Cilantro Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Some of us loved to eat and cook before going gluten-free and some of us did not. I think if you were a foodie prior to going gluten-free that presents a different set of challenges/emotions than if you were not. If you were a foodie than you are both excited and devastated at the diet challenges ahead. I mean, is a gluten-free brioche still a true brioche? Well, I think it is. But I might have thought I would never eat true brioche again once upon going gluten-free.

If you were already a foodie you tried to find fruits, vegetables, and herbs in peak season and cooked them well. You already tried to find organic grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, or tofu. So as a foodie, you were already armed with knowledge that would help you on your gluten-free journey whether or not you realized it.

Since the typical American diet is loaded with processed foods that include many starches and few fruits and vegetables, the gluten-free diet really is a hard transition if you primarily ate convenience foods prior to going gluten-free. I do not think it is advisable to simply replace the gluten-laden processed food with gluten-free processed food. This will be hard on your pocketbook and your waistline, not to mention depressing. It is important to start learning about fresh foods; and honestly, someone has to learn to cook.

I get emails now and again from the newly gluten-free surviving on Amy’s frozen foods (I have been there believe me), begging me for recipes that are quick and easy. And I think to myself, it is time to get motivated, renew your “friendship” with food and get yourself in the kitchen. After all you it will be harder to heal if your desire is to simply heat something up or go out to eat all the time. I challenge all the newly gluten-free to become “foodies” and get back in the kitchen. It really will make you feel better. A brownie made with rice flour is still a brownie. You may not even be able to eat just one. So, this post is dedicated to the newly gluten-free who might be learning to cook for the first time. Let’s rediscover the grilled cheese sandwich together, shall we? I am adding a little cilantro pesto to mine.

cilantropesto Cilantro Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwiches


1 cup packed cilantro

2-3 Tablespoons olive oil (or to taste)

1/4 cup almonds, pistachios, or pecans

1/2 jalapeno (or serrano chile) or less (depending on taste)

sea salt to taste (1/4 teaspoon maybe?)

[some people add garlic, but I like it without garlic]


You can tell by the ingredients listed that this is a taste as you go type of recipe. Depending on the flavors of the cilantro, hotness of your jalapeno, and the type of nuts you use the proportions maybe different. Just throw all the ingredients into a mini-prep Processor and taste as you go.

Makes enough pesto for two generously pestoed grilled cheese sandwiches- I am sorry I didn’t measure! If you need a lot, double the recipe.
And now my husband, gluten-free grilled cheese expert, will tell you how HE made the sandwich.

Hey. Natalie asked me to walk everyone through making a grilled cheese. A little disclaimer: This is the only right way to make a grilled cheese sandwich. If you can’t handle that truth, please skip this section.

And now, on to the grilled cheese:

  1. grilled cheese1.thumbnail Cilantro Pesto Grilled Cheese SandwichesMake sure the stovetop is clean – This is perhaps the most important step in all of grilled-cheese-dom–particularly if you have a smooth electric cooking range that burns and marks easily. Seriously, clean, clean, clean – this is to both fulfill the “ounce of prevention” and counteract the “h311 has no fury” axioms.
  2. grilled cheese2.thumbnail Cilantro Pesto Grilled Cheese SandwichesGather your ingredients – Lots of butter or margarine, sliced cheese–Cheddar, Colby/Jack, Spicy Jack, whatever you like (even American if you’re into eating plastic), and sliced bread. The goal here is to have everything on-hand and ready-to-use so as to keep full attention on the pan and avoid any mishaps.
  3. grilled cheese3.thumbnail Cilantro Pesto Grilled Cheese SandwichesNuke the bread – If you’re using gluten-free bread, it’s likly that it’s coming from the freezer all stuck together and cold. Put all of the bread that you think you will use in the microwave for a minute or so on the defrost setting. Now we’re ready to turn on the stove.
  4. grilled cheese4.thumbnail Cilantro Pesto Grilled Cheese SandwichesMelt the butter – Turn on the stove to the middle setting and let the pan get hot. Add a slug of butter (1/16th of a stick) and cover the bottom of the pan with it. Ideally you want enough butter to soak a little way into the bread.
  5. grilled cheese5.thumbnail Cilantro Pesto Grilled Cheese SandwichesAdd the bread – Take two slices of bread and add them to the pan. Make sure that they lie flat and get fully covered in butter. Leave them there until they get a nice toasted look on the underside (Yes, it’s okay to peek) Note: Some people like to combine steps 4 and 5. This is a mistake as coverage is never as uniform as an in-pan application; it is an inefficient use of time–particularly when making several sandwiches; and it unnecessarily challenges the integrity of the already-structurally-challenged gluten-free bread.
  6. grilled cheese6.thumbnail Cilantro Pesto Grilled Cheese SandwichesAdd more butter – As you get ready to flip the bread over you will notice that your butter has been soaked up into the bread, so reload, add more. I generally push the bread off to one side and melt the butter on the other side, but another technique is to hold one slice up and melt the butter in its place so that step 7 is easier.
  7. grilled cheese7.thumbnail Cilantro Pesto Grilled Cheese SandwichesFlip the first slice – Similar to step 5 but requiring a little more dexterity as the pan is crowded and gravity is working against you. You only want to flip the first slice as the other one will have its second side grilled in step 9.
  8. grilled cheese8.thumbnail Cilantro Pesto Grilled Cheese SandwichesAdd the cheese and flip the second slice on top of the cheese – Quickly — good thing you have it all sliced and ready-to-go right there. Normally this would require two steps but I wanted to underscore that they must be performed in such a quick sequence that it would seem instantaneous to the untrained eye. This is crucial to obtaining an even melt and thorough heating. Keep this configuration until the bottom surface is well-toasted.
  9. grilled cheese9.thumbnail Cilantro Pesto Grilled Cheese SandwichesFlip the whole assembly – Grill the other side of the sandwich. When done remove it from the pan and serve hot.

There you have it, a fully cooked, four sides grilled, evenly melted, delicious grilled cheese sandwich.


grillledcheese Cilantro Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

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23 Responses to “Cilantro Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwiches”

  1. Natalie, looks great. I won’t be able to eat it myself but I know Keeley will eat it. The photo is delectible. By the way, made your pumpkin pancakes again. They are my new favorite way to eat pancakes.

  2. YUM!

    We make chimichurri with cilantro (similar to this) but wow – on grilled cheese!

    Good lord woman! I’m coming over for lunch with YOU! YUMMERS!


  3. that looks really good natalie!!! I love that your husband was involved in that post! What a great collaboration!! I’m not a cilantro fan, but I wonder if a pine nut and basil pesto would be just as good on a cheese sandwich! I would have never put the two together! Looks tasty!!

  4. Lauren- I really love those pancakes too! Now that I have put fruits and veggies in pancakes it is hard to go back. :)

    Kate- I would love to see that recipe too. My favorite herb is cilantro.

    Carrie- Oh yeah, I do basil pesto and grilled cheese all the time! Try it, you will love it! :)

  5. Oh by the way, Lauren, the cilantro pesto is casein-free, so maybe you could come up with another yummy sandwich with it!

  6. YUM! Uh, I guess I have to go try this when I want a dairy / rash binge! ( no casein for me ) *sigh* Seriously though, it looks worth it.

  7. CeliacChick- Don’t try it, just look at the picture! But do try the pesto since it is casein-free. :)

  8. Hi Natalie! I’ve been reading your blog but I haven’t commented! I’m newly wheat free & egg free (wah!), but seeing your yummy recipes has given me lots of hope! I DO need to become a foodie and get in my kitchen instead of eating all frozen meals and tinkyada pasta. LOL.

    Did I see in a post recently that you are in Raleigh? I live in Cary. :)

    Thanks for posting such wonderful recipes! jen

  9. [...] I’ll take mine grilled, please [Gluten Free Mommy] [...]

