Mexican Street Corn Salad (Esquites)

Mexican Street Corn Salad combines everything you love about grilled Mexican street corn – fresh corn with creamy, tangy, and spicy toppings – into delicious salad form. I got this authentic Mexican recipe straight from a chef in Mexico and you’re going to LOVE it! My version uses an easy method to cook the corn for all the charred flavor in the least messy way.

A bowl of Mexican Street Corn Salad (Esquites) garnished with fresh cilantro.

Called Esquites in Spanish, this is a grilled corn salad that will have you scraping the cup for every last kernel. Here’s why you’re going to love it:

  • Authentic Mexican food at home: This recipe, also known as Mexican Corn in a Cup or elote en vaso, is a street food classic that brings the vibrant flavors of Mexico straight to your kitchen. Charred or grilled corn, creamy mayo, tangy lime, spicy chilies, and the umami burst of Cotija (or feta) cheese make this a side dish to make on repeat.
  • Deliciously Versatile: It’s a perfect dip for tortilla chips, a yummy taco topper, or vibrant side dish for all your favorite Mexican recipes (and speaking of Mexican side dishes, you should also learn how to make Mexican rice).
  • Mess-Free Street Corn: This salad it is an incredibly delicious way you can enjoy your favorite Mexican street corn recipe (elotes) in a user-friendly format. Street corn in a cup or bowl is perfect for parties when you want elote but you really don’t want mayo all over your cheeks.
  • Quick and Easy: With just a handful of ingredients and a few simple steps, you can whip up this delicious dish in no time. My version simplifies cooking the corn to be easier and less messy.

What is Mexican Street Corn Salad made of? These are the Esquites Ingredients.

Alright, folks! It’s time to line up the cast for an epic Mexican corn salad. Here’s who’s who of this elote in a cup recipe:

Ingredients for Mexican Street Corn Salad (Esquites) arranged on a kitchen countertop, including cilantro, garlic, jalapeno, Cotija cheese, kosher salt, mayonnaise, and fresh corn.
  • Fresh Corn: The star of the show. Fresh corn kernels offer a sweet crunch that forms the base of our Esquites. Feel free to swap in frozen – you’ll need about 3 cups of corn kernels. Grill the corn, roast it, or char it in a hot pan. I prefer a pan so that I can cut the kernels off before it’s hot.
  • Vegetable Oil: Helps in getting that beautiful char on the corn kernels.
  • Kosher Salt: Enhances all the other flavors, making them sing louder and prouder.
  • Mayonnaise: This forms the creamy base for the dressing. You can substitute plain greek yogurt for a lighter version.
  • Crumbled Cotija Cheese: A dry, crumbly Mexican cheese that adds a distinctive salty flavor. Swap in feta cheese if you can’t easily find it (I get it at Whole Foods – it’s pretty easy to find).
  • Fresh Cilantro: Gives a refreshing, herby note to our flavor party.
  • Garlic: Brings in that essential pungent kick.
  • Jalapeños or Serrano Peppers: Introduces a bit of heat to our dish. Adjust to your spice preference.
  • Cayenne Chile Powder: Adds depth and an extra layer of heat. For less heat and a different flavor, swap in a teaspoon of chili powder (the spice blend used to make Chili Con Carne).
  • Lime: Fresh lime juice through the richness with its bright acidity.

Now that we’ve met our ingredients, let’s turn my favorite Mexican corn recipe into some delicious Esquites!

Grab these Tools

Get your kitchen prepped and ready for this culinary trip to Mexico:

  • Large Skillet: To char the corn to perfection. I love to do it in a cast iron pan on the stove, but you can also grill up your corn on the BBQ.
  • Sharp Knife: For cutting the kernels off the cob.
  • Large Mixing Bowl: To combine all the ingredients.

