re fooling ourselves if we think that using dairy is not as harmful to animals, the environment, or our bodies as meat.

Thank goodness there are companies out there working hard to deliver plant-based alternatives that taste great and have similar properties (like meltability) as dairy cheese. Let’s get this out on the table though, choosing a lifestyle that is compassionate means that there are things we won’t eat or use anymore. And while the marketplace is exploding with cruelty-free options for a great many things, we shouldn’t expect – or even want – these alternatives to mimic their animal-based versions. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a wide variety of artisan, homemade, and store-bought plant-based cheeses. Do they taste exactly like the dairy-based original? Frankly, I can’t remember. I love them because of what they are, not what they are trying to be like.

Look for these brands of vegan cheese, and others, in your grocery or health food store and see which you like best. While our taste-testers enjoyed all the different versions, we felt that Follow Your Heart had the best meltability factor for this sandwich, Field Roast’s Chao cheese (in a variety of flavors) was also a popular favorite, but whether it’s in a grilled cheese or on a veggie burger, they’re all made with one common ingredient–compassion.

Grilled Cheese Basics

For the best grilled cheese experience, (and we want it to be an experience, don’t we?), use a pan on the stove top, none of this toaster oven nonsense. Heat the pan over medium-low heat; low and slow is the key. Add a couple of tablespoons of vegan butter (have you tried Miyoko’s Cultured Vegan Butter? Please do!) and a little sprinkle of salt. When the butter has melted, place two slices of bread in the pan and cook until lightly browned, then flip them over and cook the other side. That’s right, notable grilled cheeses begin with both sides of the bread toasted in vegan butter. Add slices of cheese and any other ingredients (sliced tomatoes, shiitake crisps, avocado…), and close the sandwich. Cook a few minutes more until the outside is a study in toasted perfection and the inside is luscious and gooey, like hot lava.

Sometimes, messing with a good thing is not recommended, and when it comes to grilled cheese, there’s a fine line. If you dare, cross that line and experiment with these using the basic preparation technique above:

California Grilled Cheese
Sprouted wheat bread, vegan mayo, your choice of dairy-free cheese, and sliced avocado.

Caramelized Onion Grilled Cheese
To caramelize onions, peel and slice 1-2 large onions. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add onions and a large pinch of salt. Cook, while stirring occasionally for about 35-45 minutes. When making the grilled cheese, place cheese on both sides of bread and put caramelized onions on one side before closing and cooking.

Butternut Squash & Shiitake Bacon
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. To make the cheese filling, peel, seed and cut one butternut squash into one-inch pieces. Roast on a parchment-lined baking tray, drizzled with a little olive oil and a sprinkle of salt for about 30 minutes, or until squash is fork-tender. Empty squash into a food processor. Add about a cup of Daiya Cheddar Shreds, 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast, a tablespoon of yellow miso, and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Pulse until desired consistency is achieved (you may like it smooth or a little chunky). Make this mixture while the butternut squash is still hot so the Daiya Shreds melt.

To make Shiitake Bacon Crisps, remove stems from a package of shiitake mushrooms (about 4 ounces). Thinly slice caps. Spread on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and a good sprinkle of salt. Roast at 375ºF for about 15-20 minutes, until shiitake looks almost burnt. Remove from oven and let the mushrooms crisp up.

Butter the outside of the bread, toast in a pan over medium heat. While toasting in the pan, spread a couple of tablespoons of the filling on each piece of bread. Sprinkle Shiitake Bacon Crisps on one side and close up the sandwich. Place a cover over the pan and continue to cook for a few minutes more. Remove sandwich from pan, slice and serve.

Roasted Tomato and Basil Grilled Cheese on Ciabatta Bread
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Slice a couple of tomatoes and lay them on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, dried herbs like oregano and basil. Roast for about 10 minutes. Prepare grilled cheese as noted above, placing two slices of tomato on one side of bread. Close up sandwich

And these are just a few simple variations. Use your imagination and create your own favorites. With all of the vegan cheese options, we’ll never be hungry for grilled cheese again!

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