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.
- 4 ears fresh corn, shucked
- 4 jalapeño peppers, split in half, stems, seeds, and ribs removed
- 2 poblano peppers, split in half, stems, seeds, and ribs removed
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 pound grated oaxaca or mozzarella cheese
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 crusty rolls (about 6 inches long), split lengthwise
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 small white onion, finely diced (about 3/4 cup)
- 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
Heat grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Preheat for 5 minutes. Brush corn, jalapeños, and poblanos with vegetable oil. Grill until charred on all sides, turning occasionally with tongs, 7 to 10 minutes for corn, 5 to 7 minutes for chilis. Transfer to cutting board. When cool enough to handle, cut corn kernels from cob into a large bowl and slice the chilies into thin strips.
Heat cheese in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until completely melted and browned in spots, about 4 minutes. Stir in corn and chilies. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to lowest setting to keep warm.
Meanwhile, butter exterior of split rolls. Divide cheese mixture evenly among rolls and press together. Cook in a large skillet or over the grill, 2 sandwiches at a time, until crisp and browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to cutting board and cut in half. Toss together onions, cilantro, and lime juice. Serve sandwiches with onion mixture.
grill or grill pan