Thursday, May 2, 2013

Better Than Grilled Cheese: An Easy Vegan Whole-Food Solution

Before I was vegan, I loved grilled cheese.  But even then, I didn't eat it with just bread and cheese and butter spread on the outside.  As soon as I learned how easy it was to make pesto, I always had grilled cheese with pesto.

After becoming vegan, I still loved grilled cheese with pesto, except I switched, quite successfully, to making tofu-based cheeses which really are totally delicious.  I've covered my making this before on Food and Loathing, both here and here.  It goes over well with omnis, and I love it too.

Still, I kinda wanted to satisfy my desire for a smooshy grilled sandwich in a way that didn't involve making a tofu cheese.  One day, after I saw a recipe wherein someone mixed pesto from a jar with refried beans from a can, it hit me. Maybe I could make refried beans, pesto, and also some salsa, put that on bread with the outside sprayed heavily with olive oil, and grill that up childhood style.  Of course, you can also use Earth Balance, but I've been avoiding EB because it contains palm oil, opting instead for olive oil whenever possible.  This ingenious idea was exactly what I was looking for!

I am so not used to writing recipes.  Pesto is something I eyeball, pretty much.  I more or less just fill my food processor with greens, kinda measure the rest, and go!  But I'm trying to grow and actually post recipes, even if I write them with my own casual flair, so here goes nothing.


Grilled Refried Beans, Pesto, and Salsa Sandwich


- 3 oz container of basil leaves
- about twice as much baby spinach as the basil (eyeball it)
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 cup of pine nuts and/or walnuts
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
- 1/4 cup of olive oil

1.  Go through your basil removing stems and putting the rest into the food processor.  Once you see how much is in there, put about twice as much spinach in as well.
2.  Throw them garlic cloves in!  Salt, too.
3.  Toast your pine nuts and/or walnuts.  Put them in a pan over medium-low heat and move them constantly.  Pine nuts start to brown and glisten with a yummy-smelling oily sweat when they're done. Walnuts are harder to tell, but it's also not as important that they be as toasted.  Put your toasted nuts into the food processor.
4.  Process!  Add the oil through the shoot as you go.  Open it up and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and get it processed all smooth.  Take it out and put it into a container to refrigerate.  Don't wash your food processor yet.

Refried Beans (adapted from Viva Vegan recipe):

- olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 medium onion
- a jalapeno pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 2 14.5oz cans of beans (I used black), drained and rinsed
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups of water
- teaspoon salt
- plenty of fresh ground black pepper

1.  Mince your garlic and roughly chop the onion.  Also, remove the seeds from the jalapeno and dice it.
2.  In a large skillet, heat just a bit of olive oil (1/2 to 1 tablespoon -- maybe use water instead of or in addition to oil to reduce fat) and fry your garlic, onion, and jalapeno until the onion is clear.  Just, you know, use a spatula or something to keep moving this stuff around in the pan.
3.  Add your spices, which hopefully you already measured and put into one bowl so you can just add it -- the cumin, oregano, and chili powder.
4.  Add the beans, water, bay leaf, salt,and pepper and raise the heat to get it boiling.  Reduce the heat to simmer and let it hang out on your stove until about half the water is gone.  It's gonna take like 15-20 minutes.
5.  Put the whole shebangbang into your food processor and process until it's pretty smooth but still has chunks.

The Rest

-a container of your favorite chunky salsa or use your favorite recipe to make your own.
-your favorite healthy vegan bread, preferably whole grain/wheat
-spray olive oil or Earth Balance

1.  Heat up your pan now, especially if, like me, you use a cast iron skillet.  Heat it on medium high.
2.  Spray the outside of your bread with a good layer of olive oil, or spread with Earth Balance.
3.  Spread pesto on the inside of one slice of bread, put the beans on top of it and push it down a bit, and throw some salsa on.  Place the other slice of bread on top with the oil/Earth Balance side facing out.
4.  Put your sammy on the pre-warmed skillet and immediately reduce heat to medium.
5.  Seriously, be patient.  If, like me, you've kept these things in the fridge so you can make a sandwich like this when you're hungry, it may take a little time for it to heat thoroughly.  Eventually, turn it and do the other side, again demonstrating your zen-like patience.
6.  After it's done cooking, forget your zen-like patience and scarf down!

I think this is a really easy recipe and great for beginners to vegan or whole foods cooking.  Plus, to make matters easier, I won't tell on you for using refried beans out of a can.  Pesto from a jar, though, unless it is specially marked "vegan," is never vegan, in my experience.  It's so worth it to make your own.  You can freeze leftovers.  And, of course, I took the lazy way out on salsa and so can you.

Is it better than grilled cheese?  Hell yeah!  I mean, it's different from grilled cheese, but it satisfies the same craving for me.

In my next entry, I shall share with you about the salad dressing that appears in the above picture, and about inspiration I received from an amazing vegan restaurant here in Oakland, California to transform my way of eating forever.

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