Mexican Street Corn Salad (Esquites) Recipe (2024)

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All the delights of elotes in salad form, and you don't even have to fire up the grill to make it.


J. Kenji López-Alt

Mexican Street Corn Salad (Esquites) Recipe (1)

J. Kenji López-Alt

Culinary Consultant

Kenji is the former culinary director for Serious Eats and a current culinary consultant for the site. He is also a New York Times food columnist and the author of The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science.

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Updated September 15, 2022

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Mexican Street Corn Salad (Esquites) Recipe (2)

Why It Works

  • A combination of garlic, mayonnaise, cheese, lime, and chile in the sauce ensures the salad comes out incredibly flavorful.
  • Cutting the kernels off the cob first, then cooking them over high heat, allows you to get a nice char on the corn without having to use the grill.

Smoky, sweet, spicy, and tangy,esquitesare the off-the-cob version ofelotes—grilled on-the-cob Mexican street corn slathered with creamy, cheesy, lime-scented, chile-flecked sauce.

Elotes are a staple on my balcony grill over the summer. It's about as easy and inexpensive a dish as you can think of, and there is nothing—really, nothing—that'll get snatched up and eaten as fast as a hot plate of 'em. I'll usually count on making atleastan ear and a half per person.

To speed things up, I'll keep a big bowl of the sauce mixture—that's garlicky mayonnaise, crumbled Cotija cheese (feta or Romano also works well), chopped cilantro, lime juice, and a pinch of chile powder—at the ready. As soon as my corn comes off the grill, all nice, hot, and charred-like, it gets a dunk in the sauce, then a pass-off to a waiting mouth. That first bite of hot, charred corn, when the cheesy sauce inevitably gets smeared all over your cheeks, just tastes of summer to me. Delicious, fat-smothered summer.

But there are times when a more...demure approach must be taken. When there are prim and proper aunts or brand-new ties involved, for instance. On those occasions, I go foresquites, the spoon-ready version of elotes.

Rather than slathering the corn kernels with sauce, you slice the kernels off after cooking and toss them with the sauce, in a sort of hot salad that's decorous enough to consume with impunity in mixed company.

Personally, I tend to make esquites when I don't want to bother firing up the grill, because, truth be told, it's just as tasty and easy to make indoors as it is out. The key to cooking esquites indoors is to remove the corn kernels from the cobbeforeyou cook them. I cook the kernels in a ripping-hotwok(you can use a regular skillet, though it's a bit messier), letting them sit in place until the sugars caramelize and a deep, dark char develops, before tossing and letting them char again.

When this is done right, a few kernels should jump and pop, just like popcorn. I've had kernels leap clear across the apartment on occasion. A careful eye and a splatter guard will protect you from any corn-kernel mortar fire.

Once the corn is charred, I toss it with the remaining ingredients while it's still hot. The salad can be served straight away, but it's just as good at room temperature, making this an ideal picnic dish.


Click Play to See This Flavorful Mexican Street Corn Salad Come Together

July 2012

Recipe Details

Mexican Street Corn Salad (Esquites) Recipe

Cook20 mins

Active15 mins

Total20 mins

Serves4 servings


  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) vegetable oil

  • 4 ears fresh corn, shucked, kernels removed (about 3 cups fresh corn kernels)

  • Kosher salt

  • 2 ounces (60g) feta or Cotija cheese, finely crumbled

  • 1/2 cup finely sliced scallions, green parts only

  • 1/2 cup (1/2 ounce) fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped

  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and stemmed, finely chopped

  • 1 to 2 medium cloves garlic, pressed or minced on a Microplane grater (about 1 to 2 teaspoons)

  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) mayonnaise

  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) fresh lime juice from 1 lime

  • Chile powder or hot chile flakes, to taste


  1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet or wok over high heat until shimmering. Add corn kernels, season to taste with salt, toss once or twice, and cook without moving until charred on one side, about 2 minutes. Toss corn, stir, and repeat until charred on second side, about 2 minutes longer. Continue tossing and charring until corn is well charred all over, about 10 minutes total. Transfer to a large bowl.

    Mexican Street Corn Salad (Esquites) Recipe (3)

  2. Add cheese, scallions, cilantro, jalapeño, garlic, mayonnaise, lime juice, and chile powder and toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and more chile powder to taste. Serve immediately.

