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This recipe for esquites is bursting with all the flavors of authentic Mexican street food. Tender corn kernels are sauteed with jalapenos and then slathered in a mix of creamy mayonnaise, smoky cumin, spicy cayenne, and bright lime juice.
If you are a fan of my recipe for Authentic Elote (Mexican Street Corn), you are going to absolutely love this esquites recipe. This Mexican street corn salad is super easy to make and requires only the simplest of ingredients. It is a simple, cost-effective side dish that takes all your Mexican meals to the next level.
Serve esquites as a side dish or use it as a condiment. I love tossing a few spoonfuls onto street tacos for an extra blast of sweet, smoky flavor. From potlucks to taco bars, this expertly spiced dish is your ticket to making your meal into a Mexican masterpiece.
Table of Contents
- Butter – Infuses the corn kernels with a soft, buttery richness with a touch of sweetness.
- Corn – For this esquites recipe, you have options. You can use 2 cans (15 ounces) that have been drained or frozen corn kernels that have been thawed. You can also choose to grill about 6 ears of corn, remove the kernels, and use them for the recipe.
- Jalapeno – Adds a bright, fruity spiciness and heat. I like to remove the seeds for this recipe, but feel free to keep them in if you want a spicier dish.
- Chili Powder – With toasted chile peppers, smoky cumin, oregano, garlic, and more, chili seasoning gives the recipe an authentic Mexican flavor profile. There are plenty of store-bought varieties or you can try your hand at my DIY version.
- Kosher Salt – Just a dash of harmonizing Kosher salt concentrates and accentuates the natural sweet starchiness of the corn.
- Garlic Powder – Adds sharp zestiness and a somewhat sweet pungency.
- Mexican Oregano – A relative of lemon verbena, Mexican oregano has a unique flavor profile complete with hints of citrus and lime. Look for it at your local Mexican market or, if needed, you can substitute in marjoram.
- Cayenne Pepper – Delivers spicy heat and a smoky, red pepper flavor.
- Mayonnaise – Forms the base of the dressing and enriches the Mexican street corn salad with an intense silky smoothness and rich flavor.
- Lime Juice – Boasts a sweet tartness and enlivens the recipe with a bold blast of bright citrus flavor.
- Cotija Cheese – This sharp, salty aged cheese is the Mexican equivalent to Parmesan. Click the link to find out all you ever needed to know about this tasty cheese.
- Cilantro – Adds a dazzling pop of green along with a fresh, lemony, and peppery flavor.
- Char the Veggies. Place a large skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter, then toss in the corn and jalapenos. Stirring often, saute for around 8 minutes or until the corn begins to char a little.
- Cool & Combine. Remove the skillet from heat and transfer the corn to a bowl. Let it cool for a minute before adding the mayonnaise, lime juice, chili powder, garlic powder, Kosher salt, Mexican oregano, and cayenne pepper along with the cilantro and 2 tablespoons of crumbled cotija cheese. Stir well to combine and evenly coat the corn. Taste and add more salt as desired.
- Garnish & Serve. Serve esquites on a large serving platter or divided up into small bowls. Either way, sprinkle with the remaining crumbles of cotija cheese and enjoy!
Make a Double Batch to Make the Most of Leftovers
This recipe tastes even better after 24 hours in the fridge. The flavors have the chance to marinate fully and the results are out of the world delicious! Make more than you need so that you can enjoy esquites for lunch all week long.
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Elotes and esquites are made with the same basic ingredients but are prepared differently.
Elotes is commonly known as Mexican street corn. It is typically grilled or roasted before being slathered with cool, creamy mayonnaise. The dish then gets a squirt of fresh lime juice, a dash of chili powder, and a healthy sprinkling of salty cotija cheese. Elotes are eaten right off the cob.
Esquites, on the other hand, can be thought of as Mexican street corn salad. The corn kernels are seasoned the same but served in a cup, off of the cob. They are boiled, grilled, or roasted, sauteed with jalapeno, and then mixed up in a rich, robustly flavored blend of mayonnaise and spices with a sprinkle of cotija cheese.
Esquites is a product of pre-colonial Mexico. The word esquites comes from the Nahuatl term, izquitl, which translates into toasted corn. And, in case you are wondering, Nahuatl was the primary language spoken throughout the Aztec empire!
This esquites recipe, and others, can also be referred to as elotes en vaso. In Nahuatl, elotes means corn whereas the Spanish term vaso translates into vessel or cup. This Aztec-Spanish mash-up ends up meaning corn in a cup.
While the origins of esquites reach back to pre-European influence, it is important to note that this modern esquites recipe is a melding of cultural influences. The original, Aztec version was likely a bit less exciting.
For example, citrus came to Mexico much later after trading was commonplace. Similarly, mayonnaise and cheese came only after colonization. In short, the Mexican street corn salad that we know today is uniquely Mexican with a taste of the Old World.
This esquites recipe pairs perfectly with countless different dishes. It makes a wonderful side dish, snack, appetizer, or condiment. Here are a few of my favorite recipes to enjoy esquites with:
– Grilled Steak, Grilled Chicken, or Shrimp Fajitas.
– Kevin’s Amazing Burrito Bowl
– Tacos Al Pastor, Ground Beef Tacos, Ground Chicken Tacos, or Carne Asada Tacos.
– Kevin’s Taco Salad Recipe
– Grilled Spatchcock Chicken or Baked Cubano Chicken
Esquites (Mexican Street Corn Salad)
- Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the corn, jalapeno and saute, stirring often, until the corn just starts to char a bit, about 8 minutes.
- Transfer corn to bowl and let cool for a few minutes. Add the chili powder, salt, garlic powder, oregano, cayenne, mayonnaise, lime juice, 2 tablespoons crumbled cotija cheese and cilantro. Stir to combine. Season to taste with salt, if needed.
- Either serve divided in small, individual cups or on a serving platter with remaining 2 tablespoons cotija crumbled on top.
- For the corn use either 2 15-ounce cans (drained), or frozen that’s been thawed and drained or from about 6-7 fresh cobs.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.