RECIPES: Recipe Details

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Blue Corn Desert Oasis Burgers with Cactus-Corn Salsa, Ancho-Honey Bacon, and Pepita Guacamole

The name of this burger was inspired by the sight of the finished product. It looked so delicious, juicy, and tempting, that one might think that they are seeing a too-good-to-be-true oasis in the dry desert to appease their hunger!!

Makes 6 burgers

Cactus-Corn Salsa

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/4 cups fresh corn kernels (1 large ear)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 cup finely diced rinsed cactus paddles (nopales)
  • 3 medium tomatillos, husked and diced
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 jalapeño chile, seeded and minced
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Pepito Guacamole

  • 2 large ripe avocados, halved and pitted
  • 1/3 cup pepitas (roasted and salted shelled pumpkin seeds)
  • 1/3 cup minced red onion
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco Pepper Sauce

Ancho-Honey Bacon

  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 12 slices thick-cut bacon


  • 2 pounds ground beef chuck
  • 2/3 cup finely crushed blue corn tortilla chips
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons Sutter Home Zinfandel
  • 1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco Pepper Sauce
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Vegetable oil, for brushing on the grill rack
  • 6 slices Monterey Jack cheese
  • 6 crusty round buns (freshly baked, so they are soft in the middle), split
  • 2 cups mixed greens

Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill with a cover, or preheat a gas grill to medium-high.

To make the salsa, place a fireproof skillet on the grill rack and add the oil. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the corn, cumin, salt, and pepper, and sauté for 2 minutes, until heated through. Add the cactus and sauté for 1 minute. Add the tomatillos, tomatoes, and chile, and sauté until slightly softened and heated through, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, add the cilantro and vinegar, and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the burgers.

To make the guacamole, scoop the flesh out of the avocados into a bowl; discard the skins. Coarsely mash the avocado with a potato masher or two forks. Add the pepitas, onion, cilantro, salt, lime juice, and pepper sauce and mix until well combined. Cover and set aside.

To make the bacon, stir the honey, chile powder, and salt together in a small bowl. Place the bacon in a large fireproof skillet and cook on the grill rack until the bacon begins to become crisp, about 3 minutes. Using tongs, carefully flip the slices of bacon over to cook the other side. When the bacon is almost done to your liking, brush or drizzle it with the honey mixture, allowing it to caramelize slightly. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain; wrap in aluminum foil to keep warm.

To make the patties, combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Handling the meat as little as possible to avoid compacting it, mix well. Form the mixture into 6 equal patties to fit the buns.

Brush the grill rack with vegetable oil. Place the patties on the rack, cover, and cook, turning once, until done to preference, 5 to 7 minutes on each side for medium. During the last few minutes of grilling, place one slice of cheese on each patty and place the buns, cut sides down, around the edges of the grill to toast lightly.

To assemble the burgers, spread both sides of the buns with some of the guacamole. Top the bottom halves of the buns with a layer of the greens, some of the salsa, a patty, and two strips of the bacon (broken to fit the size of the burger, if necessary). Add the bun tops and serve.


Living in Las Vegas, in the middle of the desert, I am somewhat limited as to what I can grow in my backyard. That being said, my mother always told me to "bloom where I am planted," so this burger was inspired by the cactus leaves, or nopales, that grow so beautifully and abundantly in the Southwestern United States.

Each component of this burger has been derived from Southwestern cuisine, its commonly used ingredients, and their big, often spicy flavors. In addition to the cactus, the salsa consists of ingredients like tomatillos, cilantro, and my favorite spice, cumin. The guacamole incorporates pepitas, or pumpkin seed, to add a toasty flavor and a slightly salty crunch. Ancho chile, which I've dubbed as the "new chipotle," is increasingly seen in southwestern recipes, and by adding it to the honey glaze, the bacon has an addictive sweet, salty, and spicy flavor. The blue corn tortilla chips add another unique regional dimension to the burgers, as does the Monterey Jack cheese.

The name of this burger was inspired by the sight of the finished product. It looked so delicious, juicy, and tempting, that one might think that they are seeing a too-good-to-be-true oasis in the dry desert to appease their hunger!!

Cactus leaves, or nopales, can be found in the produce section of most grocery stores. Check the leaves for any excess needles prior to use, cutting off any that are found.