Do you ever have days when you just need a grilled cheese sandwich? This green harissa grilled cheese recipe is what I make when nothing but a grilled cheese will do. It has all the essentials of a good grilled cheese sandwich – crunchy, toasty bread and gooey cheese – but a handful of spinach and a slather of green harissa add an extra dimension of freshness and flavor. It’s lightly spicy and totally delicious – hands down the best grilled cheese I’ve had!
The green harissa is really the star of the show here. Made with charred peppers, garlic, lemon, spices, cilantro, pepitas, and olive oil, it has a similar texture to pesto and a delicious spiced flavor. It’s easy to make in the food processor, and it really jazzes up this classic comfort food. I hope you love it as much as I do!
How to Make Grilled Cheese
A basic grilled cheese requires just 3 ingredients:
- Sliced bread – Sourdough is my favorite!
- Cheese – I like Havarti.
- Butter or olive oil – As usual, extra-virgin olive oil is my pick.
I love to dress up this classic combo with green harissa and spinach, but really, when it comes to grilled cheese, your filling options are endless. Swap in your favorite cheese, and skip the harissa if you like. A slather of chipotle sauce or pesto would be great in its place. If you’re not in the mood for spinach, leave it out, or add some thin tomato or pepper slices, roasted red peppers, or arugula instead.
Once you’ve assembled your ingredients, it’s time to cook! If you’re using it, slather the harissa onto a slice of bread and add some spinach and a thick layer of grated cheese. Top with the remaining slice of bread, drizzle with olive oil (or spread with butter), and grill your sandwich on both sides until the bread becomes golden brown and the cheese melts.
My Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich Tips
Want to make the best grilled cheese sandwich you’ve ever had? Just follow these easy tips!
- Better ingredients = a better sandwich. As with all simple recipes, the better your ingredients are, the better your grilled cheese will be. I like mine with sourdough bread and Havarti or sharp cheddar cheese.
- Use a good melting cheese. Because higher-moisture cheeses yield the best oozy, pull-apart sandwiches, steer clear of crumbly, hard cheeses like Parmesan or manchego. I use Havarti here (Roth Cheese is a favorite), but gruyere, gouda, provolone, mozzarella, and cheddar are all great choices for a grilled cheese sandwich.
- Cover for even cooking. If your bread is browning faster than your cheese is melting, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. The trapped heat will help melt the cheese before the bread gets too brown.
- Toast both sides of the bread. This step isn’t entirely necessary, but it’s totally worth it. Before you add your fillings, get the inside face of your bread a little toasty in the pan. Then, load it up and grill on the outside, flipping halfway. Your bread will have a crave-worthy crunch that’s a perfect contrast to the creamy, cheesy middle.
For a more traditional (red) harissa recipe, check out page 281 in my new cookbook, Love & Lemons Every Day. This zippy green version is very different, but just as delicious! If you have extra harissa after making this recipe, it’s yummy scooped onto tacos, avocado toast, grilled veggies, pizza slices, falafel flatbread, and especially these shawarma wraps.
If you love this grilled cheese recipe…
- 2 green Anaheim peppers (or 1 poblano)
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon honey or maple syrup
- ¾ cup cilantro
- ¼ cup pepitas
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- freshly ground black pepper
- 8 sourdough bread slices
- A few handfuls of spinach leaves
- 2 to 3 cups grated havarti cheese
- Extra-virgin oil, for grilling
- Make the green harissa. Char the peppers over a gas burner or under a broiler until the skin is blackened all over. Remove from the heat and place in a bowl and cover with a towel or plastic wrap for 10 minutes. Slice off the stem and place the peppers, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, coriander, salt, honey, cilantro, pepitas and a few grinds of black pepper into a food processor and pulse until combined. Drizzle in the olive oil and process until smooth.
- Make the grilled cheese. Slather the green harissa on the insides of each slice of bread. Assemble with spinach leaves and cheese. Pre-heat a cast iron skillet or grill pan over medium heat. Brush the outsides of the sandwich with olive oil and grill on each side until the cheese is melted.