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A vegan grilled cheese can be melty, gooey, crispy and satisfying. You just need a secret ingredient. (Photo: Jess Kapadia.)

We all know the Fancy Grilled Cheese that evolved from humble white bread and Kraft singles to headline-grabbing versions stuffed with lobster and gilded in edible gold. But as someone with a functioning cerebral cortex, I refuse to spend more than $10 on a cheese sandwich. This is a more difficult — and often blander — task when compounded by lactose intolerance. But these challenges don’t preclude me from enjoying highbrow, dairy-free iterations.

Since Daiya, my dairy-free cheese of choice, doesn’t have the natural umami salty-savoriness of cheese, I find that a truly exceptional melt needs a little extra help. Here are some other handy tips for using this small miracle. Using homemade condiments is the simplest, most effective way to elevate grilled sandwiches at home. Not only are condiments like pickles, radishes, chutneys and other spreads cheap to make (and look adorable in Weck jars!) but I always have leftovers, making my preemptive hangover sandwich much easier to assemble at 1:14 a.m.

My recent sandwich du jour was a dairy-free pepper jack and cheddar combo with spicy harissa and a slice of well-salted avocado on cracked wheat bread. The harissa adds a much-appreciated spiciness against the cool, creamy avocado. But it’s not avocado season (and I’m out of harissa), so we’re going with my second-favorite child: olives and leafy greens.

Olive tapenade adds a brininess that really sings with rosemary bread. The arugula wilts slightly, then binds with the cheese to become a cheesy, peppery blend. Plus, hey, it’s a vegetable! A few strategically placed artichoke hearts would also make a noteworthy addition, but be sure to pat them dry first to avoid sogginess.