Sandwiched: Charred Chili, Cheese, and Corn Sandwiches


The greatest column since sliced bread.


Photographs: Maria Del Mar Sacasa

I travel to Southern California every few months for work, and, conveniently, my mom and three younger siblings live there, which means I get a few days of family, fun, and honey-gold sunshine. The other perk of these west coast visits is the abundance of Mexican dives that freckle the landscape.

Last week, I must have eaten my weight in south-of-the-border cuisine, wasting no opportunity to try silky lengua (tongue) wrapped in two layers of soft corn tortillas, shreddy carnitas with zesty lime juice and fresh cilantro, and crispy sheets of deep-fried chicharrones that still have fleshy bits of pork attached.

The supermarkets in the San Diego area, where my mom lives, carry a wealth of Mexican products, and my quick errands to pick up a few items for dinner turn into leisurely strolls down the aisles and memory lane, as I toss the foods of my elementary school years into the cart.

This sandwich came about after one of these trips to the Vallarta supermarket and my addiction to queso fundido, a traditional appetizer which I like to think of as fondue en espanol. Queso fundido is Oaxaca cheese (similar to mozzarella) that is served melted alongside warm, soft tortillas. Sometimes, crumbled chorizo and other items such as chilies are added.

This recipe's backbone is melted Oaxaca, but I fleshed it out with a few extra things. Fresh summer corn is charred until it begins to smell like popcorn over the heat of a grill (this New York denizen takes every opportunity she gets to cook outside the confines of her itty bitty city kitchen). The blackened juicy kernels are then stripped off the cob and combined with grilled poblano and jalapeno peppers. Once the cheese has fully melted—and some portions crisped up like vegetarian chicharron—the corn and chilies are stirred in and the whole gooey mess is tucked into a crisp roll. The sandwich is ultimately griddled, grilled cheese style, and served with chopped onions and cilantro.