Grilled cheese sandwich with caramelized onions and pineapple
While a lot of plant-based food is healthy by default, it doesn’t always have to be your biggest concern – and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
It seems that the majority of the time you read or hear about plant-based food, the focus is on health – how it’s good for you, good for your heart or low in saturated fat, etc. Unless of course we’re talking about dessert recipes, then all bets are off. Well, no, not really, even these recipes lean towards being healthier variants. And yes, overall, that’s positive.
However, there are a growing number of people who aren’t making the move to a plant-based diet for health reasons, but rather ethical ones. There are also people, you know who you are, who tend to turn up their noses at plant-based food specifically because it IS healthy, and colorful. (Yes, colorful. I have friends whose favorite food groups are “brown” and “beige”. I guess all the bright greens and reds and yellow are a bit too much for them.) Everyone has the right, every now and then, to enjoy fatty, salty, oily, fried food – and plant-based people are no different.
That’s where I come to the rescue, for the first of many times, with my grilled cheese sandwich!
While bread and cheese food combos have been around since Ancient Roman times, it seems that the modern version of the American grilled cheese sandwich popped up in the 1920s with the term first appearing in print in the 30s. This was a time when inexpensive sliced bread and processed cheese became available to the average Joe. And Joe wasted no time in making this simple, yet tasty treat.
A grilled cheese is simply a cheese-filled sandwich, with margarine/butter on the outer sides of the bread, which is fried in a pan or a special sandwich-making appliance. This seems simple enough until you realize that both cheese and butter are dairy products. Luckily for us, the popularity and availability of commercial plant-based products is on the rise. Let’s take a look at margarine first.
When people hear the word margarine, they usually assume that it’s made from vegetable oils. While this is true you might be surprised to discover that there can be other things lurking there. If you’re not an avid ingredient reader yet, no matter what your diet, you really should be. Sometimes, even that isn’t enough, and you might need to put in further research or have a know-it-all friend. Since margarine is considered a substitute for butter, in the EU it has to be fortified with vitamins A and D. That’s good, right? Well… It wasn’t until reading an online forum that I discovered that the added vitamin D in nearly all margarines comes from, wait for it…. sheep’s wool! Yeah, you read it correctly, sheep’s wool. Now, you may not care that the vitamin D in your margarine (and cereal and juice) is derived from sheep’s wool, but if you do, you need to find another one. While D2 is plant-based, D3 most often isn’t. So read labels, contact manufacturers and do what you feel you need to do to find a margarine you are happy with.
So how about cheese? Once upon a time, plant-based cheese was something that you wouldn’t want to touch with a 39 and ½ foot pole! But these days it’s available in an ever-growing assortment of flavors and sizes. It usually has a vegetable oil base (such as coconut oil). The trick with this recipe is to find one that has the great quality of meltiness.
I’ve always loved sandwiches. I mean when does a sandwich not hit the spot? Give me two pieces of bread and some peanut butter and jelly, some hummus or avocado or whatever leftovers are on hand, and I’m good to go! I bet if you counted up all the meals you’ve ever eaten, the ole sandwich would be high on that list. So, when I discovered that I could make a plant-based grilled cheese, and tasted how amazing it was – I was in warm gooey heaven.
Then I got to thinking, and I realized that you might not be as easily impressed as I was by planticizing a “normal” grilled cheese, so I turned it up a notch by adding caramelized onions, topped with fresh pineapple! I don’t want you to drool all over your keyboard or phone, so I’ll let you get to it – but take the time to slow fry those onions for at least 30 minutes to get all the wonderful caramelization going on – you’ll be happy you did once you take that first bite!
Oh yeah, and those potato chips and their saltiness are a perfect complement to the sweetness of the pineapple and onions – and they ensure that the whole experience feels just a little less healthy 🙂
- 1 Pineapple - or roughly 30 oz (850 g)
- 2 medium onions
- olive oil
- plant-based margarine
- plant-based cheese (remember to pick one that melts well)
- 8 slices of bread (I used an unsweetened sour dough bread with whole grain rye)
- Cover the bottom of a frying pan in olive oil (or an olive oil/margarine mix) and put the burner on medium to medium high heat. Depending on your stove and burners, you may need to reduce the heat to keep the onions from burning.
- Slice the onions to your desired thickness, add to the pan and stir to coat with oil.
- After about 10 minutes add some salt to the onions and stir.
- Fry the onions for 20 more minutes. Stir occasionally, but not too much or the onions won’t brown. If necessary, add a little water now and then (I added maybe 1 Tbsp of water about 2- 3 times.)
- While the onions are cooking, chop the pineapple, slice the cheese, and butter one side of each piece of bread.
- After you’ve cooked the onions at least 30 minutes, add the chopped pineapple to the onions and cook for 5 more minutes just to warm/soften them a bit. Then remove the onions/pineapple from the pan and quickly wipe clean.
- Put the burner back on medium to medium high heat, and add some butter/oil to the pan.
- Place bread slices buttered side down, followed by cheese, top with onion/pineapple mixture, more cheese, and finally the second slice of bread, buttered side up.
- Cover the pan (so cheese will melt) and cook about 3-5 minutes – you want the bread to brown, but not burn.
- Flip the sandwiches and repeat.
- Serve with your favorite potato chips - the salt mixing with the sweet is so simple, and simply outta this world.