How to Make This Mexican Street Corn Salad: Easy Step-by-Step Directions

The husks and silk are removed from the corn. Corn kernels are cut off the cob using a sharp knife, ensuring stability by keeping a flat side on the cutting board. A large skillet is heated over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Corn kernels and salt are added and stirred to coat with oil. They are cooked without stirring until charring on one side, then stirred and charred on the other side.
  • Prep the Corn: Removing the husks and cutting the kernels off the cob prepares them for charring.
  • Char the Corn: This gives a deliciously smoky flavor and great texture to the corn. Carefully place corn in a large mixing bowl while still hot.
  • Mix the Ingredients: Properly combine the corn mixture to make sure the cheese, aromatics and mayo coats every corn kernel in deliciousness.
  • Serve Immediately: This dish is best enjoyed while the corn is still warm and the cheese is slightly melted.
The charred corn is combined with mayonnaise, Cotija cheese, cilantro, garlic, jalapeno (optional), cayenne powder, lime juice, and salt in a large bowl. The mixture is thoroughly mixed until well combined. It is then divided into cups and garnished with additional cheese, cilantro, a sprinkle of cayenne, and lime wedges if desired.

How to Serve Mexican Street Corn Salad

To make Mexican street corn in a cup, serve each portion in its own little paper cup. If you want to serve your esquites as a larger salad, try one of these serving options:

  • Party dip: Serve with tortilla chips as an esquites dip, as an alternative to guacamole or salsa.
  • Top a taco: Elevate your taco night by using this as a flavorful topping for my fav Chicken Tacos, Fish Tacos, Ground Beef Tacos, and/or Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos.
  • As a side dish: Simply dig in with a spoon and savor the flavors as a tasty side dish for all your favorite Mexican recipes. A lime wedge on top of each individual Mexican corn cup is a nice touch.

Make Ahead and Storage Tips

  • Make Ahead: The corn can be cut from the cob and refrigerated a day ahead.
  • Storing Leftovers: If you have leftovers, refrigerate them in an airtight container, but note that it is best enjoyed immediately after preparing.
  • Reheat: If needed, you can lightly reheat leftovers in the microwave, but be sure to mix well before serving.

Esquites Variations and Substitutions

Here’s how you can adapt or double down on your Mexican street corn salad:

  • Cheese varieties: If Cotija cheese isn’t available, crumbled feta or grated Parmesan cheese work as a substitute.
  • Add some HEAT: ramp up the quantity of minced fresh chilies, or add some extra cayenne pepper. Feel free to go all in and drizzle on your favorite hot sauce if you’re a real spice fiend.
  • Add other veggies: a little diced red bell pepper adds color and flavor.
  • Vegan option: Swap out the mayonnaise and cheese for vegan alternatives.
  • Hot Cheetos: Sometimes crumbled Hot Cheetos are added on top. Sounds delicious to me!
  • Cut the mayo: use 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise and 2 tablespoons of queso fresco, Mexican crema, sour cream, or Greek yogurt for a creamier, less mayo-y version. (Psst. speaking of crema, you must also try my delicious Cilantro Lime Crema and Avocado Crema recipe).
  • Add some butter: add a small pat of butter on top of the piping hot street corn in a cup so it melts right in. Delicious!

Expert Tips and Tricks

  • Use Fresh Corn: A freshly shucked corn cob will give the best sweet flavor and juicy texture to your Mexican street corn salad, but using frozen corn kernels will do just fine.
  • Adjust the Heat: Don’t be afraid to customize the level of spiciness to your preference.
  • Serve Immediately: For the best experience, serve this corn salad warm.

Whip up a batch of this Mexican Street Corn in a Cup and bring the vibrant flavors of Mexican street food straight to your kitchen!

A bowl of Mexican Street Corn Salad (Esquites) garnished with fresh cilantro.

FAQs

Here’s the TLDR section for those with just a few burning questions:

Are elotes and esquites the same?

Elotes and Esquites are both traditional Mexican dishes that feature corn as the main ingredient, but they are not the same.
Elotes is whole corn on the cob that’s grilled and then coated in a mixture of mayonnaise, cheese, chili powder, and lime. It’s typically served on a stick for easy eating on the go.
Esquites, on the other hand, is a corn salad where the corn kernels are cut off the cob after grilling. The kernels are then mixed with similar ingredients to elotes – mayonnaise, cheese, chili powder, and lime – but are served in a cup or bowl, often with a spoon.
In essence, while the flavor profiles are similar, the main difference lies in the presentation and how they’re eaten.

What is it called when elote is in a cup?

When Elote is served in a cup, it’s commonly referred to as “Esquites.”

