Kimchi Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
My first taste of kimchi was in the back of the food shop where I worked in as a teenager. There, I’d spend my the lunch break with the Korean family who’d recently bought the place. Everyday, the family’s matriarch would pull out Tupperware containers of foods I’d never seen before. She was as generous with her cooking as I was curious to try everything. I eagerly dug into tender dumplings and savory rice dishes, but was less sure of the homemade kimchi that appeared at every meal. Fast forward to today and kimchi has become a staple of our refrigerator. I’ve come to embrace it alongside traditional Korean dishes, as well as conventional American ones, such as these crazy good Kimchi Grilled Cheese Sandwiches.
Why Put Kimchi on Grilled Cheese?
Some would say a simple grilled cheese is a perfect food, so why mess with it? Fermented foods can add heat, salt, tang, and interest to sandwiches and play deliciously off the richness of melted cheese. I’ve been tucking pickled jalapeños and other fermented goodies into my sandwiches for years, so adding kimchi was a natural progression. I thought I was the first to the table with the idea, but Google turned up plenty of other recipes. My spin on the subject includes the addition of spinach, a little less cheese than some, whole-grain bread if you can get a good loaf, and olive oil instead of butter for browning the sandwiches. Regardless of these nutrition upgrades, the whole thing is darn delicious and super satisfying.
If kimchi is as new to you as it was to me as a teenager, let me fill you in. It’s a staple of the Korean table made by fermenting vegetables, often with chiles, garlic, scallions, and ginger. Kimchi is most commonly made from Napa cabbage and has a fiery, funky, complex flavor. That said, kimchi can be made from myriad other vegetables and isn’t always spicy. Radish kimchi is a variety I’ve found at a number of my local markets. You can learn more about kimchi and find a recipe for making it at home by heading here.
Is Kimchi Healthy?
Yes! Kimchi is rich in probiotics, those “good” bacteria that promote healthy digestion. Probiotic-rich fermented foods can help build a healthy gut, which is thought to have anti-inflammatory benefits, along with a slew of other potential upsides (learn more about diet and gut health in this post ). Interestingly, the bacteria in fermented foods like kimchi can boost the level of vitamin B-12, a nutrient that can be hard to come by, particularly for folks eating a plant-based diet.
Where to Buy Kimchi
You’ll find Kimchi in the refrigerated section of the market. This is key, because those good-for-you bacteria must be live and active to provide health benefits. Shelf-stable fermented foods have been heat treated, which kills the bacteria. Availability of kimchi varies depending on where you live, but I’m seeing it more and more places, from mainstream supermarkets to Asian specialty stores. Two common brands where I live include Mother-in-Law’s and Sinto Gourmet.
Alternatives to Kimchi for these Sandwiches
If you haven’t quite jumped on the kimchi train, I have options for you. Here are a few swaps you can make to give this sandwich a spicy or briny kick:
- Use tamed jalapeño peppers
- Swap in a few tablespoons of pickled cabbage/sauerkraut
- Tuck thinly sliced cornichons beneath the layers of cheese
- Spread a thin layer of olive tapenade on one slice of bread
- Swipe your bread with gochujang, an umami-rich Korean spice paste
- Chop up giardinara, escabeche, pickled peppers, or other pickled vegetables
If you Like Kimchi Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, try:
Kimchi Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Kimchi gives a flavorful and nutritious upgrade to an ordinary grilled cheese sandwich. Add a tidy pile of spinach and you've got a satisfying and terrifically tasty meal on your plate.
- 1/2 cup Kimchi (I use cabbage kimchi)
- 4 slices Sandwich bread (I like levain, ideally with some whole-grain flour)
- Sharp Cheddar, enough for 2 thin layers on each sandwich (about 3 ounces)
- 2/3 cup Baby spinach
- 1 tablespoon Olive oil
Lay the kimchi on a cutting board and use a chef's knife to roughly chop.
Lay thin slices of cheese to cover 2 slices of bread. Lay the spinach evenly over the cheese followed by the kimchi. Cover with the remaining cheese and remaining bread slices.
Heat a large skillet (I use cast iron) over medium. Add the olive oil and when hot, swirl to coat the bottom and lay the sandwiches in the skillet. Cook until golden brown, flip, and cook the second side until the bread is golden and the cheese is melted.
Cut in half and eat while warm.