Grilled cheese with an autumnal touch, lentil soup with cilantro and cumin

by Terry B on October 21, 2009

Two recipes create a satisfying vegetarian dinner this week: Quickly sautéed apple slices and arugula liven up a classic grilled cheese sandwich, and cumin and fresh cilantro do the same for lentil soup.


The Russet apples Marion had picked up at the farmers market had sat in a bowl on the kitchen counter for days now, their rough skin inviting an occasional touch and the promise of delicious tartness encouraging ideas for their use.

So when I found myself thinking about grilled cheese sandwiches the other day, the apples popped into my head about half a thought later. The two flavors play together so nicely. Think of trays of rich, creamy cheeses with slices of apples offering a crisp, tart counterpoint. Or hot apple pie with slices of cheddar on top, an old-fashioned tradition in certain parts of the United States that probably made its way here from England.

Sure, I could have sliced apples to serve alongside the grilled cheese sandwiches, but honestly, I’m not a huge fan of apples straight up. Something about their unrelenting crispness puts me off. But I am a big fan of sweet and savory together, especially when combined unexpectedly in a sandwich. Take my Chicken, Goat Cheese & Apricot Jam Sandwich, for instance. Or the even sillier sounding Bacon & Marmalade Sandwich on Pumpernickel Toast.

So it was settled, the apples would go into the sandwich after a quick sauté to take off their crisp edge. And some fresh arugula to add its nice, peppery bite. Was it the perfect grilled cheese sandwich? Anyone who loves grilled cheese has his or her own vision of perfection, some simple, some quite complex, but all with well defined ingredients and cooking procedures. I hope you’ll share yours in the comments. So I won’t presume to tell you this is the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. But it was a perfect sandwich. The bread was buttery and crunchy, the cheddar both sharp and creamy. The apple slices were more subtle than I expected, but their sweetness played beautifully against the richness of the cheese, and the arugula added its own layers of flavor and texture.

Once I’d decided the sandwiches were going to be dinner rather than lunch, I wanted a soup to make it a complete meal. And since the soup was rich with cheese and butter, the soup needed to be just the opposite—fresh, light and with some mild spiciness [I’m talking flavor here, not heat]. The cumin and cilantro did the trick.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Apple & Arugula
With most of my recipes, I’m very careful with exact ingredients and precise amounts. This sandwich is open to some interpretation, which I’ll describe in the Kitchen Notes at the end of both recipes.

small Russet apple [or other cooking apple—see Kitchen Notes]
unsalted butter
a good, crusty white bread [see Kitchen Notes]
extra sharp cheddar [or other cheeses—see Kitchen Notes]

Peel, core and thinly slice the apple [one apple will make two sandwiches—if you’re only making one sandwich, go ahead and eat the other half apple]. Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium-low flame. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in the skillet and sauté apple slices for about 1 minute per side. Transfer apple slices to a plate. Turn off the heat under the skillet, but leave it on the burner and add another tablespoon or so of butter to the pan, swirling it to melt the butter.

Slice the cheese thinly, 1/8-inch or so. You want about 2 ounces of cheese per sandwich.

Assemble the sandwich. To cook it, you’re going to butter the bread, not the pan. Brush one side of each slice of bread with the melted butter, making sure to coat the entire surface. Place one slice of bread buttered side down on a plate. Place a layer of arugula on it, then a layer of apples slices and finally, the cheese. Top with the second slice of bread, buttered side up.

Grill it. Heat a large, lidded, dry nonstick skillet over a medium-high flame. Transfer the assembled sandwich to the skillet, cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the sandwich and cook uncovered for another 2 minutes or until bread is browned on both sides and cheese has melted. If necessary, turn again until desired brownness is achieved on the bread. Transfer to a plate and serve.

Lentil Soup with Cumin and Cilantro
Serves 3 to 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 celery rib, diced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 cup lentils
2 cups water
2 cups vegetable broth [see Kitchen Notes]
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, divided
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste [see Kitchen Notes]

Heat a stock pot or large saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil, onion, carrot, celery and cumin. Cook until vegetables are slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add the lentils, water, broth, bay leaf and half the cilantro. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes or until lentils are tender.

Remove bay leaf and transfer 1 cup of soup to food processor. Purée. Return puréed soup to pot and add remaining cilantro. Cook for about 5 minutes longer. Adjust seasonings and serve.

Kitchen Notes

First, the sandwich. Russet apples are great for this; they have a nice flavor and hold their shape when cooked briefly. But any apple that can be used in cooking, even Golden Delicious, will work well. We really don’t like Red Delicious for this or any other use, but that’s just us.

