A Grown-Up Grilled Cheese

Like lots of people these days, I’ve made a real effort to cook with less meat. For the most part, it’s been great, but…

…sometimes I really miss the flavor that comes from animal fat. It’s not even necessarily that I crave a rack of ribs or a grilled medium-rare burger — it’s more that I miss the depth of flavor that comes from, say, throwing a hunk of smoky, fatty bacon into a white bean soup. So, I was delighted to discover Umami Bomb by Raquel Pelzel. Pelzel, a longtime food editor, addresses the “depth” issue for vegetarian cooks with a love letter to umami, aka the “fifth taste” which describes that salty, smoky, meaty dimension you get from a few select non-meat ingredients. Think soy sauce, mushrooms, Parmesan, tomatoes, miso, caramelized onions. Her insanely next-level grilled cheese recipe deploys two umami bombs — miso and caramelized onions — and, dare I say, is as satisfyingly decadent as a burger.

Caramelized Onion Grilled Cheese with Miso Butter
Recipe by Raquel Pelzel from Umami Bomb

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
1/1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 heaping tablespoon miso paste — preferably white miso, but a darker miso works, too (optional)
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
4 slices good-quality sandwich bread
1 cup grated Gruyère cheese
Cornichon pickles for serving

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the oil, onion and salt and cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft and browned in spots, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the vinegar and turn off the heat. Transfer the onion to a small bowl and set aside (don’t wash the pan).

Mix 1 tablespoon of the remaining butter with the miso paste and mustard in a small bowl. Spread one side of each bread slice with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Spread the other side with the miso butter. Place two of the bread slices, plain buttered side down, in the pan. Divide the cheese and onion evenly between them and top with the other bread slices, plain buttered side up.

Cook over medium-low heat until the bread is golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes (do not press the sandwich down with a spatula — just let it be). Flip the sandwiches over and cook on the other side until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is melted, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Transfer to plates and serve immediately with pickles. Lots of pickles.

A Grilled Cheese With Super Powers

Thank you, Raquel. I really love your book!

P.S. Alex’s 10-minute salmon sandwich and rigatoni with caramelized onions and gorgonzola.

(Excerpted with permission from Umami Bomb: 75 Vegetarian Recipes That Explode With Flavor by Raquel Pelzel, Workman Publishing. Photographs by Kate Sears.)