    Mexican Street Corn Salad (Esquites) Recipe (4)

Special Equipment

A large wok or large nonstick skillet, Microplane grater

  • Mexican
  • Gluten-free Sides
  • Vegetarian Salads
  • Corn
  • Quick Sides
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
18g Fat
26g Carbs
7g Protein


Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 18g23%
Saturated Fat 4g20%
Cholesterol 17mg6%
Sodium 361mg16%
Total Carbohydrate 26g10%
Dietary Fiber 3g12%
Total Sugars 6g
Protein 7g
Vitamin C 15mg75%
Calcium 135mg10%
Iron 1mg5%
Potassium 346mg7%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.

(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Mexican Street Corn Salad (Esquites) Recipe (2024)


What is the difference between street corn and esquites? ›

Smoky, sweet, spicy, and tangy, esquites are the off-the-cob version of elotes—grilled on-the-cob Mexican street corn slathered with creamy, cheesy, lime-scented, chile-flecked sauce. Elotes are a staple on my balcony grill over the summer.

What does esquites mean in Mexican? ›

One can find them at local markets, and street vendors selling corn. The word esquites comes from the Nahuatl word ízquitl, which means "toasted corn".

What is a good substitute for Esquite cheese? ›

If you can't find it, try finely crumbled feta cheese or finely grated Parmesan instead. Make it dairy free: Use olive oil instead of butter. Try a sprinkle of vegan Parmesan in place of the Cotija (use less than called for in the recipe, since the Parm is more salty). Or, just omit the Cotija.

What does esquites contain? ›

Esquites are a popular Mexican snack made from corn mixed with creamy mayonesa (mayonnaise), freshly crumbled cotija cheese or queso fresco, lime juice, and chili powder. It's commonly sold by street vendors in Mexico and is served in a large cup with a spoon to mix all the delicious ingredients together!

Is Esquite the same as elote? ›

So, what's the difference between the two dishes? Well, it all comes down to the corn: elote is corn on the cob, while esquites is served in a bowl or cup. Esquites can also sometimes include additional ingredients that turn the dish into more of a salad instead of remaining 100% corn-focused.

Why is Mexican street corn so good? ›

A blend of garlic, cilantro, chile powder, mayo, and Cotija cheese in the sauce, plus a final squeeze of lime, makes the corn sweet, salty, savory, nutty, creamy, and tart all at once.

What is the yellow sauce on elote? ›

Elote (pronounced: eh-loh-teh) is a dish comprised of cooked sweet corn slathered in a spicy mixture of mayonnaise, crema, and chili powder, and then sprinkled with cheese.

What is the red on elote? ›

The classic seasoning for elote is chili powder, but we have also found that we love it with smoked paprika. So maybe do a few cobs with each and see which one you prefer.

Is corn in a cup the same as esquites? ›

Esquite, also called elote en vaso (corn in a cup), is a common snack sold from food carts in the streets of Mexico. It's similar to elote but the corn is cut off the cob and served warm, in disposable cups with Mexican crema, chili powder and lime.

What Mexican cheese is closest to cotija? ›

Spanish for fresh cheese, queso fresco has a mild flavor. Queso fresco also originates in Mexico and is usually made with cow's milk but sometimes it's a mixture of goat and cow's milk. An unaged, white cheese, it is similar to Cotija cheese due to its soft yet firm texture.

Do Parmesan and cotija taste the same? ›

One of Mexico's most famous cheeses, cotija is a semi-hard, slightly aged cheese with the crumbly texture of parmesan but a stronger, saltier flavor. Try as you might, cotija cheese won't melt, so it's sprinkled or crumbled on everything from soups and salads to tacos and tostadas.

What kind of shredded cheese do Mexican restaurants use? ›

The white shredded cheese used at Mexican restaurants, known as queso blanco, is a versatile and delicious cheese that adds a creamy and savory element to many dishes. Its mild flavor, creamy texture, and excellent melting properties make it a perfect choice for Mexican cuisine.

What's the difference between elote and street corn? ›

Elote, commonly called Mexican Street Corn, is grilled corn smothered in a creamy mayo sauce and topped with chili powder, cheese and lime. Serve it as a snack or side dish for summer BBQ's and potlucks.

Why are they called esquites? ›

Esquites are a culinary delight that most Mexicans enjoy, it's easy to find them in any city in the country and there are many varieties, although the essence is the same. The word Esquites comes from the Náhuatl word Ízquitl, from Icehqui "to toast on a griddle".

What is corn called in Mexico? ›

Mexican Corn on the Cob (Elote)

What is the difference between elote and Mexican street corn? ›

Elote, also known as Mexican street corn, is a popular Mexican street food made from grilled or boiled ears of corn on the cob that is slathered in a creamy mayo sauce and garnished with chili powder, crumbled cotija cheese, and fresh cilantro. The word “elote” means “corn” in Spanish.

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