For the bread, you want a good quality one, but not too assertive. An Italian bread or country white or sourdough are all good choices. Go for a light-colored bread—it colors nicely in the pan, and that golden colors part of the grilled cheese sandwich experience to me.

When it comes to cheese, we’re big fans of extra sharp cheddar. This was a New York extra extra sharp cheddar from Trader Joe’s. But brie or Camembert would be stellar on this sandwich—different, but very, very delicious.

Now the soup. I called for vegetable broth here. We like Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base, by Superior Touch. as the name implies, it’s better than those cubes—at least to us. These bases [they offer several flavors] are concentrates that you mix with boiling water; one teaspoon makes a cup of broth, and they last in your fridge for months. But use whatever vegetable broth you like—or use chicken stock if you’re not concerned about the soup being vegetarian.

When you adjust the seasoning, use a light hand with the salt—and taste before adding any salt. One reason I used half broth and half water is that many commercial broths are plenty salty. As it was, I needed no extra salt in my soup.

Okay, your turn. What’s your idea of the perfect grilled cheese sandwich?


{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

TheWoman October 21, 2009 at 11:03 am

YAY! I’ve long thought I was the only person who likes apple on my grilled cheese sandwiches, but it seems my common sense has just become more… common!

Meister - The Nervous Cook October 21, 2009 at 12:34 pm

An apple and grilled cheese sandwich sounds amazing. I’m kind of amazed that it’s never occurred to me before — I actually do eat an apple every day, but I rarely consider veering away from the raw crunch territory. This post will probably inspire me to cook up apples into everything from here on out!

altadenahiker October 21, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Me mum always had a slice of cheddar with her apple. I on the other hand, have an aversion to sweet with savory. But it does make a pretty picture, and that soup is right up my alley.

dani October 21, 2009 at 7:37 pm

Okay, I’ll admit it – I love grilled cheese and peanut butter sandwiches. Not gourmet, but so good. Hmmmm, plus apple? I’ll have to try that next time.

Terry B October 21, 2009 at 8:07 pm

TheWoman—It does make perfect sense, doesn’t it? Glad I’ve found someone who’s been doing this all along.

The Nervous Cook—The raw crunch thing has always been the deal breaker for apples and me. But once I started finding excuses for cooking them—and including them in savory dishes—I was much more interested.

altadenahiker—An aversion to sweet with savory? That just makes me sad. Fortunately for you, we live in different time zones or I would be constantly cooking things to try to win you over to the, um, sweet & savory side. Okay, that didn’t come out as sinister sounding as I had hoped.

Dani—Thanks for being the first to weigh in on your idea of a great grilled cheese sandwich. A little strange, perhaps, but first! Well, on second thought, I’m reminded of the vending machine cheese crackers with peanut butter—maybe not such a bad idea after all.

Mellen October 22, 2009 at 1:37 am

This is so up my alley! Steve says to tell you he once made an apple, cheese, and walnut lasagna that was terrific (though I’d want to taste-test that, personally).

Your lentil soup recipe is almost identical to ours, except we like to add a teaspoon of red pepper flakes, and we sometimes use those tiny red lentils, which are sweeter.

Shannon October 22, 2009 at 1:43 am

I love grilled cheese with sun dried tomatoes… kind of a grown up version of my favorite childhood combo of grilled cheese and tomato soup! :)

Terry B October 22, 2009 at 1:51 am

Mellen—Actually, Steve’s lasagna sounds pretty good. The baking and the other ingredients would mellow out the apples nicely, I think. And it’s funny, I considered red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper when I made my soup, but decided I just wanted flavor, not heat.

Shannon—Tomatoes and grilled cheese are a recurring theme. Soup is a popular favorite, but Marion’s sister also swears by slices of fresh tomato on her grilled cheese sandwiches.

dick October 22, 2009 at 2:35 am

Big mess of a grilled cheese sandwich – sharp cheddar, peanut butter, crisp bacon and tomato and then grill it. A friend’s wife whose idea of a dinner was potato chips and a sandwich served this. Only thing she made that was edible but it is so good.

Lydia October 22, 2009 at 3:09 am

I’d definitely try this with brie, but the traditional combination of apples and Cheddar would be delicious, too. I’ve really never met a grilled cheese sandwich I didn’t love.

Onepot October 22, 2009 at 3:18 am

I put thin apple slices into my peanut butter sandwiches. (The crunchiness of even the most uninspired apple provides a nice antidote to the glueyness of peanut butter.)

Thanks for the cheese idea!

Alta October 22, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Apple in the grilled cheese? Sounds AWESOME! I could so go for this.

