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This Mexican corn salad recipe (aka Esquites) combines buttered sweet corn, salty cotija cheese, bright cilantro and lime, and zippy jalapeño and garlic with a punchy, creamy dressing to cool it down.

top view of mexican corn salad in stoneware bowl

I wait all year for summer foods. Corn on the cob, tomatoes, and peaches, to name a few. Some things just taste 100 times better when they’re local and in-season!

My favorite way to eat corn will always be the way I grew up with: steamed with butter and salt. But I love playing with new flavors and Mexican flavors in particular always catch my eye.

During the past few years there’s been a lot of hype about Mexican street corn, and for good reason – it’s delicious! Mexican street corn (known as Elotes) is the inspiration for this recipe, which is called Esquites.

mexican corn side dish

Mexican Street Corn Salad Recipe Ingredients and Substitutions

Ingredients Explained

In this section I explain the ingredients and give substitution ideas where applicable. For the full recipe (including the ingredient amounts), see the recipe card below.

Salad Ingredients

mexican corn salad ingredients
  • Corn on the cob – There’s nothing quite like fresh local corn when it’s in season! However, when corn isn’t in season you can use frozen corn or canned corn instead.
  • Unsalted butter – We briefly cook the garlic and jalapeño in a little butter. Because corn + butter is a match made in heaven!
  • Garlic – Adds depth of flavor.
  • Jalapeño – For a little spicy heat.
  • Red onion – This lends a sharp bite that beautifully contrasts the naturally sweet flavor of corn.
  • Cotija cheese – Cotija is a crumbly aged Mexican cheese. You can substitute with feta if you can’t find it.
  • Scallion – Scallion adds a pop of green color and mild onion flavor. You can substitute with chives if you like.
  • Cilantro – The fresh, grassy, herbal flavor of cilantro wakes up this creamy corn salad!
  • Lime – Just like traditional Elotes and Esquites, serve this Mexican corn dish along with fresh lime wedges to squeeze on top. The tart citrusy flavor of fresh lime juice takes it to another level!

Creamy Dressing Ingredients

elote salad dressing ingredients
  • Mayo – Along with sour cream, mayonnaise provides the rich, creamy base for our Esquites salad dressing.
  • Sour cream – Sour cream that we’re used to here in the U.S. is similar to Mexican table cream (aka crèma), but it’s a bit tangier and thicker. I like the tanginess of sour cream here, but feel free to use Mexican crèma instead.
  • Fresh lime juice – Fresh lime juices adds a bright, tart flavor that balances the richness of the mayo and sour cream in this dressing.
  • Chili powder, cumin, salt, black pepper, and smoked paprika – This blend of spices adds a touch of mild, smoky, earthy heat. If you want, you can omit all of these spices and instead add 1 teaspoon Tajín seasoning (or more to taste).

Instructions

how to make mexican street corn salad
  1. Sauté the jalapeño and garlic in butter. (Briefly cooking them helps mellow their flavor.)
  2. Cook the corn on the cob. (I recommend the microwave method for cooking corn!) Let it cool a little, and then cut it off the cob.
  3. Add the corn, red onion, scallion, cotija cheese, and garlic/jalapeño butter to a large bowl and toss gently.
  4. Mix together the ingredients for the creamy dressing in a separate bowl.
adding dressing to esquires corn salad

Drizzle the creamy dressing on top. Stir until the dressing evenly coats the salad. And now you’re ready to garnish the salad and serve it up!

Storage

Store this salad in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days. It will still be good for up to 3 days, but the flavor and texture is better the first 2 days.

Tips

  • You can make this year-round. If corn isn’t in season, you can use frozen or canned corn instead of fresh corn.
  • As a guide for how much corn you’ll need, one medium-large ear of corn yields about 3/4 cup of corn kernels when it’s cut off the cob.
  • If you can’t find cotija cheese, you can substitute with crumbled feta instead.
close up top view of stoneware bowl with mexican esquites

Mexican Street Corn Salad Recipe FAQs

What’s the Difference Between Elotes and Esquites?

Elote is a Mexican street food dish. Grilled sweet ears of corn are slathered in a mixture of crumbled cotija cheese, Mexican sour cream, mayo, garlic, and chili power (or Tajín seasoning). Sprinkle more cotija on top, squeeze on a bit of fresh lime juice, and sprinkle with cilantro. It’s bliss.

Esquites is similar to Elote! Esquites is corn that’s cut off the cob before being mixed with these ingredients; basically, it’s the salad-like version of the dish.

What’s the Difference Between Cotija and Queso Fresco?

