Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Vegan Comfort Food: Grilled "Cheese"

I loved grilled cheese as a kid, and that love affair continued well into my teenage years and adulthood.  Grilled cheese was a great high school kids on a suburban rampage, 3:00 a.m. Jersey diner meal, and also a nice, quick thing to make when I was tired, cranky or otherwise wanted to feel like less of an adult.

And sometimes, I just crave it.  Tonight was one of those nights.  While attempting peacock pose in tonight's yoga class (and by attempting, I mean getting one foot off the floor, whacking my forehead on my mat and falling over), I kept having the same thought - "You know, I really want grilled cheese for dinner."

I decided this might be a great opportunity to give yet another one of my childhood favorites a vegan, whole grain make-over.  I started with seven grain bread from a local bread company, Spring Mill Bakery.   The bread has a great texture, and a touch of sweetness from honey. All of their breads are made with whole grains, and have no preservatives or high fructose corn syrup.  Locals, you can pick up this bread from seven area locations, and perhaps even at a local store.  Ours came from Grosvenor Market.

To get the nice, crispy browning effect that is the hallmark of truly excellent grilled cheese, I spread both slices of bread with soy-free Earth Balance, a vegan butter substitute.  The Earth Balance website notes a number of nutritional advantages in comparison to butter or margarine, namely a good amount of Omega-3 fatty acids and no trans fats.  If you want to try Earth Balance and don't care about whether it has soy or not, you can get it at pretty much any supermarket.  However, if, like me, you are soy allergic or severely soy intolerant, your best bet is Whole Foods, which carries multiple types of the spreads.

For the cheese, I used cheddar style daiya.  You've heard me wax rhapsodic about daiya before, but, to recap, it's a vegan cheese alternative with no soy ingredients, and it's also free of lactose and casein, which more and more folks are realizing they have sensitivities to.  It has a "meltyness" that most vegan cheeses lack, and meltyness is another crucial element of a yummy grilled cheese.  Since it comes in shredded form and melts more slowly than traditional cheese, you need a little more dexterity during the flipping process than you might with a traditional grilled cheese.  Daiya is available at Whole Foods and MOM's in the DC area, and also at Wegmans, Kroger, Giant Eagle and a host of other natural and traditional supermarkets.

A traditional side to a grilled cheese is either french fries or potato chips, but, since this is a healthy make-over as well as a vegan one, I paired mine with fresh cherry tomatoes and Brad's Raw Kale Chips in the Vampire Killer flavor.  A serving of kale chips provides 140% of your Vitamin A, as well as five grams of fiber, and only 0.5 grams of saturated fat.  Beats potato chips any day!

The result?  Same great grilled cheese flavor and crunchy/cheesy texture, but without any animal products, and filling in a satisfying, rather than heavy way.

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