Are you familiar with esquites? Also known as elote en vaso, esquites are an experience you’ll remember. Esquites are Mexican street corn (elote) cut off the cob, served in salad form.
Esquites are creamy, tangy, spicy, sweet and savory all at once. In other words, they’re completely irresistible. This elote recipe was the best recipe to come off our grill last summer, and I’m excited to share this stovetop variation with you.
Esquites share the same ingredients with elote: fresh corn, mayonnaise, cilantro, chili powder, lime and crumbled Cotija cheese. The combination is sublime, and this variation is much easier to eat. I’ve enjoyed both options in Mexico City and love making them at home. I’m going to cook this simple salad all summer and through the rest of the year.
Esquites have one strong cooking advantage over elote—you can start with frozen corn kernels, which really cuts down on preparation time! We’ll just cook the frozen corn in a hot skillet until it’s seared and delicious. If you’re using frozen corn, you can prepare this dish in about twenty minutes, from start to finish.
Esquites Ingredients & Notes
You’ll find the full recipe below. Here’s what you’ll need to make esquites:
Frozen or fresh corn
As I mentioned, I’m a big fan of using frozen corn for esquites because it’s just so easy! Just be sure to use frozen corn that’s in good shape (rinse off any freezer burn before using). I loved the results when I used Whole Foods 365 brand of frozen corn. This recipe calls for one standard bag (16 ounces) of frozen corn.
Or, shuck fresh corn from the cob for your esquites. You’ll need around 5 cobs, or enough to yield about 3 1/2 cups of corn.
In Mexico, the corn for esquites is generally either boiled or sautéed. For the same reason that I love using grilled corn for elote, I love to sauté the corn until it turns nicely golden. Searing the corn brings out a savory edge that helps balance the corn’s inherent sweetness.
Butter or olive oil
We’ll cook the corn in a skillet with some melted unsalted butter or olive oil. I think the butter is totally worth it here, but you can use olive oil for a lighter dish.
Garlic makes everything better. Here, it provides some welcome contrast and complexity to the sweet corn. We’ll just cook it for about 30 seconds, long enough to mellow the flavor but not long enough to burn.
Mayo is traditionally used in esquites, and after experimenting with alternatives, I know why. Mayonnaise helps carry and amplify the other flavors, making this dish tangy and so flavorful.
If you’re interested in an alternative, you can use sour cream or plain Greek yogurt. The downside to using dairy instead is that it tends to dull the other flavors, so your dish might benefit from an extra squeeze of lime juice and perhaps some additional salt or chili powder.
Lime juice adds some zingy acidity. Serve your esquites with little lime wedges so your guests can add more lime if they’d like.
Fresh chili pepper, chili powder and optional cayenne
You can adjust the spice levels here to suit your preferences, but I think it’s nicely balanced as written.
Finely chopped, fresh jalapeño offers an extra dose of spicy, fresh flavor. If you’re sensitive to spice, you can certainly omit it, or simply use less. The ribs and seeds in fresh jalapeño are the spiciest parts, so be sure to remove those before chopping the jalapeño.
You can’t make authentic esquites without chili powder! Any mild chili powder blend will do, or use a fun variety like ancho, chipotle or guajillo. You could even use Tajín for some extra-tangy flavor (it’s a Mexican spice blend of chili powder and lime).
Cayenne pepper increases the heat by a notch, and I love it. Try it if you love spice.
Cotija is a crumbly, creamy and salty cow’s milk cheese. You can find Cotija cheese at well-stocked grocery stores (I buy mine at Whole Foods, near the goat cheese) or Mexican grocers. If you can’t find Cotija cheese, feta or Parmesan would be your next best bets.
Cilantro adds a final, welcome burst of freshness. If you don’t like it, however, skip it.
What to Serve with Esquites
In Mexico, street vendors typically serve esquites in small cups for easy snacking. You can follow their cue and serve esquites in cups for fun grab-and-go party appetizers. Or, serve esquites from a bowl, family style, and let everyone help themselves. Just remember to double (or triple) the recipe! Either way, esquites will be a big hit at barbecues and summer parties.
Serve esquites as a snack or appetizer, or as a side dish to any Mexican-inspired meal. Here are a few entrées that would go well with esquites, or you can view all of my Mexican recipes here.
- Tacos: Easy Black Bean Tacos or Epic Vegetarian Tacos
- Quesadillas: 10-Minute Quesadillas or Crispy Mushroom, Spinach and Avocado Quesadillas
- Chilaquiles: Chilaquiles Rojos or Chilaquiles Verdes
- Enchiladas: Black Bean Sweet Potato Enchiladas, Roasted Veggie Enchilada Casserole or Veggie Black Bean Enchiladas
More Corn Recipes to Try
Here are a few of my favorite corn recipes:
- The Best Grilled Corn on the Cob
- Fresh Corn Salsa
- Garden-Fresh Corn Salad
- Southwestern Corn Chowder
- Vegetarian Succotash
Please let me know how your esquites turn out in the comments. I love hearing from you.
- Prep Time: 11 minutes
- Cook Time: 9 minutes
- Total Time: 20 minutes
- Yield: 4 servings 1x
- Category: Side dish
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Mexican
- Diet: Vegetarian
This esquites recipe yields a deliciously creamy, tangy and spicy Mexican corn salad. Serve it in a bowl or small individual cups, as it’s typically served in Mexico. Esquites are also called elote en vaso. Recipe yields 4 small side servings and is easily doubled for a crowd; if doubling, give the corn extra time in the pan to turn nicely golden.
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 ½ cups corn kernels (16 ounces frozen or from about 5 fresh cobs)
- ½ teaspoon fine salt
- 2 medium cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- ¼ cup mayonnaise*
- 1 medium finely chopped jalapeño, optional
- 1 tablespoon lime juice, plus extra lime wedges for garnish
- 1 teaspoon chili powder, plus more for sprinkling
- Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional, for extra heat)
- ¼ cup finely grated Cotija cheese**, plus more for sprinkling
- ¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
- Melt the butter in a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium heat. Once melted, add the corn and the salt (if using frozen corn, no need to defrost first). Cook, stirring just every minute or so, until the corn is warmed through and turning golden on the edges, about 5 to 8 minutes (turn the heat down to low if the corn starts jumping out of the pan).
- Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then remove the skillet from the heat. Let the corn cool for a few minutes, then transfer it to a medium mixing bowl.
- Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl (the mayonnaise, optional jalapeño, lime juice, chili powder, optional cayenne, cheese and cilantro). Stir to combine. Season to taste with additional salt, if needed.
- To serve, divide the mixture between small cups and garnish individual servings with a wedge of lime, perhaps a sprinkle of additional cheese and chili powder. Leftovers keep well, refrigerated, for about 4 days.
Recipe adapted from my elote recipe.
*Mayonnaise alternatives: Mayonnaise yields the best flavor. If you prefer an alternative, sour cream or plain Greek yogurt will do.
**Where to find Cotija cheese: Look for Cotija in well-stocked grocery stores or Mexican specialty shops. I buy it at Whole Foods, near the goat cheese. If you can’t find it, try finely crumbled feta cheese or finely grated Parmesan instead.
Make it dairy free: Use olive oil instead of butter. Try a sprinkle of vegan Parmesan in place of the Cotija (use less than called for in the recipe, since the Parm is more salty). Or, just omit the Cotija.
Make it vegan: Use olive oil instead of butter. Try my vegan sour cream in place of the mayo, and a sprinkle of vegan Parmesan in place of the Cotija (use less than called for in the recipe, since the Parm is more salty). Or, you could use a good vegan mayonnaise and omit the cheese.