this recipe started off as an attempt to replicate a chicken, corn, cotija, 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 cotija 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 cotija, 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.