Looking for an explosion of flavors that will ignite a fiesta in your mouth? Get ready to fall in love with Esquites, my Mexican Street Corn Salad – it’s a symphony of creamy, tangy, and spicy notes that create a tantalizing dance of taste, whisking your palate straight to the vibrant streets of Mexico.
The Tastiest Esquites – A Mexican Street Corn Salad
I’m excited to share a recipe that will whisk your taste buds away on an adventure straight to the heart of Mexico. We’re making Esquites, also known as Mexican Street Corn Salad. This colorful, vibrant dish is a delectable mix of fresh corn, tangy lime, creamy mayonnaise, and a blend of spices that brings out an incredibly flavorful punch. It’s perfect for a BBQ party, potluck, or as a refreshing side dish on a warm summer day.
Prep time? Just 10 minutes. Cooking time? Another 10 minutes. Yes, you heard right. In 20 minutes, you’ll have a delicious, exotic salad ready to be devoured.
My Top Tip
Char Your Corn: If you have access to a grill, try grilling your corn first. This will give the kernels a beautiful, smoky char that adds depth and richness to the overall flavor of the salad. If you’re using a skillet, make sure to let the corn sit undisturbed for a bit to get some nice caramelization before stirring.
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Corn: Fresh corn off the cob is ideal for its flavor and texture. If it’s out of season, frozen corn works too. Avoid canned corn if possible as it lacks the fresh taste and crisp texture of fresh or frozen corn.
- Olive Oil: This is used for sautéing the corn. Any neutral-tasting oil like vegetable or canola oil can work as a substitute.
- Red Onion: You could substitute this with white onions or shallots if red onions are not available. If someone doesn’t like raw onions, you could lightly sauté them before adding to the salad.
- Garlic: Fresh garlic cloves are recommended for their strong flavor, but garlic powder can be used as an alternative in a pinch.
- Jalapeno Pepper: Any green chili pepper can work as a substitute. If you want less heat, try a poblano or Anaheim pepper. For more heat, consider a serrano or habanero.
- Cilantro: This has a distinctive flavor, but if someone doesn’t like it or it’s not available, fresh parsley could be a decent substitute, though the flavor profile will change.
- Cotija Cheese: This is a crumbly Mexican cheese. If you can’t find it, try substituting it with feta or grated parmesan. For a dairy-free option, you can use a vegan cheese or omit it.
- Mayonnaise: If you’re avoiding eggs, an eggless or vegan mayo would work. For a healthier option, Greek yogurt could be a good alternative.
- Sour Cream: Greek yogurt can be used as a healthier and equally creamy substitute. For a dairy-free version, there are vegan sour creams available.
- Lime Juice: Fresh is best, but if unavailable, bottled lime juice or even lemon juice can be used.
- Chili Powder, Cumin, Smoked Paprika: These give the salad its signature spicy, smoky flavor. If any of them are not available, you could use a taco seasoning mix. Adjust to taste.
- Salt and Pepper: These are pretty standard, but you could use sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, or freshly cracked pepper for more flavor.
How To Make Esquites (Mexican Street Corn Salad)
Let’s get into the fun process of creating this amazing salad. Did I mention this is one of my most favorite salads? It really is!
Prep Your Corn
If you’re going the fresh corn route, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and shave those kernels off the cob. If you’re using frozen corn, let it thaw out a bit.
For an easy, mess-free way to remove corn kernels, use a bundt pan. Simply stand the cob upright in the pan’s center hole and slice downwards, letting the pan catch the falling kernels.
Grab your skillet, drizzle in that olive oil and heat it up over a medium-high flame. Toss in the corn and let it sizzle. Give it a good stir from time to time until it’s charred and golden, which should take around 8-10 minutes.
Bring On The Flavor
Next, toss in the diced onion, minced garlic, and jalapeño. Let it all mingle together for another 2-3 minutes, until the onion softens and starts to look a bit see-through. Take the skillet off the heat and let the corn mixture chill for a bit. You want it to cool down slightly before introducing it to the rest of the ingredients.
Mix And Mingle
Get your largest mixing bowl and combine the corn mixture, cilantro, crumbled Cotija cheese, mayo, sour cream, fresh lime juice, smoked paprika, cumin, and chili powder. Mix it all up until everything is well combined. Take a taste and adjust the seasoning as you like. Need more salt? Add it in. Want it spicier? Toss in some more jalapeño or chili powder.
Chill Out And Final Touches
Cover your bowl and pop it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. This gives the flavors time to get to know each other and meld together beautifully.
