Who doesn’t love a good grilled cheese sandwich? Besides being incredibly easy to make and among the most satisfying of bites, grilled cheese itself offers a range of valuable nutrients that help build and maintain strong muscles, bones and teeth. However, as traditionally made, grilled cheese often gets a bad reputation as an “unhealthy” comfort food, as it tends to be high in calories. It generally lacks disease-fighting fiber too.
But here at That Salad Lady, as with most foods, we believe grilled cheese is what you make of it. That’s why we’ve given the traditional sandwich a nutritional makeover by transforming it into a salad bowl. Prepared with high-quality cheese, loaded with fresh layers and dressed in That Salad Lady‘s homemade tomato vinaigrette dressing, our grilled cheese salad has all the rich, savory goodness grilled cheese fans crave with none of the guilt.
THE BALANCING ACT
We can all agree that “cheese” is the foundation of any grilled cheese sandwich – and good quality cheese can make all the difference. While most cheeses work, you generally want to stay away from varieties that don’t melt – that is when it comes to the sandwich. However, it’s actually the opposite when it comes to our grilled cheese salad, as you want to choose a cheese that does NOT melt. That’s why our recipe calls for using halloumi cheese.
If you’ve never heard of halloumi, it’s a popular white cheese used in the Middle East. Traditionally made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk, and sometimes cow’s milk, it’s a semi-hard cheese that has a mild, somewhat tangy flavor similar to other fresh milk cheeses like mozzarella and queso fresco. But, compared to other cheeses, halloumi has a much higher melting point, so it holds its shape well when grilled, baked and even fried.
Like other natural cheeses, halloumi is an excellent source of protein and calcium. It also contains a good cocktail of health-promoting micronutrients and antioxidants.
But Isn’t Cheese “Bad” for You?
There’s always the question of whether cheese is bad for your health. Many wouldn’t put any cheese at the top of their healthy foods list. Cheese has long been viewed as a dietary devil, mainly due to the saturated fat it naturally contains. Due to an inherent ability to raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, also called “bad” cholesterol, saturated fat is often cited as a major cause of heart disease (click here to learn more about saturated and other fats).
Despite widespread belief, little evidence directly links natural food sources of saturated fat with positive or negative effects on heart health. As often is the case, the health effects of these foods are often conflated with eating fried foods, sugary baked goods and processed meats. What’s less talked about is the fact that saturated fat also raises high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, also called the “good” cholesterol, an effect that could actually offset a rise in LDLs.
Though cheese does in fact contain saturated fat, it offers many benefits for your body. Unless you’re allergic to dairy foods or have lactose intolerance, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy it in sensible amounts.
Below we suggest sensible portions of halloumi cheese – just enough to complement the fresh flavors of all the other ingredients. Since halloumi crisps up perfectly when grilled, there’s no need to sandwich it in between bread. Without bread, it’s a perfect choice for carb-watchers and gluten-free eaters. Also naturally vegetarian, our grilled cheese salad is sure to satisfy your grilled cheese cravings. Best of all, it’s in your bowl in 15 minutes or less.
Let’s talk about all the ingredients in our grilled cheese salad and why we chose to include them.
The “Meat” of the Salad Bowl
As the main ingredient and primary protein in our grilled cheese salad, halloumi cheese is the “meat” of the recipe. Originating from Cyprus, authentic halloumi is a semi-hard cheese with a fairly salty flavor that tends to mellow out when it’s cooked. The texture of halloumi itself is quite unique – you might even describe it as “squeaky.”
Now, you probably won’t find authentic halloumi at regular grocery stores. To get your hands on it, you’ll likely have to visit an international fresh market or a specialty deli that has a good selection of cheeses.
Another option is to use “grilling cheese,” which most grocery stores do carry. The taste and texture characteristics of grilling cheese are pretty much the same as authentic halloumi. It’s just that grilling cheeses made in the United States and Canada can’t be called “halloumi” for legal proprietary reasons.
If you choose to go with grilling cheese, don’t worry. You’ll still get the classic halloumi experience and similar nutritional benefits too.
Layers and Layers of Fresh Toppings
We include layers and layers of fresh ingredients to bring out the best in our grilled cheese salad bowl recipe, specifically arugula, cucumber, red onion, tomato and avocado, all of which are chockfull of nutrition. As the salad base, arugula is especially rich in beta-carotene, a powerful carotenoid antioxidant that plays a vital role in normal vision, immune health and even the health and appearance of your skin (study up in our Nutrition Glossary to learn more).
Similar to kale and carrots, tomatoes also contain carotenoids that support healthy vision. The reddest tomatoes are especially rich in lycopene, which is known to support heart health and blood pressure control. We use grape tomatoes for this bowl recipe, but cherry, vine or Roma tomatoes also work – and they’re equally nutritious.
