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Esquites makes an easy, savory, and crowd-pleasing side dish. It works equally well alongside tacos on a weeknight or at a BBQ, picnic, or casual buffet. This is one of those recipes that everyone asks for. Makes a nice big batch.

esquites (mexican street corn salad) in a white bowl
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Why we love this recipe

Esquites packs all the savory, smoky, piquant flavors of elotes into an easy-to-eat salad. It’s become one of my favorite side dishes over the past few years, and from the looks of things, one of yours, too. Our version:

  • Works equally well with fresh or frozen corn
  • Leans into the tangy, savory flavors, which balance the corn’s sweetness beautifully
  • Can be made with ingredients that are easy to keep on hand
  • Is make-ahead friendly and ready in less than half an hour

I first published this recipe here in 2016. I’ve updated the post for clarity, but the recipe remains the same.

What you’ll need

Here’s a glance at the ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe.

ingredients in bowls
  • Good-quality frozen corn works great in this recipe and saves the effort of shucking. 20 ounces of frozen corn equals 6 ears, or close enough. Fresh corn is, of course, great too.
  • Cotija cheese is a salty, tangy, Mexican cow’s milk cheese. It comes fresh or aged, but the commercially aged version is much easier to find in many parts of the U.S. It’s bright white and crumbles or grates beautifully. If you can’t find it, you could substitute cow’s milk feta.
  • Chili powder refers to the spice blend, not pure ground chili.
  • Safflower oil is my high-smoke-point, neutral-tasting vegetable oil of choice. You can substitute another oil that has similar properties, such as canola, sunflower, peanut, corn, or vegetable oil blend.
  • Use fresh lime juice, cilantro, and scallions.

How to make it

Here’s what you’ll do to make a great bowl of esquites (which, fun fact, also goes by corn in a cup, Mexican corn in a cup, and elote in a cup). You can see all the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.

step by step
  1. First you’ll char the corn in a heavy pan, tossing occasionally but mostly letting it sit until it browns in lots of places.
  2. While the corn cooks and then cools a bit, mix up the dressing right in the serving bowl.
  3. Add the corn, scallions, cilantro, and cotija to the bowl.
  4. Give it all a good toss and serve warm or at room temperature.

Expert tips and FAQs

What is esquites?

In short, it’s pure joy in the form of Mexican street food.

Let’s start with elotes. Street vendors in Mexico (and now in many U.S. cities) grill corn on the cob in its husk until it’s nice and charred. Then, the husk gets peeled back like a handle. Then, condiments. Because yay condiments! Salt, lime, butter, crema, mayo, cotija cheese, chili powder. Some or all. Again. Yay.

Esquites is elotes, but off the cob. Typically it’s served in paper cups. It’s a great snack and an equally great side dish. We call it a salad to make you feel good. Doesn’t matter.

What are some other names for esquites?

This dish goes by many names, including: corn in a cup, Mexican corn in a cup, and elote in a cup. Whatever you call it, you’re in the right place.

Can I make this recipe in advance? What about leftovers?

You can make esquites up to about 24 hours in advance. Once cooled, keep tightly sealed in the fridge until about 30 minutes before serving time.

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

More favorite Tex Mex- and Mexican-inspired ways to use corn

esquites (mexican street corn salad) on a plate with black beans and a sandwich

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esquites (mexican street corn salad) in a white bowl
4.77 from 39 votes

Esquites: Mexican Corn in a Cup

By Carolyn Gratzer Cope
Esquites is the off-the-cob version of elotes, Mexican street corn that’s grilled and then slathered with condiments including salt, mayo, cheese, chili powder and lime. It’s so delicious and easy to customize to your taste by adding more or less of any of the ingredients.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Total: 25 minutes
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Ingredients 

  • 6 ears of corn, or 20 ounces/(567 grams) good-quality frozen corn
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) safflower oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons (28 grams) mayonnaise
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 scallions, white and green parts sliced
  • Handful of cilantro leaves and tender stems, chopped
  • 2 ounces (57 grams) grated cotija cheese

Instructions 

  • Shuck the corn and cut the kernels off the cobs.
  • Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a cast iron or other heavy skillet. When it shimmers, add the corn kernels and let sit for a few minutes to start browning. Stir and let sit again. Repeat this process until there is nice browning in lots of spots, 10 to 15 minutes total.
  • Add the minced garlic to the skillet and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and let cool for at least 10 minutes, until just warm.
  • In a serving bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, chili powder, salt, pepper, and lime juice.
  • Add corn, scallions, cilantro, and cotija. Toss gently to combine well. Taste for seasoning and add more of anything you like. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes

  1. Good-quality frozen corn works great in this recipe and saves the effort of shucking. 20 ounces of frozen corn equals 6 ears, or close enough. Fresh corn is, of course, great too.
  2. Cotija cheese is a salty, tangy, Mexican cow's milk cheese. It comes fresh or aged, but the commercially aged version is much easier to find in many parts of the U.S. It's bright white and crumbles or grates beautifully. If you can't find it, you could substitute cow's milk feta.
  3. Chili powder refers to the spice blend, not pure ground chili.
  4. Safflower oil is my high-smoke-point, neutral-tasting vegetable oil of choice. You can substitute another oil that has similar properties, such as canola, sunflower, peanut, corn, or vegetable oil blend.
  5. You can make esquites up to about 24 hours in advance. Once cooled, keep tightly sealed in the fridge until about 30 minutes before serving time.
  6. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.
I first published this recipe here in 2016, adapted from The Kitchn and Serious Eats.

Nutrition

Calories: 170kcal, Carbohydrates: 14.5g, Protein: 4.5g, Fat: 11.9g, Fiber: 1.7g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Sides
Cuisine: Mexican
Tried this recipe?Mention @umamigirl or tag #umamigirl!

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Subscribe to Umami Girl’s email updates, and follow along on Instagram.

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About Carolyn Gratzer Cope

Hi there, I'm Carolyn Gratzer Cope, founder and publisher of Umami Girl. Join me in savoring life, one recipe at a time. I'm a professional recipe developer with training from the French Culinary Institute (now ICE) and a lifetime of studying, appreciating, and sharing food.

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1 Comment

  1. Made this last night for a bbq using freshly cooked local corn. Wow. I’ll be making this salad on repeat.