- Food: Esquites (Mexican Street Corn Salad)
- Writer: Nicolas Wilson
- Content-type: Food Blog
Do you know what esquites are? Esquites, also known as elite en vaso, are a memorable experience. They are salads made from cut-off cobs of Mexican street corn (elite).
Esquites are simultaneously creamy, sour, spicy, sweet, and savory. To put it another way, they’re extremely enticing. Last summer, this elite recipe was the best thing that came out of our grill, and I’m delighted to share this stovetop version with you.
Fresh corn, mayonnaise, cilantro, chili powder, lime, and crumbled Cotija cheese are all used in equities, much like they are in elite. This variant is considerably easier to chew than the original, and the combo is delicious.
Both alternatives were delicious in Mexico City, and I enjoy cooking them at home. This easy salad will be on my table during the summer and the rest of the year.
Esquites have one major benefit over the elite when it comes to cooking: you may start with frozen corn kernels, which drastically reduces prep time! We’ll simply fry the frozen corn in a hot skillet until it’s crispy.
This recipe may be made in about twenty minutes from start to finish if you use frozen corn.
Ingredients and Notes for Esquites
The complete recipe can be seen below. To make esquites, you’ll need the following ingredients:
Fresh or frozen corn
As I previously stated, I love using frozen corn for esquites because it’s so convenient! Just make sure to use good-quality frozen corn (rinse off any freezer burn before using).
When I used Whole Foods 365 brand frozen corn, the results were fantastic. One normal bag (16 ounces) of frozen corn is required for this recipe.
For your esquites, shuck fresh corn from the cob. You’ll need about 5 corn cobs, or enough to make 3 1/2 cups of corn.
In Mexico, esquites are usually made using boiled or sautéed maize. I like to sauté corn until it turns golden for the same reason I like to use grilled corn for the elite. Searing the corn imparts a savory note that counteracts the maize’s, inherent sweetness.
Olive oil or butter
We’ll cook the corn in melted unsalted butter or olive oil in a skillet. Although I believe the butter is essential in this recipe, you may substitute olive oil for a lighter version.
Garlic improves everything. It adds some interesting contrast and depth to the sweet corn here. We’ll sauté it for approximately 30 seconds, just long enough to soften the flavor but not long enough to burn it.
Mayo is typically used in esquites, and I now understand why after experimenting with alternatives. This recipe is acidic and tasty thanks to the mayonnaise, which helps convey and amplify the other ingredients.
If you want to try something different, use sour cream or plain Greek yogurt.
The disadvantage of using dairy instead is that it tends to mask the other flavors, so you might want to add a squeeze of lime juice and some salt or chile powder to your dish.
Lime juice provides a zingy tang to the dish. Serve your esquites with lime wedges on the side so that your guests can add more if they want.
Chili powder, fresh chili peppers, and optional cayenne
You can tweak the spice levels to your liking, but I think it’s well-balanced as is.
Fresh jalapeno, finely diced, adds a spicy, fresh note to the dish. If you have a spice sensitivity, you can leave it out or use less. The spiciest parts of a fresh jalapeno are the ribs and seeds, so make sure to remove those before slicing them.
Chili powder is required for real esquites. Use any mild chili powder combination, or try something else like ancho, chipotle, or guajillo. Taj (a Mexican spice blend of chili powder and lime) might also be used for a more tangy flavor.
Cayenne pepper kicks up the heat a notch, which I enjoy. If you enjoy spicy foods, this is a must-try.
Cotija is a salty, crumbly, creamy cow’s milk cheese. This cheese can be found in well-stocked grocery stores (I get mine at Whole Foods, near the goat cheese) or Mexican markets. If you can’t get Cotija, feta or Parmesan are the next best alternatives.
Cilantro gives a final, refreshing surge of flavor. However, if you don’t like it, you can skip it.
What to Serve with Esquites?
Street sellers in Mexico commonly serve esquites in little cups for simple eating. Serve esquites in cups as a fun grab-and-go party appetizer by following their lead.
Alternatively, serve esquites family-style from a bowl and let everyone assist themselves. Just keep in mind that the recipe should be doubled (or tripled)! Esquites will be a major hit at summer events and barbecues in either case.
Esquites can be served as a snack, an appetizer, or a side dish with any Mexican-inspired entrée. Here are a couple of entrées that go well with esquites:
- Easy Black Bean Tacos or Epic Vegetarian Tacos are two options for tacos.
- Quesadillas: Crispy Mushroom, Spinach, and Avocado Quesadillas or 10-Minute Quesadillas
- Chilaquiles: Black Bean Sweet Potato Enchiladas, Roasted Veggie Enchilada Casserole, or Veggie Black
- Bean Enchiladas are examples of Chilaquiles Rojos or Chilaquiles Verdes Enchiladas.
|11-minute prep time
Time to cook: 9 minutes
20-minute total time
This esquites recipe makes a delightful Mexican corn salad that’s creamy, acidic, and spicy. As is customary in Mexico, serve it in a bowl or small individual cups.
Elote en vaso is another name for esquites. The recipe makes 4 small side servings and may easily be doubled for a larger crowd; if doubling, leave the corn in the pan for a little longer to get a wonderful golden color.
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 ½ cups corn kernels (16 ounces frozen or from about 5 fresh cobs)
- ½ teaspoon fine salt
- 2 medium cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- 1 medium finely chopped jalapeño, optional
- 1 tablespoon lime juice, plus extra lime wedges for garnish
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon chili powder, plus more for sprinkling
- Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional, for extra heat)
- ¼ cup finely grated Cotija cheese, plus more for sprinkling
- ¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
Instructions for Esquites
- In a big skillet, preferably cast iron, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the corn and salt once the butter has melted (if using frozen corn, no need to defrost it first). Cook, stirring every minute or so, for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the corn is warmed through and brown on the edges (turn the heat down to low if the corn starts jumping out of the pan).
- Cook for 30 seconds, or until the garlic is aromatic, then remove the skillet from the heat. Allow the corn to cool slightly before transferring it to a medium mixing dish.
- The remaining ingredients (mayonnaise, optional jalapeno, lime juice, chili powder, optional cayenne, cheese, and cilantro) should be added to the bowl. To blend, stir everything together. If needed, season with more salt to taste.
- To serve, divide the mixture into small glasses and top with a wedge of lime, a sprinkle of extra cheese, and a pinch of chile powder. Refrigerated leftovers will last for about 4 days.
MAYONNAISE ALTERNATIVES: The finest flavor comes from mayonnaise. Sour cream or plain Greek yogurt will suffice as an alternative.
WHERE TO FIND COTIJA CHEESE: Cotija cheese can be found at well-stocked grocery stores or Mexican specialty shops. It’s sold near the goat cheese at Whole Foods. If you can’t find it, finely crumbled feta or finely grated Parmesan cheese will suffice.
ELIMINATE THE DAIRY: Instead of butter, use olive oil. Instead of Cotija, try a sprinkling of vegan Parmesan (use less than called for in the recipe, since the Parm is saltier). Alternatively, simply leave out the Cotija.
TO MAKE IT VEGAN: Instead of butter, use olive oil. Replace the mayo with my vegan sour cream, and a sprinkle of vegan Parmesan with the Cotija (use less than called for in the recipe, since the Parm is saltier). You may also eliminate the cheese and use decent vegan mayonnaise.