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Black Mesa Panela Burgers

This burger combines several of my favorite foods and is named for a beautiful place in my home state of Oklahoma. The beauty of this burger is its ease and its unique play on flavors and textures. A flavorful glaze combines sweet sticky molasses (one of my dad’s favorites) with coffee, a must-have ingredient in most of my marinades, barbecue sauces and grilling efforts, along with robust black pepper. Brushing that over a beef patty studded with bits of Mexican panela cheese, onion, and roasted poblano chiles (more favorites) before grilling gives it beautiful color, deep, rich flavor, and a really nice crustiness on the outside when grilled. To add a bit more non-traditional cheesiness, along with texture and freshness, I mixed tangy, salty cotija cheese with crunchy sweet corn and creamy avocado to spread on the patty. A juicy, dark red tomato slice complements the beef perfectly. All you need now is a glass of Sutter Home White Merlot. If your friends insist on a red, go with the Merlot. The fruitiness of both wines is delicious with the tang of the cheese, the smoky sweet glaze, the black pepper, and the fruity, spicy, poblano chiles.


2 lbs. ground beef chuck
1/2 cup crumbled/chopped panela cheese
3-4 tsp. salt, divided
1/2 cup chopped roasted peeled poblano chiles
1/4 cup chopped sweet onion
1 Tbsp. black strap molasses
1/2 tsp. instant coffee granules, dissolved in 2 tbsp. water
2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 cup small super sweet corn (can be fresh or frozen, thawed)
1/3 cup grated cotija cheese
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1/2 cup diced California avocado
1/3 cup Colavita olive oil
6 large split poppyseed rolls
6 large slices red ripe tomato


Heat grill to medium-high heat. Crumble beef into large bowl. Add panela cheese, 2 tsp. salt, chiles and onion. Mix gently and form into 6 patties.

Mix molasses, coffee-water mixture, and black pepper. Brush over burgers and let rest five minutes to absorb the “glaze.”

Meanwhile, mix corn, cotija cheese, lime juice and avocado. Mash lightly, add salt to taste and reserve.

Drizzle patties with olive oil and rub grill rack with remaining oil.

Grill patties about 4 minutes per side, or until medium-rare. During the last minute of cooking, toast cut side of rolls.

Place patties on bottom of rolls, add a tomato slice, and top with a scoop of Cotija-Corn Avocado Spread. Top with remaining roll halves and serve immediately.