Kale, Grilled Garlic and Cheddar Panini

Is it too soon post-New Year’s for something indulgent like grilled cheese? I didn’t think so either. No two ways around it, these Kale, Grilled Garlic and Cheddar Panini are grilled cheese sandwiches. But they are also vehicles for a lot of healthy, nutrient-rich kale (which, by the way, even my children managed to allow past their lips in grilled cheese form). I know that it doesn’t exactly cancel out the cheese, but if I’m gonna have grilled cheese anyway…isn’t it better to add in something “good”?

By the way, I should also mention that these panini aren’t comprised of just cheese and sautéed kale – there’s one more flavorful not-so-secret ingredient: sweet cloves of grilled garlic. I grill a whole head of garlic right on the panini press, wrapped in foil just like you’d roast it, and spread the soft cloves all over the bread.

I read a rather interesting perspective the other day about New Year’s resolutions. This person said he was planning to focus on adding things to his life in an effort to be healthier and happier, rather than just removing things. I thought that was really insightful. At this time of year, we tend to be all about cutting back/cutting out/cutting down but maybe it’s just as important to look at what we should try to bring into our lives.

I’ve got a little list going on my phone (so I can keep it close at hand) of things I’d like to do more of this year, some of which include:

  • Have friends over for dinner more often
  • Read (audiobooks count)
  • Replace a few showers each week with relaxing baths
  • Go to the beach (it’s just 3 miles away as the crow flies, but we hardly go)
  • Exercise (cliché, but I really need to)

Now, I know there’s a bunch of stuff I really ought to cut back on too (grilled cheese sandwiches could be among them) but if I can manage to add more “good” on balance, I think I should be all right.


Kale, Grilled Garlic and Cheddar Panini

Recipe by Kathy Strahs, PaniniHappy.com

Prep time: 20 minutes | Cook time: 40 minutes | Total time: 1 hour

Yield: 4 panini


Grilled Garlic:

  • 1 head garlic
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Dash coarse salt

Sautéed Kale:

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound kale, rinsed, stems removed and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • Coarse salt


  • 4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 8 slices rustic white bread, sliced from a bakery loaf
  • 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, sliced


  1. Heat the panini maker to medium-high heat.
  2. Peel away the outer skin from the head of garlic, keeping the individual cloves intact. Slice off 1/4-inch from the top of the garlic, exposing the cloves. Lay the garlic on a piece of aluminum foil large enough to wrap it. Drizzle the cut side with olive oil and season it with salt. Wrap the garlic in the foil. Place the cut side down on the grill and grill the garlic until the cloves are very soft and tender, about 30 minutes. Once they’re cool enough to touch, squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of their skins. Keep the panini maker on.
  3. In the meantime, prepare the kale. Heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and cook them, stirring, until they’re tender and fragrant, about a minute.
  4. Add the red pepper flakes and the kale and carefully toss the kale to coat it in the oil. Pour in the water. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the kale for another 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the vinegar and season the kale with salt to taste.
  5. For each sandwich: Spread butter on two slices of bread to flavor the outside of the sandwich. Flip over one slice of bread and use a butter knife to spread 1/4 of the soft cloves of roasted garlic on the other side. Top the garlic with sautéed kale and cheese. Close the sandwich with the other slice of bread, buttered side up.
  6. Grill the panini, two at a time, until the cheese is melted and the bread is toasted, 4 to 5 minutes.

NOTE: Save any extra sautéed kale to enjoy as a side dish – it’s fantastic on its own. It should keep for 3 to 5 days in a covered container in the refrigerator.



KathyPanini Happy, online since 2008, is more than just a sandwich blog. Here, you'll find hundreds of my original panini recipes, my guide to choosing a panini press and a whole lot of other creative uses for the panini press.
~ Kathy Strahs
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  1. Kalyn wrote:

    Kale in a sandwich, love it!

    Posted 1.9.13 Reply
    • Kathy wrote:

      You are kale’s #1 fan, Kalyn! 🙂

      Posted 1.9.13 Reply
  2. Karly wrote:

    I don’t think there is ever a wrong time for a grilled cheese! Besides, the kale totally makes this New Year’s Resolution Approved. 😉

    Posted 1.9.13 Reply
  3. Every time I read these panini posts I become more and more tempted to get a panini press. Also, grilled garlic? I don’t think that’d make it on the sandwich, because I’d eat each clove before it made it on.

    Posted 1.9.13 Reply
    • Kathy wrote:

      I agree – it’s nearly impossible not to pop a few cloves in your mouth while you’re making these sandwiches. 🙂

      Posted 1.9.13 Reply
  4. Angela wrote:

    It’s never too early for cheese! It’s all about moderation, right? I think this would be nice with a bowl of soup.

    Posted 1.9.13 Reply
  5. Victoria wrote:

    I had already experimented with grilling a few cloves of garlic at a time to add to recipes. Now I’ll have to experiment with grilling a whole head!

    Posted 1.9.13 Reply
  6. Is it time for lunch yet?! Because I’ll have one of these! 🙂

    Posted 1.10.13 Reply
  7. I am such a huge fan of kale nowadays. I adore your use of it with the grilled garlic. Nice combination.

    Posted 1.10.13 Reply
  8. Carolyn wrote:

    Your panini always looks so good, you inspired me to create a low carb flat bread so I could make panini again! What a great way to work some kale in.

    Posted 1.11.13 Reply
  9. What a tasty way to get your greens!

    Posted 1.11.13 Reply
  10. Oh YES PLEASE! I will eat kale any way humanly possible, but with melted cheddar? GET IN MY TUMMY!

    Posted 1.11.13 Reply
  11. Kale + Cheddar + Garlic?! Yum!!

    Posted 1.13.13 Reply
  12. so this is how we eat our kale?

    Posted 1.13.13 Reply
  13. Mmm…garlic, kale and cheese together sounds pretty amazing!

    Posted 1.15.13 Reply
  14. Hi Kathy! I am SO glad I found your blog. I have a very dusty panini maker to whip out again after seeing all of these! wow this one looks and sounds incredible!! I love love love kale!

    Posted 1.16.13 Reply
  15. I was sold at grilled garlic! I love the kale and cheddar too though!

    Posted 1.16.13 Reply
  16. mild wrote:

    i need to make some of this now.
    grilled garlic and cheddar!

    Posted 1.17.13 Reply
  17. Kristina wrote:

    wow, this sounds amazing. I love kale in sandwiches, but it’s usually cold, like a lettuce replacement. I cannot wait to try this, the garlic is a perfect addition!

    I love your list – because it has been SO cold lately, I have been taking more baths – I highly recommend!

    Posted 1.26.13 Reply
  18. This sounds so tasty! Grilled cheese are one of my favorite foods and I like the extra boost of nutrients from kale (and just love love love garlic in general))

    Posted 1.31.13 Reply
  19. This grilled cheese looks so delicious. Have you entered it in the Grilled Cheese Academy’s recipe showdown? If not, you should! Here’s the website: http://grilledcheeseacademy.com

    Posted 4.19.13 Reply
  20. Kale is my favorite! To me, this will be my classic grilled cheese (while I am learning through my path of enjoying food) instead of tomato, basil and cheese!

    Posted 1.16.14 Reply