  10. Hey Jen-
    How cool that you live in Cary! I am only about 20 minutes from there. I go to Cary frequently, especially when the Ridgewood Whole Foods doesn’t have what I need! I think the Cary one is a little better.

  11. I did my first gigantic wheat free/egg free shopping spree at the Cary Whole Foods…I’ve only gotten a couple things at Ridgewood. Perhaps I’ll stick to the Cary one. :)

    I’ve gotten things at Earthfare, too. I still need to check out Fresh Market & Harmony Farms (in Raleigh). Trader Joe’s had a few ‘free’ things, but I definitely buy my hummus and few other things there.

  12. Yum! We had grilled cheese today, but it didn’t look that good :)

  13. That looks great!

    I have yet to really love bread again. I just can’t get into the gf bread.

    All that butter and cookingall sides TOTALLY helps the gf bread though! :D

    And, hello to husband!! Cheers, making your wife a lovely sandwich!

  14. SM- I have that feeling about bread too. You have to cook all sides of the bread and use butter or olive oil (hubs figured that out)- and like here, I used a pesto so the flavor you are concentrating on is the cheese with cilantro pesto!

  15. [...] Monday: Black Bean Soup with Pepper Jack Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Cilantro Pesto [...]

  16. I’m so glad that you posted this. I can’t wait to try it!

  17. Hi, I have been reading your blog for a few weeks. My children are GFCF due to autism. They are both almost completely recovered since beginning the diet 5 years ago. I am DF and went GF for a shrot time. I must say that I felt much better GF and may go back again. It would certainly make our lives easier!

    Wow, that sandwich looks yummy! I wonder if I could get soy cheese to melt. Regardless I am definitely making the pesto!

    Your blog makes me want to experiment with more foods. I go in spurts where I cook non-stop, and then I get lazy. I will confess that I bought two of the Amy’s GFDF pizzas today. No matter how hard I try I have never been able to make a pizza that was edible.


  18. Mary Frances- Make it with a gluten-free spicy jack cheese and try grilling both sides and see how you like it ;)

    Betsy- I hear ya on buying the gf frozen pizza! I have made a couple crusts that I like way better than frozen, but I have yet to post because I still haven’t quite got it the way I want it. And plus, even if you freeze the homemade crust it never seems quite as convenient as delivery or frozen. I used to be able to get takeout gf pizza at Pizza Picazzo’s in Scottsdale, AZ. My husband and I would go like twice a week when we first found out they sold gf pizza. I hated leaving Picazzo’s behind when I moved to Raleigh! Thanks for commenting!

  19. Natalie,

    I like your essay. I agree is probably is easier for “foodies.” What you said about feeling the loss but the challenge is true, for me at least. I’m feeling it again since we see the need to readjust my son’s diet.

    Your pesto looks fabulous! I am always looking for new pesto recipes. I love your step-by-step process for making grilled cheese sandwiches. I bet that will help a lot of people.


  20. Newly GF and dreaming of combos and pop tarts. This grilled cheese made my day. Off to the natural food store to find some stuff to make bread. The GF bread I bought tasted like glue…the white glue you get in elementary school. I hope homemade is better.

  21. Katherine- Thanks! I think I may need to readjust mine again soon (getting another series of allergy tests SOON) and I will be feeling all those feelings again if I have to add anything to my “free” list.

    Aimeepalooza- I grew up on that stuff! The only brand of bread I buy if I have to buy a loaf is the Whole Foods brand. I like their line of breads ok.

  22. [...] Nut-Thin Crackers- Pesto can be made casein-free very easily with almonds, walnuts, etc (see my Cilantro Pesto recipe). For crackers, try Almond or Pecan Nut Thin Crackers or Mary’s Gone Crackers. You can try [...]

  23. [...] fish, so I try to make it for dinner at least once a week. This week I jazzed it up a little with cilantro pesto. I added Sundried Tomatoes this time for a change and it made for a completely different flavor. [...]

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