Easy Potluck Recipe: Esquites (Mexican Corn Salad)

Recipes from The Kitchn

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Summertime is all about picnics and potlucks, so if you're still in search of the ultimate dish that guarantees return invites and recipe requests, this Mexican street corn salad is for you. Not only will the fresh flavors please any palate, but it's just as easy to make a double (or triple) batch and it's equally delicious served hot, cold, or at room temp. Sounds like a winner to me!

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I only just discovered Esquites at a dear friend's birthday party last month. My fiancé and I arrived late, so we snuck into the kitchen to graze for leftovers. I found the bowl of corn salad first, and proceeded to start ravaging it for dear life. Once Walt joined in, there was no hope for anyone who might be looking for seconds. 

I immediately went outside and loudly asked the crowd who made it — this was a dish I needed to steal. A sweet couple raised their hands, and I immediately hounded them for the recipe. (Upon further questioning, I learned he was a chef at one of my favorite restaurants. Go figure.) They gave me the ingredients and said it couldn't be easier. I couldn't wait to give it a try!

Just to fill you in, Esquites is the sibling of Elote, a popular Mexican street food dish. Elote is basically grilled corn on the cob that is served with a variety of condiments including mayonnaise, cotija cheese, lime juice, and chili powder, while esquites is pretty much the same thing, just served in a bowl. I've never been a big corn on the cob fan (chalk it up to too many awkward experiences involving braces) so to me, the idea of removing the corn is pure brilliance.

Seriously, I was so obsessed with Esquites that I made it the very next day. And I've made it at least four times since, which for me, speaks volumes about the recipe. (The only other food I will ever make four times in a month is chocolate chip cookies, so that's saying something.) One thing is for certain, Esquites will surely be showing up at plenty of potlucks I attend this summer, and for many summers hereafter. I'm pretty sure it will never get old!

What about you? What are your favorite summer sides to bring along to potlucks?

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Esquites (Mexican Corn Salad)

Serves 4 to 6 (recipe can easily be scaled up or down)

2 tablespoons canola oil, or other neutral cooking oil
4 cups fresh or frozen yellow corn, thawed if frozen (from about 6 ears)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small hot pepper (such as jalapeño or red chile), seeded and minced
3 tablespoons crumbled cotija cheese, plus more for garnishing
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (or more to taste)
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 1/2 teaspoons Mexican-style chili powder
Juice from two limes
Kosher salt, to taste

In a large cast-iron skillet, heat oil on medium high until shimmering. Add the corn and cook, stirring occasionally, until the corn is toasted and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds or so. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. 

In a mixing bowl, combine the toasted corn mixture with the remaining ingredients. Adjust seasonings, adding more of your preferred flavors, if desired. Serve at room temperature with additional cotija cheese.

(Images: Nealey Dozier)

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