Finally, give the salad another good stir before serving. Feel free to garnish with extra cilantro, Cotija cheese, and a dash more chili powder for good measure.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, you can! This salad actually tastes even better after it has had some time for the flavors to meld together. Just cover it and store it in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. If made ahead, give it a good stir before serving and add a bit more fresh cilantro, cheese, and a squeeze of lime to freshen it up.
No worries if Cotija cheese is not available. You can substitute with feta or even grated Parmesan cheese. They both have a similar salty punch to Cotija, although the flavor profile will be slightly different. I’ve also made this with Feta cheese and it’s just as delicious.
Absolutely! You can substitute the mayo and sour cream with vegan versions, and either omit the cheese or use a vegan cheese alternative. Remember to check your chili powder and other seasonings to ensure they’re vegan as well.
More Expert Tips
- Season as you go: Adding salt not only at the end, but also while you’re sautéing the corn, can help bring out the natural sweetness of the corn and intensify the flavors of the salad overall.
- Play with texture: For a little added crunch, consider adding a handful of roughly chopped radishes or bell peppers. This can provide a delightful contrast to the creamy elements of the salad.
- Pair wisely: Esquites makes a fantastic side dish for grilled meats or tacos, but it can also shine as a dip with tortilla chips. Thinking about the rest of your menu can help you tweak the seasoning of your salad to create a harmonious meal.
How To Serve
Esquites, or Mexican Street Corn Salad, is a vibrant and versatile dish that can complement a variety of meals:
- Grilled Meats: The tangy, creamy, and spicy flavors of the Esquites pair wonderfully with grilled meats, whether it’s a juicy steak, chicken, or even fish. The salad helps balance the smoky and rich flavors of the meat.
- Mexican Cuisine: Naturally, Esquites is a perfect side for Mexican dishes like enchiladas, tacos, or quesadillas. It’s a refreshing contrast to heavier, meaty or cheesy dishes.
- BBQs and Picnics: Esquites is a great alternative to traditional picnic salads. It pairs well with burgers, hot dogs, and is a crowd-pleaser at BBQs.
- As a Dip: Esquites can be used as a dip with tortilla chips for a casual snack or appetizer. The crunchy chips work well with the creamy salad.
To store, simply place any leftovers in an airtight container and refrigerate. This salad will keep well for up to 3-4 days. It’s best not to freeze this salad, as the dairy components may separate or become grainy upon thawing. When you’re ready to serve it again, give it a good stir to redistribute the dressing and consider adding a fresh squeeze of lime or a sprinkle of cheese to brighten the flavors back up.
Other Recipes You’ll Enjoy
Craving More? Follow Along:
Esquites (Mexican Street Corn Salad)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cups corn kernels from about 5 ears, frozen corn can be used as well
- ½ small red onion finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 small jalapeno pepper finely diced
- ½ cup fresh cilantro chopped
- ½ cup cotija cheese or feta cheese, crumbled
- ⅓ cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup sour cream
- ¼ tablespoon lime juice freshly squeezed
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon salt or to taste
- ¼ teaspoon pepper to taste
- If using fresh corn, remove the kernels from the cobs. If using frozen corn, make sure it's thawed.
- In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the corn kernels and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are charred and cooked through, about 8-10 minutes.
- Add the chopped white onion, minced garlic, and jalapeño to the skillet. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, or until the onions are soft and translucent.
- Remove the skillet from the heat and allow the corn mixture to cool slightly.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked corn mixture, chopped cilantro, crumbled Cotija cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream, lime juice, smoked paprika, ground cumin, and chili powder. Mix well to combine.
- Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. You can also adjust the heat by adding more jalapeño or chili powder if desired.
- Cover the bowl and refrigerate the Esquites for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. This dish is best served chilled or at room temperature.
- Before serving, give the salad a good stir, and garnish with additional chopped cilantro, Cotija cheese, and a sprinkle of chili powder, if desired.
Tips & Notes:
- Corn Type: You can use fresh, canned, or frozen corn in this recipe, but for the best flavor and texture, fresh corn is highly recommended.
- Spiciness: Adjust the heat of the salad to your liking by using more or less jalapeño and chili powder. Remember, you can always add more spice, but it’s hard to take it away, so start with a small amount and work your way up.
- Cheese: Cotija cheese is traditional in this salad, but if you can’t find it, feta or grated Parmesan work as good substitutes.
- Resting Time: Although you can eat this salad immediately, allowing it to chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes lets the flavors meld together, enhancing the overall taste of the salad.
- Serving: This salad is best served chilled or at room temperature. It can be served as a side dish, a topping for tacos, or even as a dip with tortilla chips.