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Grilled sandwiches like paninis almost always have cheese in them, which is important both for taste and structure. The cheese works like glue to hold the bread together and keep the ingredients in place. You can make one without cheese, but it's logistically difficult (the insides fall out while cooking) and I find it a little empty without the texture filling all the gaps.

Are there some substitutes that will provide the same material benefit without being cheese? I've used roasted sweet potato to great success in quesadillas, but it's a very strong flavor that won't play well with a lot of sandwich types.

  • What exactly are you trying to avoid by omitting cheese? The taste of cheese? Lactose? Or animal products in general? – Philipp Apr 8 at 14:24
  • Bread selection can also be important -- For a panini, I find it helps to have a bread that can squish a little bit to conform to the shape of the fillings before you develop the toasted outside. – Joe Apr 8 at 15:26
  • @Philipp My main concern is the taste, for people who don't like cheese. Milder cheeses like mozzarella mitigate this but I want to explore more options. – Hydrothermal Apr 8 at 16:01
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If you find roasted sweet potato to be a strong flavour, that makes things harder. Mixed roast vegetables, including some roast sweet potato or squash can work well, and the flavour of one vegetable doesn't dominate.

A rather thick hummus is also good (it softens a little on warming). In fact, roast veg and hummus is probably the vegan panini I see the most. Peanut butter should work, but I find that when heated it can become unpleasantly sticky (depending on brand; other nut butters that start stiffer may be better).

All these options have their own flavour, but so does cheese, even if very mild. The trick is to work with it, not against it.

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    But I 100% agree on spreads in general, but a warning about 'natural' (ie, non-American) peanut butter -- it can turn into a liquid with just a little bit of heat. (good for filling gaps ... not always so good for holding things together) – Joe Apr 8 at 15:26
  • @Joe my experience is of the peanut butter here in the UK, where all but premium brands have oil, sugar and salt added, and don't tend to separate in the jar, though they do sixteen with heat. I don't know how that compares to American brands – Chris H Apr 9 at 6:42

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