Esquites (Mexican Corn Salad)

updated about 1 hour ago
Esquites Recipe (Mexican Corn Salad)

It has all the sweet, fresh corn flavor you want in snackable form.

Serves3

Makesabout 2 cups

Prep5 minutes

Cook20 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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angled shot of two glasses full of esquites, topped with mayo, tajin and lime wedges.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Editor’s Note: We’ve updated this recipe and think you’ll love it! If you’re looking for the previous version, don’t worry — you can still find it under stovetop esquites.

Esquites, also known as “elote en vaso” or “corn in a cup,” are a delicious savory snack typically served in food stands and stalls in Mexico in a white styrofoam cup. Its name originates from the Nahuatl word “Ízquitl,” which translates to toasted corn. To make it, start by boiling fresh corn kernels and then layering it with Mexican crema, crumbly cotija cheese, butter, and Tajín Clasico or chile-lime seasoning. You’ll love the sweet and succulent flavor of fresh corn. And between the corn broth and layers of cream and cheese, it also makes for a really comforting bite. 

Why You’ll Love It

  • You don’t need to fire up a grill to make this! Unlike elote (Mexican street corn), esquites can be prepared quickly on the stovetop. 
  • Esquites highlight the fresh, sweet flavor of in-season corn. The addition of rich and tangy crema, cotija cheese, butter, and chili-lime powder on top makes this version incredibly flavorful.  
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Key Ingredients in Esquites

  • Fresh corn: This is essential for esquites! You’ll need to slice the kernels off four ears of yellow corn
  • Chile: The dried chile pulla adds a soft hint of fruit and smoke that rounds out the sweetness of the corn and its broth. 
  • Mexican crema and cotija cheese: These are crucial for topping the esquites. Mexican crema, considered a “table cream,” is rich, tangy, and slightly sweet. Because of the esquites’ sour elements like a squeeze of lime juice and chili-lime powder, sour cream is too tangy, but crème fraîche makes an excellent substitution. To brighten everything up, the salty and finely crumbled cotija cheese is sprinkled on top. 

How to Make Esquites

  1. Cut the corn from the cob. Dehusk the corn and remove the kernels from each cob. 
  2. Boil the corn kernels. Brown whole garlic cloves in butter then add the corn, kosher salt, chile, and water. Bring to a boil then simmer until corn is plump. 
  3. Assemble the esquites. Scoop the corn, along with some of the broth, into individual bowls or cups. Top with butter, a mayo-lime mixture, crema, and cotija cheese. Finish with a sprinkle of Tajín, a lime wedge, and salsa macha or hot sauce if desired. 

What’s the Difference Between Esquites and Elote?

An elote preparado will be just that: a corn on the cob. Often it’s prepared similarly to esquites, in that it’s covered in butter, mayonnaise, cotija cheese, and chili-lime powder and served with a wedge of lime. The esquites require the kernels to be sliced off the corn, and is served in a cup with a little bit of its broth, then it gets topped with all the same ingredients, plus Mexican crema. 

Helpful Swaps

  • Esquites can absolutely be made with canned corn or thawed frozen corn. The thawed corn can be cooked the same, however I would suggest giving the canned corn a little more seasoning as per instructed below in the recipe notes. 
  • Crème fraîche can be substituted for the crema. 
  • As a swap for cotija, consider finely grated Parmesan cheese. 
  • To make this vegan or dairy-free, use vegan mayonnaise and vegan feta or Parmesan cheese for the cotija. Also, you can use vegan sour cream instead of crema — just be sure to skip the lime juice.

Storage and Make-Ahead Tips 

Prepare the corn ahead of time by slicing the kernels off the cobs and keeping it refrigerated in an airtight container. To ease the kernel-shaving process, place a moist towel under a large bowl to keep it taut, then place a smaller bowl upside down in the middle — this will capture the kernels in a bowl instead of having them fly about your kitchen. And ensure you’re using a sharp knife!

What to Serve with Esquites

You can serve this as a party snack topped with hot sauce or salsa macha. Here are a few more ideas.

Esquites Recipe (Mexican Corn Salad)

It has all the sweet, fresh corn flavor you want in snackable form.

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes

Makes about 2 cups

Serves 3

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 4 ears

    fresh corn, preferably yellow

  • 1

    dried pulla, puya, or small guajillo chile, or 1/4 teaspoon paprika

  • 3 large cloves

    garlic

  • 3 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • 2 cups

    water

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

Toppings:

  • 1

    medium lime

  • 1/3 cup

    mayonnaise

  • 3 teaspoons

    unsalted butter

  • 1/3 cup

    Mexican crema

  • 1/3 cup

    crumbled cotija cheese

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    Tajín Clasico or chile-lime seasoning

  • Salsa macha or hot sauce

Instructions

  1. Remove the husks for 4 ears fresh corn, rinse off any corn silk, and pat dry. Cut the kernels off the cob (about 2 1/2 cups). Cut 1 dried puya or small guajillo chile open and remove and discard the stem and seeds. Rinse the chile under cool water, then pat dry. Crush and peel 3 large garlic cloves.

  2. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and 3 tablespoons unsalted butter. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is golden-brown and fragrant, about 1 minute.

  3. Increase the heat to medium. Add the corn and 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and stir to combine. Add the chile or 1/4 teaspoon paprika, and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil.

  4. Cover and cook at a rapid simmer, reducing the heat as needed, until the corn is plump and the liquid is very slightly yellow in color, about 10 minutes. Simmer uncovered for the flavors to meld, 3 to 5 minutes more. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed. Turn off the heat; remove the garlic if desired.

  5. Juice 1 medium lime until you have 1/2 teaspoon; cut the remaining part of the lime into wedges. Place the lime juice in a small bowl, add 1/3 cup mayonnaise, and stir to combine.

  6. Divide into 3 portions: For each portion, scoop about 3/4 cup of the corn, along with some of the broth, into a small bowl. Top each with about 1 teaspoon unsalted butter and stir until the butter is melted. Top each with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the mayonnaise mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons of the Mexican crema, and 1 to 2 tablespoons crumbled cotija cheese. Sprinkle each with about 1/4 teaspoon Tajín. Serve with the lime wedges and salsa macha or hot sauce if desired.

Recipe Notes

Canned corn: 2 (15.5-ounce) cans whole-kernel corn can be substituted for the fresh corn. Do not drain and simmer the corn with the canning liquid, seasoned with 1/4 teaspoon paprika and 1/8 teaspoon onion powder if desired. Cook covered at a rapid simmer for the same amount of time.

Dairy-free / Vegan: To make this vegan or dairy-free, use vegan mayonnaise and vegan feta or Parmesan cheese for the cotija. Use vegan sour cream instead of crema: Skip the lime juice and add in the vegan sour cream.

Mexican crema substitute: Crème fraîche can be substituted for the crema.

Cheese substitutes: Crumbled panela or grated Parmesan cheese can be substituted for the cotija.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

A version of this recipe was first published in January 2013 by Nealey Dozier.