How to make elote in a cup with canned corn?

To make Elote in a Cup with canned corn, simply drain and pat dry the corn, then follow the original recipe – char the corn in a skillet, mix with mayo, Cotija cheese, cilantro, minced garlic, chopped pepper, chili powder, and lime juice, and serve garnished in cups.

Where did corn in a cup come from?

Corn in a cup, also known as Esquites, originated in Mexico. It’s a popular street food that’s typically sold by vendors at festivals, markets, and sporting events. The dish has deep roots in Mexican culture and cuisine, with the practice of roasting or boiling corn dating back to ancient times. The modern recipe, which includes ingredients like cheese, chili powder, and lime, has been enjoyed in Mexico for many years and has gained popularity around the world for its delicious blend of flavors.

If You Love Quick, Easy Mexican Street Food Recipes, You Must Also Try

Mexican street corn salad (esquites) in a bowl with a spoon.

Mexican Street Corn Salad (Esquites)

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings 6
Side Dish
Mexican
Keyword Esquites, Mexican Street Corn Salad

Ingredients
 
 

  • 4 ears of fresh corn
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup finely crumbled Cotija or feta cheese
  • 1 tbsp finely minced fresh cilantro
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • ½ -1 jalapeno or serrano pepper seeds and veins removed, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon chile powder like cayenne pepper, ancho or guajillo chili powder
  • Juice of one lime
  • Lime wedges to serve optional

Instructions
 

  • Remove the husks and silk from the corn. Cut the kernels off the cob with a sharp knife by laying it flat lenghtwise, slicing off a side, then rotating onto its flat side. Continue rotating the corn as you cut away the sides, always keeping a flat side on the cutting board for stability.
  • Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for 5 full minutes. Add the corn kernels and salt. Stir to coat evenly with oil, then let them cook without stirring until they are charring on one side (about 5 minutes). Stir and let them char on the other side (about 2-3 more minutes). Be careful, as the odd kernel may sputter and pop out of the pan.
  • In a large bowl, combine the charred corn, mayonnaise, Cotija cheese, cilantro, garlic, jalapeno (if using), cayenne powder, lime juice, and salt. Mix until all the ingredients are well combined.
  • Divide the mixture into cups, garnish with extra cheese, cilantro, a sprinkle of cayenne, and lime wedges if desired.

Video

Notes

If the corn releases a lot of liquid during cooking drain it in a colander before preparing the salad so you don’t water down the dressing. Some corn has a lot of “corn milk”. 
Feel free to swap in frozen – you’ll need about 3 cups of corn kernels.
One lime typically yields about 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) of juice. It’s always a good idea to roll the lime on a hard surface before juicing to help release more juice. Using a citrus juicer can also help you extract as much juice as possible from the lime.
 

Nutrition

Calories: 124kcalCarbohydrates: 1gProtein: 1gFat: 13gSaturated Fat: 3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 7gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0.05gCholesterol: 10mgSodium: 329mgPotassium: 19mgFiber: 0.1gSugar: 0.2gVitamin A: 113IUVitamin C: 3mgCalcium: 34mgIron: 0.1mg
Keyword Esquites, Mexican Street Corn Salad

Last Updated on August 9, 2023 by Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD

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Alejandro
Alejandro
1 month ago

5 stars
Just had this Corn Salad and it’s a game-changer! So much charred goodness in every bite, and the flavors are amazing.

Maria
Maria
1 month ago

5 stars
Made this Mexican Street Corn Salad for a family get-together and it was a hit! The flavors took me back to the streets of Mexico.

Juan
Juan
1 month ago

5 stars
Tried this Mexican street corn salad and it’s like a fiesta in my mouth! Creamy, tangy, and just the right kick of spice I love.

SpiceyChef Stratford
2 months ago

5 stars
Thank you for sharing this mouthwatering Mexican Street Corn Salad (Esquites) recipe! I’m thrilled to add this delightful salad to my menu and share it with family and friends. The flavours are amazing! 

Lauren
Lauren
2 months ago

5 stars
Made this tonight and it is SO GOOD. I love Mexican corn and it turns out I love Mexican corn salad even more.

Pam
Pam
2 months ago

5 stars
This street corn salad is to die for. Everyone loved it.

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