Both queso fresco and cotija are white Mexican cheeses that crumble easily. Neither will really melt when heated.

However, cotija is aged and a bit more flavorful (in terms of saltiness and pungency) than queso fresco, which is a fresh cheese.

Can I Use Canned or Frozen Corn Instead of Fresh Corn?

The short answer: YES!

The explanation: When corn is in season locally, fresh corn is the way to go for the best flavor! Its natural sweetness is intense. Outside of summertime, frozen corn or even canned corn can make a decent substitute in this recipe.

If given the choice between frozen or canned corn (when fresh isn’t available), I’d go with frozen. Let it thaw and then drain well before using.

If canned corn is your only option, choose a name brand (such as Libby’s, Del Monte, or Green Giant), preferably something organic for best flavor. This is because I’ve noticed there’s a surprisingly big variation in quality between name brands of canned corn vs. generic canned corn. Rise the canned corn under running water and then drain well before using.

What is the Best Way to Cook Corn to Make Mexican Corn Salad?

The best (and easiest!) way to cook corn for this salad is to microwave it – no joke! The corn steams in its own husks and is sweet, juicy, and tender every time.

Not only does cooking corn on the cob in the microwave yield delicious results, but it’s so easy! Like cooking most things in the microwave, cooking corn is fairly fast. And then after it’s microwaved, the husk just slips right off!

For full instructions on how to cook corn on the microwave, check out this post.

What Do You Serve with This Mexican Corn Side Dish?

More Latin American Inspired Recipes to Try

mexican corn salad (esquites)

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Mexican Corn Salad Recipe (Esquites)

Prep Time12 minutes
Cook Time12 minutes
Yields: 6 servings
This Mexican corn salad recipe (aka Esquites) combines buttered sweet corn, salty cotija cheese, bright cilantro and lime, and zippy jalapeño and garlic with a punchy, creamy dressing to cool it down.

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Ingredients
 

Salad:

  • 4 large ears corn on the cob
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1 jalapeño de-seeded and minced
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 3/4 cup crumbled cotija cheese divided
  • 2 scallions green and white parts, thinly sliced, divided
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves for the top
  • 1 jalapeño thinly sliced, for garnish (optional)
  • 1 lime cut into 6 wedges, for serving

Dressing:

Instructions
 

  • Cook the corn and cut it off the cob. (The easiest way to do this is in the microwave!) Let the corn cool to room temperature.
    cutting corn off the cob in a large bowl
  • Add the butter to a small skillet over medium heat. Once melted, add the garlic and minced jalapeño and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat.
    sauteeing garlic and jalapeno in butter
  • Add the corn, red onion, 1/2 cup crumbled cotija cheese, 1/2 of the sliced scallion, and the garlic/jalapeno butter to a large bowl. Toss gently.
    mexican street corn salad in bowl before stirring
  • Stir together all ingredients for the dressing in a medium bowl. Add the dressing to the corn mixture and toss gently.
    elotes with creamy dressing before stirring
  • Transfer the salad to a serving bowl and top with the remaining 1/4 cup crumbled cotija cheese, 1/2 of the sliced scallion, the cilantro leaves, and the sliced jalapeño.
  • Serve along with the lime wedges to squeeze on top.

Notes

  • How to Cook Corn on the Cob: For full directions on how to cook corn on the cob in the microwave, check out this post.
  • Storage: Store this salad in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days.
  • Spices in the Dressing: This blend of spices (chili powder, cumin, salt, black pepper, and smoked paprika) adds a touch of mild, smoky, earthy heat. If you want, you can omit all of these spices and instead add 1 teaspoon Tajín seasoning (or more to taste).

Nutrition

Calories: 206kcal | Carbohydrates: 16g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 33mg | Sodium: 368mg | Potassium: 247mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 540IU | Vitamin C: 16mg | Calcium: 115mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutritional information is automatically calculated and should be used as an approximate.

Course: Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: Easy Corn Salad Recipe, Esquites, Esquites Recipe, Mexican Corn Salad, Mexican Corn Salad Recipe, Mexican Corn Side Dish, Mexican Street Corn Salad, Mexican Street Corn Salad Recipe

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mexican corn salad recipe pin

This post was first published on An Edible Mosaic on June 15, 2018 and updated on June 7, 2021.

Faith, author of An Edible Mosaic.
About Faith

I’m the writer, recipe developer, photographer, and food stylist behind this blog. I love finding the human connection through something we all do every day: eat! Food is a common ground that we can all relate to, and our tables tell a story. It’s my goal to inspire you to get in the kitchen, try something new, and find a favorite you didn’t know you had.

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