Mexican Street Corn Salad (Esquites) Recipe

All the delights of elotes in salad form, and you don't even have to fire up the grill to make it.

Esquites in a green ceramic bowl with a serving spoon
Esquites is a less messy, no-grill-required way to enjoy all the flavors of Mexican elotes.

Diana Chistruga

Why This Recipe Works

  • A combination of garlic, mayonnaise, cheese, lime, and chile in the sauce ensures the salad comes out incredibly flavorful.
  • Cutting the kernels off the cob first, then cooking them over high heat, allows you to get a nice char on the corn without having to use the grill.

Smoky, sweet, spicy, and tangy, esquites are the off-the-cob version of elotes—grilled on-the-cob Mexican street corn slathered with creamy, cheesy, lime-scented, chile-flecked sauce.

Elotes are a staple on my balcony grill over the summer. It's about as easy and inexpensive a dish as you can think of, and there is nothing—really, nothing—that'll get snatched up and eaten as fast as a hot plate of 'em. I'll usually count on making at least an ear and a half per person.

To speed things up, I'll keep a big bowl of the sauce mixture—that's garlicky mayonnaise, crumbled Cotija cheese (feta or Romano also works well), chopped cilantro, lime juice, and a pinch of chile powder—at the ready. As soon as my corn comes off the grill, all nice, hot, and charred-like, it gets a dunk in the sauce, then a pass-off to a waiting mouth. That first bite of hot, charred corn, when the cheesy sauce inevitably gets smeared all over your cheeks, just tastes of summer to me. Delicious, fat-smothered summer.

But there are times when a more...demure approach must be taken. When there are prim and proper aunts or brand-new ties involved, for instance. On those occasions, I go for esquites, the spoon-ready version of elotes.

Rather than slathering the corn kernels with sauce, you slice the kernels off after cooking and toss them with the sauce, in a sort of hot salad that's decorous enough to consume with impunity in mixed company.

Personally, I tend to make esquites when I don't want to bother firing up the grill, because, truth be told, it's just as tasty and easy to make indoors as it is out. The key to cooking esquites indoors is to remove the corn kernels from the cob before you cook them. I cook the kernels in a ripping-hot wok (you can use a regular skillet, though it's a bit messier), letting them sit in place until the sugars caramelize and a deep, dark char develops, before tossing and letting them char again.

When this is done right, a few kernels should jump and pop, just like popcorn. I've had kernels leap clear across the apartment on occasion. A careful eye and a splatter guard will protect you from any corn-kernel mortar fire.

Once the corn is charred, I toss it with the remaining ingredients while it's still hot. The salad can be served straight away, but it's just as good at room temperature, making this an ideal picnic dish.


Click Play to See This Flavorful Mexican Street Corn Salad Come Together

July 2012

Recipe Details

Mexican Street Corn Salad (Esquites) Recipe

Cook 20 mins
Active 15 mins
Total 20 mins
Serves 4 servings

All the delights of elotes in salad form, and you don't even have to fire up the grill to make it.


  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) vegetable oil

  • 4 ears fresh corn, shucked, kernels removed (about 3 cups fresh corn kernels)

  • Kosher salt

  • 2 ounces (60g) feta or Cotija cheese, finely crumbled

  • 1/2 cup finely sliced scallions, green parts only

  • 1/2 cup (1/2 ounce) fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped

  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and stemmed, finely chopped

  • 1 to 2 medium cloves garlic, pressed or minced on a Microplane grater (about 1 to 2 teaspoons)

  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) mayonnaise

  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) fresh lime juice from 1 lime

  • Chile powder or hot chile flakes, to taste


  1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet or wok over high heat until shimmering. Add corn kernels, season to taste with salt, toss once or twice, and cook without moving until charred on one side, about 2 minutes. Toss corn, stir, and repeat until charred on second side, about 2 minutes longer. Continue tossing and charring until corn is well charred all over, about 10 minutes total. Transfer to a large bowl.

    Collage of fresh corn kernals being cooked in a stainless steel pan. In clockwise order starting in the top left quadrant: corn kernals being poured into the pan; corn kernals being seasoned with salt; corn kernals being tossed in the pan; corn kernals after having been charred

    Diana Chistruga

  2. Add cheese, scallions, cilantro, jalapeño, garlic, mayonnaise, lime juice, and chile powder and toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and more chile powder to taste. Serve immediately.

    A two-image collage of the esquites before all of the ingredients are mixed in. The left image shows the ingredients on top of the charred corn, and the right image shows the dish completely mixed together.

    Diana Chistruga

Special Equipment

A large wok or large nonstick skillet, Microplane grater

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
276 Calories
18g Fat
26g Carbs
7g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 276
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 18g 23%
Saturated Fat 4g 20%
Cholesterol 17mg 6%
Sodium 361mg 16%
Total Carbohydrate 26g 10%
Dietary Fiber 3g 12%
Total Sugars 6g
Protein 7g
Vitamin C 15mg 75%
Calcium 135mg 10%
Iron 1mg 5%
Potassium 346mg 7%
*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.)