This delicious toasted Mexican street corn salad (Esquites) recipe is incredible hot or cold, it can be served as just a salad or like a salsa with chips – it’s crunchy, it’s creamy, it’s spiced with smoky, authentic Mexican flavor and it’s also gluten free!
Perfect for a party with vegetarian friends and spicy food lovers. No grill required!
Traditionally, esquites is served hot and eaten as a side dish, or right out of a cup with a fork on the streets of Mexico. But you can also eat it cold. I like to serve it beside different salsas and dips with tortilla chips at parties. Always a BIG crowd pleaser! Especially when served with these cucumber mint margaritas!
One of my favorite recipes for any barbecue or summer party is elote: grilled corn smeared with mayo or Mexican crema, sprinkled with cotija cheese, chili powder and a little fresh lime juice.
Esquites is essentially elote, but off the cob, and with a few more exciting ingredients.
Why this Recipe is Special
It’s a fantastic barbecue side dish – This recipe goes with just about every barbecue main dish! It’s my #1 go to barbecue side dish.
It’s also great to simply serve with chips – Having friends over for a movie or game night? Simply mix this recipe up and serve it with chips! It’s much more exciting party snack than salsa or hummus.
It’s gluten-free and can easily be made vegetarian – cotija cheese is actually not vegetarian, as it contains animal rennet, but if you want to make this recipe completly vegetarian, you can simply substitute with Boar’s Head brand queso blanco or other similar vegetarian cheeses. Here’s a list of vegetarian cheeses that do not contain animal rennet.
corn – Be sure to use only fresh corn for this recipe. Corn out of the can has been marinating in juices, and won’t gorgeously brown as nicely in the pan as fresh corn.
lime juice – Be sure to use only fresh lime juice, not bottled.
cotija – If you have trouble finding this particular cheese in your food store, you can substitute grated parmesan, crumbled queso blanco, crumbled feta or Romano.
cayenne pepper – I love my esquites spicy, but if you’re sensitive to spiciness, you can eliminate this ingredient, and go easy on the jalapeño.
How to Make Esquites – Step by Step
1. Shuck 3 ears of corn and slice the kernels off the cob into a bowl.
2. Finely dice 1 jalapeño, ⅓ cup red onion and ⅓ cup red bell pepper. Finely chop ¼ cup cilantro, mince 2 cloves of garlic and slice 1 lime in half.
3. Add 2 tbsp. butter to a pan and melt. Gently toss the corn, making sure it’s nicely coated.
4. Sauté corn on HIGH, allowing it to deeply brown (and char a little). It should take about 10 minutes to brown nicely.
5. Reduce heat and move corn to one side of the pan. Add ½ tsp. butter to the pan and sauté minced garlic until brown, about 2 minutes. Combine with sautéed corn. Remove from heat.
NOTE: If you intend to serve this recipe cold, place corn in a sealed container and refrigerate separately from the other diced/chopped vegetables. Once cold, go to the next step.
6. Mix browned corn and diced/chopped vegetables with 2 tbsp. mayo, 2 tbsp. sour cream, juice from ½ lime and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper, chili powder and smoked paprika. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp. cotija cheese and serve.
I would make it no more than a day ahead. Especially if you’re mixing the mayo and sour cream into the vegetables and storing in a container over night.
It literally means “toasted corn,” and is traditionally made with mature corn – corn that is just passed ripe so it’s extra tender.
Elote is traditionally grilled corn on the cob with Mexican crema, mayo or sour cream, cotija cheese, chili pepper and a nice sprinkling of fresh lime juice. Esquites often includes onion, cilantro and jalapeño or fried green chili.
As a matter of fact, the recipe for esquites varies greatly (so does elote) depending on what region of Mexico it’s served in.
Some recipes include bacon, cheddar, chicken, molasses… some even include dust from Cheetos, Takis, and come in bright, colorful colors! They are both traditionally served at fairs, festivals and on the street.
Elote is served right on the cob, whereas esquites is served in paper cups… which is why they are both referred to as “Mexican street corn” by English speakers.
Here’s a fantastic resource on the differences between the two, and all of the wonderful ways they’re served!
A Few Tips
1. Careful! That corn might POP!
You’re going to be cooking the corn over high heat, and after about 4 minutes, the corn is not only hot, but some of them might be EXPLOSIVE and pop right out of the pan.
So either use a screen to cover your pan, or a lid that is not sealed shut, but tilted to allow heat to escape while it browns.
2. If you intend to serve it cold like a salsa…
Traditionally, esquites are served hot, but if you intend to serve it cold, wait until the corn has cooled in the refrigerator for about an hour before adding the mayo and sour cream.
Otherwise the oils from the mayo will separate and it won’t look very nice when cooled.
3. Here’s a great jalapeño cutting trick!
To easily slice and dice a jalapeño, without having to painstakingly cut away those pesky, spicy seeds, use an apple peeler to pull out the core!
Simply slice off the stem, and use the peeler to cut around the white core, and pull the whole thing out, seeds and all!
I hope you enjoy this incredible esquites recipe!
A Little Summer Recipe Inspiration
Esquites (Mexican Street Corn Salad)
- sharp knife and cutting board
- wooden spoon or spatula
- medium-size mixing bowl
- sauté pan
- 2 cups corn – kernels from 3 ears
- 2 tbsp. jalapeño – finely diced
- ⅓ cup red onion – finely diced
- ⅓ cup red bell pepper – finely diced
- ¼ cup cilantro – finely chopped
- 2 tbsp. garlic – minced
- ½ lime – juiced
- 2 tbsp. butter – and a little extra for sautéed garlic
- 2 tbsp. mayonnaise
- 2 tbsp. sour cream – or Mexican crema
- 2 tbsp. cotija cheese
- chili powder – just a sprinkle
- cayenne pepper – just a sprinkle
- smoked paprika – just a sprinkle
- Shuck 3 ears of corn and slice the kernels off the cob into a bowl. Finely dice 1 jalapeño, ⅓ cup red onion and ⅓ cup red bell pepper. Finely chop ¼ cup cilantro, mince 2 cloves of garlic and slice 1 lime in half.
- Add 2 tbsp. butter to a pan and melt. Gently toss the corn, making sure it’s nicely coated. Sauté corn on HIGH, allowing it to deeply brown. It should take about 10 minutes to brown nicely.
- Reduce heat and move corn to one side of the pan. Add ½ tsp. butter to the pan and sauté minced garlic until brown, about 2 minutes. Combine with sautéed corn. Remove from heat.NOTE: If you intend to serve this recipe cold, place corn in a sealed container and refrigerate separately from the other diced/chopped vegetables. Once cold, go to the next step.
- Mix browned corn and diced/chopped vegetables with 2 tbsp. mayo, 2 tbsp. sour cream, juice from ½ lime and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper, chili powder and smoked paprika. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp. cotija cheese and serve.