Esquites (Warm Mexican Corn Salad)

Esquites, a warm Mexican corn salad, is a sweet and savory explosion of flavors. I recommend peak season fresh corn, but frozen works too!

Bowl of Esquites Topped with Cilantro, Cotija Cheese, and Ancho Chile Pepper Surrounded by Bowls of Toppings

Simply Recipes / Susy Villasuso

Esquites will always remind me of my childhood—a walk down to the main plaza in downtown San Luis Potosi meant we were going to see the street vendors. Of all the vendors, from ones selling potato chips served with salsa and lime to freshly fried churros and fruit ice lollies, I was most excited to see a man on a bike pushing a little cart with a big pot of steamy esquites.

Esquites, also known as elote en vaso, is a very special way to prepare corn in Mexico. White Mexican corn kernels are gently fried in butter, then cooked with epazote leaves (an herb) and chiles. Once the pot of corn releases its distinctive sweet aroma, it is ready to serve with a variety of toppings. 

Traditionally served hot in plastic or Styrofoam cups with some of the cooking liquid, the esquites is topped with mayo, a dollop of crema, ground chiles, a good amount of lime juice, a sprinkle of queso cotija, and a generous dash of spicy salsa. It’s a flavor bomb and a party in your mouth—from spicy and creamy to sour and sweet.

At home, I serve esquites as a starter or a snack. It is nice to serve my guests a bowl of warm buttery corn and set out the fixings on the side so that everyone can customize their own. Then I follow up with tacos for a nice Mexican-themed dinner party.

Bowl of Esquites Topped with Cilantro, Cotija Cheese, and Ancho Chile Pepper Surrounded by Bowls of Toppings

Simply Recipes / Susy Villasuso

The Best Corn for Esquites

If you live in Mexico, it is easy to source white corn elotes, the most authentic corn for esquites. Elotes means “corn.” They are less sweet than the sweet corn found in the U.S.. Now for the rest of us who live outside of Mexico, I recommend the following:

Fresh corn: For this recipe, I use fresh sweet corn—peak summer corn always tastes better. 

Frozen corn: Uncooked, frozen corn is a good alternative for when corn is not in season. Simply defrost it before using.

Canned corn: This is my last resort. Warm it up with the butter and salt—no need to cook it for long time as it is already cooked.

What is Cotija Cheese? 

Cotija is a type of cheese from the town of Cotija in Michoacan. The cheese is made with cow's milk and is aged for about 100 days. It is slightly salty and commonly used to garnish snacks, tostadas, beans, tacos, and even salads. Instead of cotija cheese, use queso fresco, feta, or Parmesan cheese.

Bowl of Esquites Topped with Cilantro, Cotija Cheese, and Ancho Chile Pepper Surrounded by Bowls of Toppings

Simply Recipes / Susy Villasuso

Easy Ingredient Substitutions 

  • Can't find Mexican crema? Use sour cream or crème fraîche instead.
  • Chile powder: I like to use ground ancho, guajillo, or piquín chiles or tajin.
  • Queso fresco: grated or crumbled queso fresco can be used, as well as cotija cheese.

How to Plan Ahead

Want to save yourself some time? Cook the corn the day before you plan to serve it, but don’t add any toppings. Fully cool it down, transfer it into a lidded container, and keep it refrigerated. Right before serving, reheat it in a saucepan over medium heat. Then you can add the toppings! 

Bowl of Esquites Topped with Cilantro, Cotija Cheese, and Ancho Chile Pepper Surrounded by Bowls of Toppings

Simply Recipes / Susy Villasuso

Celebrate Peak Corn Season 

Esquites (Warm Mexican Corn Salad)

Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Servings 4 to 6 servings
Yield 7 cups

Ingredients

  • 6 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked

  • 4 tablespoons (56g) salted butter

  • 2 cloves garlic

  • 1 dry bay leaf

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

  • 2 cups water

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise

  • 1/4 cup ground ancho chiles or Tajín, divided

  • 4 limes, divided 

  • 7 ounces (about 200g) grated queso fresco or cotija cheese

  • 1 cup chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems 

  • 3/4 cup (about 200g) Mexican crema

  • Cholula hot sauce, to taste

Method

  1. Prepare the corn: 

    Position a shucked ear of corn upright in a large bowl. Use a sharp knife to shave the corn kernels from the cob, working down towards the bottom of the bowl. Remove the kernels like this for all the ears of the corn. Discard all but 2 cobs. You’ll add it to the corn while it cooks.

    Corn Cut Off Cob into a Bowl Using a Knife for Esquites

    Simply Recipes / Susy Villasuso

  2. Cook the corn: 

    Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter and let it melt. Add the corn, reserved cobs, garlic, bay leaf, and salt, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring continuously. Add 2 cups water and bring it up to a boil. Then, reduce the heat to low heat and cover your pot with a lid. Simmer the corn for about 25 minutes, until cooked through.

    Corn Kernals, Cob, Bayleaf Cooking in a Pot for Esquites

    Simply Recipes / Susy Villasuso

    Simple Tip!

    The two corn cobs flavor the esquites even more as everything cooks together.

  3. Season the esquites: 

    Remove the saucepan from the heat. Scoop out and discard the garlic, bay leaf, and cobs. Stir in the mayo, 2 tablespoons ground ancho chili, the juice of 2 limes, half of the queso fresco, and the cilantro. Taste and add more salt, if necessary.

    Mayo, Pepper, and Cilantro Added to Cooked Corn for Esquites

    Simply Recipes / Susy Villasuso

  4. Serve the esquites: 

    Scoop the corn, including the cooking liquid, into serving bowls. I set out the fixings (crema, ground chile, limes, queso fresco, and hot sauce) on the side so that everyone can add them to their liking. I top mine with a spoonful each of crema and queso fresco, a sprinkle of ground chile, a squeeze of fresh lime, and a few dashes of hot sauce.

    Simple Tip!

    Keep some of the cooking liquid to serve warm along with the corn. It's so flavorful!

    Refrigerate leftovers tightly covered for up to 3 days. Reheat it in a saucepan over medium heat until nice and steamy, 5 to 6 minutes. You can also reheat it in the microwave for about 1 minute.

    You can freeze any leftovers for up to 1 month. Defrost fully overnight in the fridge before reheating.

    Did you love the recipe? Leave us stars below?

    Bowl of Esquites Topped with Cilantro, Cotija Cheese, and Ancho Chile Pepper Surrounded by Bowls of Toppings

    Simply Recipes / Susy Villasuso

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
637 Calories
57g Fat
28g Carbs
11g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
×
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 637
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 57g 73%
Saturated Fat 28g 141%
Cholesterol 126mg 42%
Sodium 2994mg 130%
Total Carbohydrate 28g 10%
Dietary Fiber 5g 20%
Total Sugars 5g
Protein 11g
Vitamin C 24mg 118%
Calcium 385mg 30%
Iron 3mg 19%
Potassium 385mg 8%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.