American Comfort Meets Mediterranean Health
Inside each of us is a grilled-cheese-loving kid lost in a land of worldly spin on such pedestrian cravings. In case you have been living in a cave for the past ten years, Americans have a reputation for unhealthy eating and obesity associated with our comfort and fast foods, compared to those foods enjoyed for centuries by our healthier brothers and sisters nestled alongside the Mediterranean Sea. But who can deny the not-only want, but NEED for a grilled cheese every so often? I can’t, and today’s lunch was no exception as I got my “old world” on. Fueled by a trip to Trader Joes, I have unearthed a most delicious cheese and created an unforgettable sandwich: Mediterranean-Inspired Grilled Asiago.
True to form, I tend to add not only a gourmet twist to my humble tastes, but also try to stay well within the confines of a more healthful version of the classics. Of course, the two go hand in hand in most cases. Let’s start with the cheese from Trader Joes. Asiago with rosemary and olive oil, to be specific. Click on the link here for surprisingly healthy nutrition information: http://www.myfitnesspal.com/food/calories/trader-joes-asiago-cheese-with... Trader Joe’s Asiago with Rosemary and Olive Oil. And the bread? I prefer Food For Life (http://www.foodforlife.com/) bread products with sprouted grains and no sugars. Most have a denser texture as a result, giving a perfect springboard for a Tuscan grilled feel. And the olive oil: 360 Brand Extra Virgin Olive Oil (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/faq/olive-oil-faq.php) from Whole Foods is great for stovetop cooking and a cost-effective way to opt for good ingredients without reaching for the top-shelf products where unnecessary. Lastly, za’atar is a staple in my kitchen. I find it at urban Middle Eastern markets and at higher-end spice dealers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Za'atar). A Lebanese blend of herbs, sesame, and salt, za’atar adds a little zip to any oily, dippy mix and pairs beautifully with cheese, especially grilled into it. Read on.
So, first I took my two slices of sprouted whole grain bread and coated them with olive oil, and I grilled them in my Cuisinart grill pan (http://www.amazon.com/Cuisinart-GreenGourmet-11-Inch-Square-Grill/dp/B00...), stove-top. As soon as the little dark grill marks appeared, but not before the bread turned into toast, I pulled them out and moved them to a fry pan doused also in olive oil. Then I added slices of the rosemary-crusted asiago to one side of the bread, covering the entire surface with the medium-thin cheese trimmings. Then came the za’atar, which I generously coated the cheese with before placing the top piece of grilled bread at the crown. You would not believe the steamy aromas eeking out from under the lid, and how the za’ater embedded itself into the melted asiago and the crevasses in the oily grilled bread. And the taste was no disappointment either, an exotic and mildly-pointed flavor and texture combination that bridged the gap between my location and the Near-Eastern Riviera. Look, Mom! I get to eat an American classic AND have a sensory travel experience! I highly recommend it.