Lauren October 22, 2009 at 7:01 pm

Grilled Gruyere, caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, since you asked. :) I love your apple idea – I do a similar combo in philo dough triangles at parties. I’m having a love affair right now with French lentils – I’ll be trying your soup recipe. Cheers Terry!

Frenchie October 22, 2009 at 7:14 pm

This is exactly my kind of dinner, cozy and quick. I wouldn’t usually add apple to my grilled cheese, but this has definitely triggered my curiosity, I think I am going to try it. I make lentil soup a lot, and I am always debating whether I want it brothy with whole lentils or pureed. Tough choice, right?

Terry B October 22, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Dick—Please tell me there’s a defibrillator on hand every time you make these sandwiches.

Lydia—Growing up, sandwiches pretty much always involved peanut butter or meat. I didn’t get the whole grilled cheese sandwich thing at first, but now I totally do. And as much as I loved the cheddar on this, brie is very much next on my list.

Onepot—Your peanut butter and apples reminds me of corrupting ribs of celery with peanut butter—that same crunchy/creamy thing going on.

Thanks, Alta!

Lauren—Have you posted your philo dough triangles dish? I’d love to see it.

Frenchie—I didn’t want to make the choice. That’s why I only puréed part of the soup, to get some creaminess, but still keep some chunkiness. We’ve been using this approach lately to thicken soups and add a velvety quality without adding cream and calories.

Veggie Wedgie October 22, 2009 at 9:19 pm

Mmm…These sound so tasty!

Shelly @ Experimental Culinary Pursuits October 22, 2009 at 9:53 pm

I just love your addition of apples. I never thought of it, and now that I see your post, I just have to try it!

Melissa Yen October 22, 2009 at 9:57 pm

I love a grilled cheese sandwich. I love apples in my grilled cheese also, but I love the crispness of them. And arugula in/on anything is right up my alley. I could just eat it raw all day. I like a granny smith for their acidity. Helps cut the richness on the cheese. I love the combo of blue cheese & apple in a grilled cheese. Butterkase also makes a great grilled cheese sammie with roasted tomato. I like Prairie Pure’s available at Green City Market. Ok, one more comment. I am loving this peanut butter trend here. I never would have thought of that. I am trying the peanut butter & apple combo. Yum. Plus adding bacon to anything never hurts (well, maybe your heart!)

GrilledShane October 23, 2009 at 3:23 am

Your sandwich looks delicious, especially with the perfect golden color of the bread. Nice job for sure! Adding arugula is a nice touch.

Way back when, I actually created a brie grilled cheese with apple and tomato slices and it was delish. I am not sure it is my favorite, but it was still very yummy. It is too hard for me to pick just one grilled cheese sandwich as my favorite…

Christina October 23, 2009 at 4:34 am

The second fruit tree I planted at my place was a Golden Russet–it grew beautifully this year, and I think that next year, though the tree is young, I may get a few. You’re lucky to have a variety of apples available–most places in the nation have the standards: Fuji, the Delicious Crew, Granny Smith, maybe a Gala or Braeburn, and that’s it. But the apple family has so much to offer . . ..

I’m a big fan of grilled cheese all sorts of ways: swiss with mustard, cheddar with slices of ripe tomato, blue with honey, and so on. I’ve never considered adding a green though–great touch.

altadenahiker October 24, 2009 at 2:52 pm

So it’s really not you, it’s me? Huh.

Terry B October 24, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Thanks, Veggie Wedgie!

Shelly—Do give it a try. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Melissa—Thanks for the great comment! So many cool ideas to try. And I’m right there with you on bacon.

Thanks, GrilledShane! It really is amazing how much love grilled cheese sandwiches inspire. I fear I’ve elevated the nation’s collective cholesterol level with this post.

You always have to drag the conversation down into the dirt, don’t you, Christina. Well, the garden soil. I have to admit, the expanded apple selection here in Chicago is a direct result of the farmers markets. Sadly the season is coming to an end for many of them.

It’s never me, altadenahiker. Ever.

Toni October 25, 2009 at 12:51 am

So I’m reading your post and thinking “DUH!! How come I’ve made dozens and dozens of grilled cheese sandwiches and NEVER thought to put apples in them???” Fortunately, I have both — apples and extra sharp cheddar. (I’m with you on that one.) Coming soon to a theater near me………..

lisa (dandysugar) October 26, 2009 at 8:17 pm

I love apples on grilled cheese- with the arugula you have one delicious sandwich on your hands. Great looking soup recipe as well. In fact, I’ve really been enjoying your blog, such fresh yummy stuff.

Tracy October 27, 2009 at 7:08 pm

You can’t go wrong with cumin and lentils… my fav!

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