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Easy Esquites Recipe (Mexican Street Corn Salad)

cups of esquites Mexican corn salad with limes sitting on a cutting board

If you’re a fan of elotes but don’t like the mess, this easy esquites recipe is for you. Esquites, (aka Mexican street corn salad) pack all the flavor you’re expecting from elotes, but can be eaten with a spoon.

I first started eating esquites while living in San Diego. Barrio Logan is basically the mecca of San Diego’s Mexican-American culture, and the food scene there is unreal.

Along with this Mexican street corn salad, you’ll also find the San Diego Style Street Tacos on this blog that were inspired from this area as well.

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What’s The Difference Between Elotes and Esquites?

Interestingly enough, you’ll sometimes see the terms used interchangeably. That said, there is a difference.

Elotes are charred ears of corn on the cob with all of the ingredients that make them so delicious, sort of smeared on them, and then eaten right off the cob. Esquites are little cups of corn, dressed with all the same ingredients and are much easier to eat.

cup of esquites with a spoon and some cilantro

What I love about this easy esquites recipe is the convenience. Having a party? Serve a tray of these in plastic cups that people can toss in the recycling bin after, and it makes clean-up super easy.

Does the Corn Need To Be Grilled?

I prefer to grill the corn myself, because I typically have the grill going anyway. That said, you can absolutely make these without firing up the grill.

I recommend using fresh corn, but fresh or frozen corn will work. Just char the corn kernels in some olive oil over high heat in a cast iron pan, or similar.  Then, mix the ingredients together in a large bowl.

bowl of corn freshly sliced off the cob

That’s why this is an easy esquites recipe; it can literally be done in 15 minutes when using frozen corn.

What Can I Use Instead of Cotija Cheese?

Depending on where you live, cotija cheese may be challenging to find. I really like the saltiness that comes from a good crumbled cotija cheese, but if you can’t find it there are some substitutes.

corn on the cob sitting on a cutting board with cotija cheese

Feta for example, is a suitable substitute — but not the best. I prefer to use a nice aged Parmesan. The nutty and salty profile of parmesan (for me) makes it a better substitute than feta.

Ingredients For An Easy Esquites Recipe

I prefer to stick mostly to the same ingredients you would use for elotes. That said, there are some fun add-ins that I think make the flavor even better:

  • Diced Jalapeno: Remove the seeds to keep the heat down, these peppers bring a nice flavor to the Mexican street corn salad.
  • Red Onion: I like the flavor, color and texture a finely diced red onion brings to the table, but don’t overdo it.
  • Red Pepper: The color makes a nice addition to the salad, but you won’t get much flavor from a finely diced bell pepper. Instead, try a Fresno chili for some great flavor and color.
cups of esquites sitting on a cutting board along with some limes and cilantro

How To Make Esquites (Mexican Street Corn Salad)

Prep Time: 10 mins | Cook Time: 25 mins | Serves: 6

Ingredients
6 ears fresh corn
½ cup cotija cheese, crumbled

Dressing Ingredients
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
½ cup cilantro, finely chopped
1 medium jalapeno, diced (optional)
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp chipotle chili powder
1 tsp smoked paprika, plus a pinch
½ tsp ground cayenne pepper

Step 1: Light your grill and set it up for two zone cooking, establishing the temperature at 400°F as indicated by a reliable leave-in thermometer.

Step 2: While the grill is preheating, whisk together all the dressing ingredients in a small mixing bowl and set aside. Keep a pinch of cilantro and smoked paprika aside for garnish. 

Step 3: Place corn in the grill over indirect heat and close the lid. Allow the corn to roast in the husks for 20 minutes.

corn on the cob in the husk roasting on a grill

Step 4: Remove the corn from the grill. Being careful of the heat, pull the husks back on the corn and remove any corn silk. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the kernels with olive oil. 

Tip* Leaving the husks attached to the corn makes it easier to cut the kernels off later.

Step 5: Place the corn back on the cooking grate over direct heat. Turn the corn often and grill until some of the kernels get a nice roasted char on them. 

corn on the cob being grilled over hot coals

Step 6: Remove the corn from the grill and slice the kernels off the cob.

Tip* Placing a small plastic bowl upside down inside a larger bowl makes a perfect setting for removing corn from the cob and into a bowl without making a mess. Simply rest the tip of the corn cob on the inverted bowl and slice the corn off the cob. 

Step 7: Drizzle the dressing onto the warm corn, and gently mix together. Let the salad sit for ten minutes, allowing it to cool slightly. Then fold in the cotija cheese, transfer portions into plastic cups, and top each with a dash of smoked paprika, and fresh chopped cilantro. Serve at room temperature.

esquites mixed in a large bowl sitting on a cutting board with limes and a knife
cup of esquites with a spoon and cilantro garnish

Easy Esquites Recipe

5 from 1 vote
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 6

Ingredients

  • 6 ears sweet corn
  • ½ cup cotija cheese crumbled

Dressing

  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro finely chopped
  • 1 medium jalapeno finely diced
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp chipotle chili powder
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper

Instructions

  • Light your grill and set it up for two zone cooking, establishing the temperature at 400°F as indicated by a reliable leave-in thermometer.
  • While the grill is preheating, whisk together all the dressing ingredients in a small mixing bowl and set aside. Keep a pinch of cilantro and smoked paprika aside for garnish.
  • Place corn in the grill over indirect heat and close the lid. Allow the corn to roast in the husks for 20 minutes.
  • Remove the corn from the grill. Being careful of the heat, pull the husks back on the corn and remove any corn silk. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the kernels with olive oil.
  • Place the corn back on the cooking grate over direct heat. Turn the corn often and grill until some of the kernels get a nice roasted char on them.
  • Remove the corn from the grill and slice the kernels off the cob.
  • Drizzle the dressing onto the warm corn, and gently mix together. Let the salad sit for 10 minutes allowing it to cool slightly. Then fold in the cotija cheese, transfer into portions into plastic cups and top each with a dash of smoked paprika, and fresh chopped cilantro. Serve at room temperature.

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