Do you love elote, the charred Mexican street corn that's coated in mayonnaise, cotija cheese, lime juice, and spices? This elote bowl, commonly known as esquites, will provide all of the flavor with none of the mess.
Born and raised in California, I have always been a huge fan of Mexican food. In Los Angeles, where I've lived the past 14 years, there are street vendors who sell elote. It is addictively good - creamy, salty, citrusy - and kind of messy, too.
Esquites is the same dish: earthy, sweet roasted corn, tangy cheese, bright lime juice, and a little bit of spice from cayenne or chili powder. It's just in a bowl.
To make this recipe even easier, use roasted frozen corn. This will eliminate the need to cut the corn off of the cob and makes this recipe available to you year-round!
So if you're in the middle of winter and need some warm summer flavor, give this recipe a try. I can't say you'll be instantly transported to the beach, but it will be extremely tasty.
What You'll Need
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- Corn To make your life easier, I recommend buying roasted frozen corn kernels. I've found this at many local grocery stores.
- Mayonnaise You can pick up your favorite jarred version, or make your own easy homemade mayonnaise.
- Crema Mexican crema is a creamy condiment similar to sour cream. If you can't find crema, you can use a bit of sour cream.
- Cotija Cheese This is an aged Mexican cheese made from cow's milk. It crumbles easily and is similar to a mild feta. If you can't find cotija cheese, the most common alternatives are feta, queso fresco, or parmesan.
- Lime If fresh limes aren't available, you can use bottled lime juice.
- Cilantro Fresh cilantro here is best. I would not recommend substituting with dried. If you can't find fresh, feel free to omit.
- Garlic Powder You could also cook a bit of fresh, minced garlic with your corn.
- Cayenne A bit of cayenne is my preference here, but you could also use some chili powder.
- Kosher Salt I always recommend kosher salt when cooking. It coats food more evenly, and is less concentrated than table or sea salt, making it harder to oversalt your food.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil I use olive oil, but you could use butter too.
How to Make Esquites
Step One Place a pan on medium heat, add olive oil, then add your frozen corn. Sauté until the corn is defrosted and heated through. Season with garlic powder, cayenne, and salt.
Step Two Remove the corn from the pan, place in a bowl, and mix with mayo, crema, the cotija cheese, lime juice, and some of the cilantro.
Step Three Serve right away, topping with additional cilantro leaves, another dash of cayenne, and lime wedges.
Sour Cream If you can't find crema, try using some sour cream in its place. It will be a bit tangier.
On the Cob For a more traditional Mexican elote recipe, grill a whole ear of corn and baste your sauce ingredients on the exterior of the corn.
Different Cheese If you can't find cotija, try a bit of feta or some grated parmesan instead.
Esquites are roasted corn kernels removed from the cob and mixed with mayonnaise, crema, garlic, cotija cheese, lime juice, cilantro, and spicy seasonings such as cayenne or chili powder.
I don't recommend it. This dish really is best when freshly made.
You can. Mix your sauce ingredients - the mayo, crema, cotija, lime juice - and keep this in a bowl in the fridge. When you're ready to serve, cook corn with garlic, cayenne, salt, mix everything together, and top with cilantro and lime wedges.
While corn is pretty good for you, the abundance of mayo and cheese in this recipe leads me to place it in the less-than-healthy category. I consider this a treat and make it often on vacation or on summer holidays.
See the "How to Make a Meal" section below for ideas!
- If you can't find crema and feel that sour cream is too tangy, try thinning sour cream with a bit of cream. Alternately, just add a bit more mayo. I've made it this way on vacations and everyone has loved it.
- There is no need to thaw your corn before tossing it in the pan. It will come to temperature fairly quickly.
- Be sure to add your seasoning to the corn after it has heated for a while so that any melting ice on the exterior doesn't wash away those flavors.
How to Store
It is definitely my preference to eat this Mexican-style street corn right after it has been prepared.
However, you can store this in the fridge for 3 days in an airtight container. I recommend waiting to add the cotija until you are ready to eat. Remove from the fridge about 30 minutes before you would like to serve to come to room temp.
Alternately, you can store your cooked corn and the remaining ingredients separately. When ready to serve, reheat the corn in a pan with a bit of oil, then add the mayo, crema, cheese, cilantro, and lime juice.
I don't recommend freezing. As with many dairy products, the texture becomes strange. No one likes weird reheated dairy.
How to Make a Meal
Mexican street corn is a fantastic side for all sorts of meals. Here are some ideas to try:
Carne Asada Quesadilla Top the quesadilla with some Pineapple Pico de Gallo, Pineapple Habanero Salsa or Chipotle Southwest Sauce with a super flavorful meal.
Quesabirria Stack This would be a perfect side for this delicious Quesabirria Stack!
Steak Make some of this ranchera meat to serve with your elote corn recipe and some rice.
Tacos Try serving alongside these Spicy Potato Soft Tacos and add Pineapple Habanero Sauce for some extra kick!
Enchiladas Make some Slow Cooker Chicken Enchiladas and Spicy Pickled Onions to serve with your Mexican corn.
Chicken This would be an amazing side for these breaded Italian Chicken Cutlets
Pork Try this amazing smoked pork butt!
Recipes You'll Love
Try these other flavorful sides:
Crispy Air Fryer Smashed Potatoes
Elote Bowl (Esquites)
- 15 ounces roasted frozen corn kernels
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne plus more for garnish
- kosher salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoons crema or sour cream
- ½ cup cotija cheese
- 1 tablespoon lime juice from about 1 lime, plus wedges for serving
- 2 tablespoons cilantro plus more for garnish
- Place a pan on medium heat, add olive oil, then add your frozen corn. Sauté until the corn is defrosted and heated through.
- Season with garlic powder, cayenne, and salt.
- Remove the corn from the pan, place in a bowl, and mix with mayo, crema, cotija cheese, lime juice, and the cilantro.
- Serve right away, topping with additional cilantro leaves, another dash of cayenne, and lime wedges.
- This recipe is best served right away. However, you can store this in the fridge for 3 days in an airtight container.
- You can make ahead by preparing the mayo, crema, cotija, and lime juice in a bowl and leaving in the fridge until ready to eat. Heat your corn with the olive oil and seasonings, mix everything together, add the cilantro, and serve.
- I don't recommend freezing.
- There is no need to thaw the corn before making this recipe.
I love how creamy this delicious corn salad is! Everyone else must have to, because there wasn't a morsel left after our family dinner. Thanks so much for the recipe!
Thank you so much, Glenda! Really happy your family enjoyed it.
Mandy Applegate says
This recipe is so easy and so delicious! It's healthy, filling, and just plain tasty. I cannot recommend this recipe enough!
Thank you, Mandy!
I love elote, and this version in a bowl came out so good! The cayenne gave it just the right kick, and it's so, so simple to put together.
Yay, thanks Amanda! So happy you enjoyed it. I love that cayenne, too.
This is a must-try! Loved it!
This is my new favorite dish. The combination of corn with the spices and cheese is perfection.
Thanks MacKenzie! Happy to hear it!
This was the perfect side dish for our Taco Tuesday! We love elotes, but not the mess. Your recipe was a great way to enjoy this street food favorite at home.
Thank you, Heidi! So happy your family enjoyed it.
Fantastic recipe. Will definitely be making it again. Easy to follow directions, too!
Rosanna Stevens says
We loved this so much, already planning to make it again next weekend when we have friends over!
Oh yay! Thank you, Rosanna. I'm so happy you liked it.