Make This: Award-Winning Vegan Grilled Cheese Sandwich

A lot of the entrants in Saturday's 10th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational listed "love" as one of their ingredients in their competition sandwiches, but for a handful of professional and amateur chefs, one kind of ingredient was left out, with winning results: animal products. This year, vegan sandwiches made a great showing in the typically-dairycentric event, and one pro entry took home a trophy.

Compassion Over Killing sent Gwendolyn Mathers, their L.A. Outreach Director, into the fray. Her sweet sandwich, The Aurora Borealis, claimed a 3rd place prize in the Pro "Honey Pot" category, making 2012 the first year that any award has gone to a vegan entry in the GCI. Sweet, indeed! In an email, Mathers says her win "marks a growing trend towards more delicious vegan products and awareness of veganism."

"We entered this contest to represent vegan cheeses and demonstrate that the compassionate version of America's favorite sandwich not only tastes great—it might even taste better than the original!" explains COK on their blog. Mathers also entered the Kama Sutra and Missionary categories, too, with vegan creations.

Other vegan entrants included vegan-friendly brewery Golden Road Pub, and home chef Jenny Harrison, who won first prize in the amateur category with her Honey Pot submission, The Friggin' Figgin' Vegan (Olive Bread, Margarine, Vegan Mozzarella Cheese, Fig Butter, Orange Reduction Sauce, Powdered Sugar).

The Aurora Borealis is made with sourdough bread fried in Earth Balance vegan butter and maple syrup, was filled with Daiya Mozzarella cheese, Tofutti Cream Cheese, and brandy soaked peaches; and was topped with swirls of blueberry and strawberry reductions made from scratch.

Mathers shared with us her recipe for her trophy-winning vegan dessert grilled cheese.

The Aurora Borealis

* 2 slices thick rustic sourdough bread
* 2 tbsp maple syrup
* 2 tbsp Earth Balance or other vegan butter
* 3 tbsp Daiya Mozzarella Shreds
* 3 tbsp Tofutti Cream Cheese
* ½ peach, peeled and soaked in a combo of 50/50 brandy and simple syrup
* 1 pound of berries
* ¼ cup sugar
* ¼ cup orange juice

Berry Reduction Sauce

1. Mash berries with sugar and juice and let set for at least an hour.
2. Pour berry mixture into a small pot, place over low heat, and lightly simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until liquid has reduced by almost half.
3. Strain out large bits and seeds (optional) and refrigerate in a glass jar (keeps for about a week).

The Sammich

1. Melt one tbsp of Earth Balance and maple syrup in a nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat.
2. Drop one side of the bread into mixture and remove. Then add another tbsp of the Earth Balance and syrup in the pan and place the dry side of the bread into the mixture.
3. Leave the bread on the heat and grill until the sugar has caramelized and is golden brown.
4. Flip the bread and immediately add the Daiya cheese on ONE slice of the hot side of the open bread and smear the cream cheese on the other slice of hot bread.
5. Slice the peach and stick onto the cream cheese.
6. Stick the two open sides of bread together and continue to grill, flipping once, until both sides are crispy and middle is hot.
7. Cut in half and drizzle with Berry Reduction.