Then there are onion and cucumber, which give the blend plenty of crispy, crunchy texture. For sweet flavor, good bite and a hefty dose of antioxidants, our recipe specifically calls for red onion. Of all onions, the red ones have the mildest flavor and the most antioxidants. Finally, there’s avocado, one of the healthiest fruits around. In addition to the hefty dose of good fat avocado brings to the bowl, it’s a rich source of disease-fighting fiber too.
Tomato Vinaigrette for the Perfect Finish
Our recipe calls for That Salad Lady’s “Tangy Tomato Vinaigrette Dressing,” which can amp up the flavor of practically any salad bowl. An intensely rich combination of freshly ripened tomato, red wine vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil with hints of basil and garlic, this dressing is indeed the perfect pairing for grilled cheese – whether in salad or sandwich form. To carry out the recipe, all you’ll need is a blender or food processor and it’s on your salad in five minutes!
GET YOUR CHOP ON
Our recipe calls for chopping most of the fresh ingredients including the cucumber, onion, tomatoes and avocado. No chopping is needed for the arugula, as you can buy it either by the bunch or as loose leaves. As always, using a high-quality chef’s knife for chopping will make the process a whole lot easier.
If using grape tomatoes (as per the recipe) just slice those in half. You can then dice the cucumber and red onion into bite-sized pieces. Once you’ve chopped up these layers, set them aside separately until you’re ready to build your bowl. Since avocado is best when freshly cut, it’s better to chop it up just prior to eating/serving the salad.
That Salad Lady’s tomato vinaigrette dressing is included as part of the recipe (see recipe card). To make it, you’ll first need to chop up the tomato in quarters. We suggest using vine tomatoes for the dressing but most red tomatoes work. Simply remove any stems (if present) and use a serrated knife to cut the tomato in half and then cut them again to make quarters. While any sharp knife will cut a tomato, a serrated knife will prevent the juices from escaping.
Once you’ve chopped up the tomato, add it to your blender or food processor along with the rest of the ingredients. With variable speed units, start with a low speed and then gradually increase it to a higher speed until the mixture is perfectly smooth. That’s it! If you choose not to make our dressing, you can go with a good quality store-bought balsamic vinaigrette. Full-fat varieties are generally best (study up in our Nutrition Glossary to learn why).
For simplicity’s sake our recipe calls for using a grill pan to grill the halloumi cheese indoors but, you can grill it outdoors too. Either way, when grilled, the cheese will take on a slightly smokey flavor. This is what really brings the bowl to life. Using a grill pan, the process itself takes about six minutes. You can also use a regular pan if that’s easier – though you won’t get the smokey flavor or the coveted grill marks.
Before grilling, you’ll want to pat dry the halloumi using a paper towel or two and then cut it either lengthwise into 3-4 even slices or widthwise into 6-8 even slices. Depending on the moisture, you might need to pat dry each slice as well. From there, give both sides of the sliced halloumi a good rub in 1-2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil.
Once the cheese is all prepped, spray the grill pan with a bit more oil and heat it over medium-high heat. You’ll want to get the pan nice and hot. When the pan is hot, add the halloumi slices and grill each side for 2-3 minutes. That’s it! Perfectly grilled halloumi will have a soft and moist inner layer and a perfectly crisp and golden-brown outer layer along with a good set of grill marks.
Grilled halloumi cheese is best served hot, so we recommend grilling it just prior to building the salad. When cool, it tends to take on a “rubbery” texture.
BUILD YOUR SALAD BOWL
When you’re ready to build your bowl, simply lay out the arugula, drizzle on your dressing and give it a good mix. From there, you can add layers of cucumber, onion and tomatoes and stir in more dressing if you wish. At this point you can chop up the avocado into chunks or slices and add it to the blend. Finally, top everything off with a slice or two of the grilled halloumi. Again, you want to make sure the halloumi is nice and hot to avoid that rubbery texture.
All put together, this grilled cheese salad makes about 4-6 servings. As always, you can reduce or even increase your portion sizes based on your eating style. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days. We suggest storing all the ingredients separately in airtight containers. When stored together, the salad bowl will get soggy and even spoil faster. In an airtight container, any remaining dressing will keep in the fridge for up to five days.
SHOW US YOUR BOWL
That Salad Lady wants to see your bowl! If you like it, which we are sure you will, drop a comment below and tag pics on Instagram with @thatsaladlady, #thatsaladlady and #buildyourbowl. If you love it, pin it on Pinterest and share it on Facebook and Twitter using #thatsaladlady.
This information is provided as a courtesy and is only an estimate. Please review our full disclaimer to get a clear understanding of the nutrition and health information and resources presented and written on our website.