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.
Why You'll Love This Mexican Corn Salad
In Los Angeles, where I've lived the past 15 years, there are street food vendors who sell elotes - a grilled corn on the cob that's slathered in mayonnaise or crema (and sometimes sour cream), then garnished with cotija cheese, cilantro, lime juice, and chili powder.
It is wildly delicious - creamy, salty, citrusy - and kind of messy, too.
I absolutely love corn, and this may be the only corn that rivals simply grilled and buttered corn on the cob.
Esquites is essentially elote in a bowl. It's 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 easier to eat.
To make this recipe easy, I've used roasted frozen corn. This will eliminate the need to cut the fresh 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 or if you're in the middle of summer and you're craving a twist on your regular corn salad, this recipe is for you. 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 sweet corn kernels. I've found this at most local grocery stores. If it's summer and too hot to cook, you can also grill the corn and cut it off of the cob for this recipe.
- 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 it with dried. If you can't find fresh, I would omit it rather than replace it.
- Garlic Powder You could also cook a bit of fresh, minced garlic with your corn.
- Cayenne Pepper A bit of cayenne is my preference here, but you could also use some chili powder or a bit of smoked paprika if you aren't a big fan of spicy food.
- 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: Chop the cilantro.
Step Two Place a skillet over medium to high heat, add olive oil, then add the corn. Sauté until the corn is defrosted and heated through. Season with garlic powder, cayenne, salt and pepper.
Step Three Make the elote sauce. Combine the mayonnaise, crema (or sour cream), cilantro, and lime juice in a bowl. Stir well to combine,
Step Four Remove the corn from the pan, place it in a bowl, and mix with the elote sauce.
Step Five Serve right away, topping with another dash of cayenne, remaining lime wedges and cilantro.
Sour Cream If you can't find crema, try using some sour cream in its place. It will just be a tiny bit tangier.
On the Cob For a more traditional Mexican street corn 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 crumbled feta instead.
More Lime If you want this corn dish to be super lime-forward, you can add a bit more juice, or you can try adding a bit of lime zest.
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.
While most prefer this dish warm, esquites can be a great dip for tortilla chips with a little extra lime juice added!
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.
Try serving esquites with your favorite Mexican dishes, like tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and quesadillas. It's fantastic with rice and beans or as a salad on its own. See the "How to Make a Meal" section below for more ideas!
- If you can't find crema and feel that sour cream is too tangy, try thinning the sour cream with a bit of heavy cream. Alternatively, you can just add a bit more mayo and another tablespoon or so of lime juice. I've made it this way on vacations and everyone has loved it.
- I do not recommend using nonstick pans for any recipes that go above medium heat. If using high heat for a recipe, swap out the nonstick pan for a cast iron or stainless steel pan instead.
- 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. If you feel your corn is a little underseasoned once it has heated through, add a pinch of salt and see how it tastes.
How to Store this Elote Bowl Recipe
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.
You can also 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, well, strange. No one likes weird reheated dairy.
How to Serve Elote off the Cob
Mexican street corn is a fantastic side for all sorts of meals. Here are some ideas to try:
Quesabirria Stack This would be a perfect side for this delicious Quesabirria Stack!
Burgers This would be a delicious side dish for your favorite burger, like this Turkey Smash Burger!
Burritos Serve these up with a Carne Asada Breakfast Burrito for a Mexican feast.
Pork Try this amazing smoked pork butt!
More Mexican Favorites to Try
Elote Bowl (Esquites)
- 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.