Sunday, April 21, 2013

Vegan Grilled Cheese with Shiitake Bacon and Tomato

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Developing and improving upon the taste and texture of homemade vegan cheeses is all hinged around finding the perfect balance between the right fat and acid, then figuring out the right kinds and ratios of thickeners to mimic the texture and stretch of cheese. Working off of this principle, I've combined full-fat coconut milk with champagne vinegar (a new-to-me ingredient I discovered yesterday), then used agar powder and tapioca flour for bulk and stretch. After adding in some pureed roasted red pepper, the result was a cheese that looked a bit like the pimento cheese I ate while growing up in the southern part of the United States, but tasted more like a very mild queso dip rather than the southern staple I used to consume. Whether this is melted by itself between two pieces of bread—or made even to be even heartier by adding vegan bacon and fresh tomato slices—this cheese tastes fabulous and is also a breeze to make.

Makes 2-3 sandwiches, with some cheese leftover
total active time: 25-30 minutes
total passive time: overnight, for the cheese to gel; 15-20 minutes, for the shiitake bacon to marinate

for the cheese
3.5 oz prepared roasted red pepper
1/2 can (13.66 fl. oz.) coconut milk, unsweetened (I used Thai Kitchen brand)
1 tsp champagne vinegar
3/4 tsp agar powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 TB tapioca flour, whisked in 1 TB cold water
1 TB nutritional yeast
1 tsp liquid lecithin

for the shiitake bacon
6-8 shiitake caps, sliced
2 TB sesame oil
2 TB olive oil
few dashes of liquid smoke OR
oven-prepared shiitake bacon 

your favorite bread, for toasting (I used focaccia)
olive oil, for the bread
fresh tomato slices, for serving

Place the roasted red pepper into a small food processor and puree well. Leave it in the processor and set aside.

Place the coconut milk, vinegar, agar and salt into a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until a small boil is achieved, whisking continuously the entire time. Remove from the heat and whisk in the tapioca/water mixture, nooch and lecithin. Now, pour a bit of the mixture into the food processor with the roasted red pepper, then puree again until combined. Then, scrape all of the contents back into the pan, and stir again to combine. Transfer to a container, cover, then place in the refrigerator to slightly gel overnight.

When you are ready to make the sandwiches, toss the sliced shiitake in the oils and liquid smoke, and allow to marinate for 15-20 minutes. 

Heat a flat skillet over medium heat. Place the shiitake into the pan, making sure all shiitakes make contact with the bottom of the pan with no overlapping. Allow to slightly brown for about 2 minutes, flip, then allow to brown on the other side for 2 more minutes. Transfer to a paper towel, to slightly drain and crisp up.

Return to your pan. Apply a little olive oil to your bread, then place oil side down. If you are using thin sandwich bread, slice the cheese thinly, then place onto the bread. If you are using thicker bread like focaccia, you can just melt some of the cheese separately in the microwave or small pan, then pour onto the bread once it is browned and removed from the pan.

Arrange the shiitake bacon and sliced tomato onto the sandwich. Serve immediately.


  1. i love vegan foods that make me feel like a regular ole meat eater :)

  2. As George Takei would say "Oh MY!" This sandwich looks almost too good to be true! I can almost taste it now...but mine is going to have avocado on as well...a sandwich like this deserves to be savoured :)

  3. You definitely have the grilled cheeses down! They all look delicious. This one is on my 'to try list'...I love the ease of this cheese, as well as the entire recipe, and especially that it doesn't have nuts...can't wait to give this a try! ^-^

  4. Do you think Potato starch/flour would be a good substitute for the Tapioca flour? Being gluten free I'm also allergy to Tapioca Flour/Starch. Very sad, but this cheese looks awesome.

    1. I am not sure how potato starch would behave here. I think if you just omitted it, this would still taste good. good luck!

  5. Champagne vinegar is out of my league. Can you suggest a substitute?

    1. Any vinegar that has a little tang to it will probably work okay. Coconut vinegar is good -- I've heard mixed reviews on using apple cider vinegar from others (which I haven't tried out yet.) good luck!

  6. I just discovered your blog - been living under a rock, apparently - and WOW! I'm in love. I sat down and googled "decadent vegan recipes" because I'm in that comfort food kind of mood, and boy did I find what I was looking for! I LOVE that you make your own gooey, cheesy, bacon-y, sausage-y components instead of always using the packaged stuff. Totally diving into one of your recipes tonight, as soon as I can narrow it down!

    From what I've seen, you use coconut milk/cream as your creamy ingredient. Out of curiousity, do you have an opinion one way or the other on the use of cashew cream? Is it simply a matter of preference?

    Thanks so much, from a new subscriber!


    1. Hi Jennifer, Thanks for your kind words and so glad you like the blog! To answer your question about coconut milk/cashew cream: it all depends on the recipe. I like using coconut milk for cheeses because it is so smooth and firms up evenly. I use cashew cream for sauces and soups. But I do think they could be used pretty interchangeably in most applications!

  7. Really delicious as always, Erin! This was a really interesting cheese sauce. I was a little impatient with the notion of letting it gel overnight--so I drizzled it over the top. I used the leftover cheese sauce to top my salad the next night. It really did have a mild queso taste to it. I imagine you could utilize the cheese sauce for any variation of Mexican recipes too! In a couple days I am going to try making your smokey cashew cheese now that I finally have agar flakes and nutritional yeast. So excited!

    1. Leila,

      Hope you are enjoying your return to solid food! So happy you made the cheese and liked it. I think I am going to try it next time as a queso dip or over nachos, as I agree -- it has a more queso-y quality to it.

      Enjoy the smoky cashew cheese!

  8. i like this idea! i live in norway, and the thought of finding liquid lecithin is up in those realms of myths and impossibilities. substitute?

    1. Happy you like! The lecithin imparts a buttery flavor here, but it's not critical to the recipe -- you can just leave it out, it will still taste good!

  9. Liquid lecithin? It is the one thing I don't have. What does it add and can I substitute or leave it out?

    1. it adds a buttery quality and makes the texture a little smoother. I think you can leave it out and still get a good result ... good luck!


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