this recipe started off as an attempt to replicate a chicken, corn, cojita, and avocado panini that i love to get from crema café in harvard square. somewhere near the intersection of laziness and not liking chicken *that* much, we ended up with two versions of this sandwich. and i would argue the lazy imposter is better than the original.
the first time i tried reproducing this panini, i used the ingredients that i knew crema café included, since they list several of them on their menu. a quick bit of research confirmed that cojita cheese doesn’t really melt, though, and the sandwich at crema clearly has some melty goodness going on.
to address this, i tried mixing some monterey jack cheese in with the corn and cojita, since monterey jack is mild and melts well. version 1.0 of the sandwiches was, you know, fine, but certainly not as good as crema’s version and not worth my time or yours.
for version 1.2, i decided to try mixing a bit of sour cream into the cheese mixture to see if that would help recreate the gooey goodness i remember. i didn’t feel like cooking more chicken but i had some black beans in the fridge, so i used them as a protein stand-in. and LOVED this version. *this* was the delicious, melty goodness that i remember.
curious if i even needed the monterey jack cheese at all or if i could skip it in the name of simplicity, version 1.3 went into the panini press. and came out just as good as the version with the extra cheese. i love when we can simplify things, especially sandwiches, because really, who wants a complicated sandwich?! we just want lunch/dinner/food NOW, right?
satisfied with the cheese/melty goodness situation, i turned my attention back to the chicken vs. black beans debate. ultimately, i decided to punt and let you decide how you want your sandwich to be. i genuinely prefer the black bean version (not just because it’s easier and vegetarian) but i know some of you (read: my husband) don’t think it’s real food unless it has chicken so… you do you.
(on that note, my husband *may* have snuck some leftover cooked bacon into his sandwich during the last round of testing. maybe. also, he’s allergic to avocado, which is why the pictures show the chicken version of the panini as sad and avocado-less. you should definitely put the avocado in yours (unless you’re allergic too)!)
rest assured, whichever version you choose, it will be delicious. if you make the sandwich, let us know in the comments which version you went with.
- 1 pound (454 g.) boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed and pounded or rolled to ½” (1.25 cm) thick OR 1 cup canned low sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
- kernels from 1 ear of corn on the cob, cooked (see notes) and removed from the cob OR 1 cup of frozen corn, rinsed under cool water to thaw then drained
- ¾ cup cojita cheese (see notes), coarsely shredded/crumbled
- 3 tablespoons light sour cream
- 8 slices of hearty white bread
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 avocado, pitted and sliced
- if you’re using chicken (as opposed to black beans), cook the chicken. i like to toss it (plain) on the panini press because it cooks quickly so it stays juicy and gets some tasty, browned flavor. once it’s cool enough to handle, slice into thin (~1/2” / 2 cm) strips.
- in a medium bowl, combine the corn, cojita, and sour cream. if you're making the black bean version, add the beans too. stir to mix thoroughly (watch out for pockets of sour cream that don’t want to blend in right away).
- preheat either a panini press or a large skillet over medium-low heat.
- brush one side of 4 of the slices of bread with the olive oil and set oiled side down. divide the cheese/corn mixture among the non-oiled sides of the bread (about 1/3 cup per panini) and gently press into an even layer with the back of a spoon or your hand. divide either chicken or black beans among the 4 sandwiches and press into an even layer. add avocado slices then top with remaining slices of bread. brush the tops of the paninis with oil.
- place 2 of the paninis in the panini press or skillet. if using a skillet, cover while the first side is browning but keep the lid off after you flip the sandwich over so the crispy side doesn’t turn soggy. cook until both sides of the panini are lightly golden brown and the cheese/sour cream mixture on the inside is gooey and melty.
- remove from heat and repeat with remaining two sandwiches. cut in half and serve immediately.
cojita is a white, crumbly mexican cheese. i found it in my grocery store in the fancy cheese section near the deli. the brand i bought is called cacique and their website has a search option to find cojita in a store near you.
if you can’t find cojita, feta would be a good substitute, or you could even try grated parmesan, depending on what kind of cheese you like. cojita is crumbly, salty, and doesn’t really melt, so any cheese you like that has those characteristics would probably work here.
corn: apparently you can microwave an ear of corn, husk on, for about 3 minutes to steam it. it is then allegedly easy to peel once it has cooled enough to handle. i have yet to test this method so let us know how it goes in the comments if you try it.
this sandwich, specifically the chicken version, is inspired by crema café in harvard square in cambridge, ma. basically everything i’ve ever eaten or drunk from crema has been delicious, especially this sandwich.