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Mexican street sweetcorn salad

Sat, 2 September, 2023

Sweetcorn off the cob, charred in a frying pan and mixed with a cheesy, spicy dressing. It’s a recipe based on Mexican esquites, from Kenji Lopez-Alt’s The Food Lab cookbook.

mexican street sweetcorn salad

My Mexican dream

I have never been to Mexico. Hey, I’ve not even been to New Mexico though I came close last year.

I have an unrequited love for Mexican food, even the bastardised versions that are available in Europe. As with all unfulfilled affections, I have an idolised, almost Platonic image of street food in Tijuana, taquerias in Veracruz and comidas to die for in Mexico City.

I’m aware that the reality is probably far from rosy-tinted. As everywhere, in Mexico there is better food and not so good food, or food that would not necessarily tickle my buds.

But let me dream, okay? Let me dream of a taco al pastor wrapped in fresh homemade tortilla and an elote on a stick.

mexican esquites

What is elote?

As it’s clear from the above, I only know elotes by hearsay which means Internet. But the hearsay sounds gorgeous: freshly grilled corn on the cob slathered with a buttery, cheesy, spicy and herby topping.

Considering that in the UK I struggle to buy fresh and ripe sweetcorn in husk, it’s fairy tale stuff.

Even if I wanted to approximately replicate it at my home, it would probably be cobettes grown in Senegal (or Sussex if I’m lucky) by way of Waitrose vegetable aisle. They are never very fresh, often sugary and not worth the price.

Fruit and veg markets or farmers markets are a much better bet, and the best of all are Pick Your Own farms. Just about now, in late August (weather permitting) the ears are ripening and the feast is viable.

But as British barbecue is a fickle beast, I might not be successful grilling those ears in their husks outdoors. Thus esquites might be the way to go.

corn on the cob

What is esquite?

It’s also known as Mexican street corn and it’s elote in a bowl, or rather a cup when sold in the street. Eaten with a spoon, it’s less messy, more civilised and – the best part – just as wonderful cooked indoors as an elote cooked on a barbecue.

And the recipe below is just that: esquites or Mexican street sweetcorn salad, by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.

street corn salad

How to cook sweetcorn?

It really doesn’t matter how you cook it if it’s fresh, ripe and with the husk on. As to how to best store sweetcorn, as Kenji says, the best method is – don’t. It really should be eaten fresh, like asparagus and peas.

It needs minimal effort: in the UK we often cook it for far too long, thus ending up with dried out, shrivelled kernels.

Cooking in husk

That’s easy: no mess, no shucking and the outcome is excellent as the husk works like a perfect steam oven, protecting the kernels from drying.

You can obviously cook it on a barbecue, turning it over until charred all round, but the same will be achieved in the oven. Slip it straight onto a rack, in the husk, the oven preheated to 200C/400F/gas 6 for about 25-30 minutes, with one turning over of the ears halfway thorough.

But even easier and my favourite way is to microwave the ears. It takes about 3 minutes per ear on full power, without the need to rinse or cover them.

The ears in husks contain enough moisture to cook and protect the sweetcorn and it’s super-gorgeous cooked like this.

mexican charred sweetcorn

Cooking kernels

But this recipe is for those poor souls who buy their ears shucked, or just prefer to cook it that way.

To slice off the kernels, you need a large bowl, a sharp knife and the ear standing upright in the bowl. The fresher the corn, the easier the kernels will pop off and the juicier they will be.

They can now be cooked in a myriad of ways: with double cream, olive oil, bacon fat, butter or in milk, and seasoned however you fancy.

The seasoning mix for Mexican street salad

I suspect they might not slather the ears of corn with mayo in Mexico but Kenji’s idea works very well.

Mayonnaise is mixed with fresh, salty cheese like feta or Pecorino (since Cotija is not easily available in Europe), herbs and spring onions, a chilli, a garlic clove and lime juice.

It’s mashed to a paste and waits in a bowl for the kernels to be cooked.

sweetcorn salad ingredients

Popping the corn

The kernels can be cooked gently in a little oil in a saucepan, but where’s the fun in that? The popping method works a treat as long as you dodge an occasional bullet of a kernel shooting off the frying pan.

The pan, or wok if you prefer, needs to be heated full blast and the oil in it shimmering. When you add the sweetcorn, it will immediately start to pop, crackle and spit.

Keep the sweetcorn layer in until well charred underneath, for a couple of minutes, before turning or tossing it over to the other side. Repeat that, protecting yourself and the kitchen surfaces with a splatter guard if you have one, until the sweetcorn is all charred.

cooking corn in the wok

Scrape it all into the bowl with the cheesy paste, stir thoroughly and enjoy immensely – with a warm tortilla or, fusion-wise, a fluffy bazlama or naan.

making sweetcorn salad

More sweetcorn recipes

Roast chicken breast with butter fried spicy sweetcorn and crispy baked feta cheese crumbs, three great recipes in one wonderful dish.

Chilli con corn – vegetarian sweetcorn chilli with beans goes well with tortillas, baked potatoes or nachos. Corn on the cob cooked with classic chilli flavours – the fresher the ears of corn, the better!

Sweetcorn tart with cheese topping on a crusty, cheesy base of pizza dough. Vegetarian and gorgeous, for lunch or dinner. Shop bought dough is okay.

More Mexican recipes

Corn tortilla chip nachos with easy homemade beef chilli, sweetcorn and cheese. Homemade nachos are the perfect recipe for a crowd-pleasing supper or snack.

Quick pickled jalapeño peppers, crunchy and sweet and hot. The best pickled jalapeños are homemade, and these are ready within about an hour. Make sure you wear gloves!

Breakfast or all-day quesadilla recipe; better than a grilled cheese sandwich. Filling of mushroom, tomato, avocado and/or bacon in any combination, vegetarian or not. It’s easiest to flip quesadilla when it’s folded in half over the filling, using a fish slice.

mexican street corn salad

Mexican street sweetcorn salad

Servings: 4Time: 20 minutes


  • 4 ears of sweetcorn, shucked
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 60g (2 oz.) feta or Pecorino cheese
  • 4-5 spring onions, green part only
  • ½ small bunch fresh coriander
  • 1 fresh jalapeño pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 lime
  • mild chilli powder, to taste
  • salt, to taste
  • 2 tbsp groundnut oil


1. Hold each ear of sweetcorn vertically in a shallow bowl and slice the kernels off. Set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, add the mayonnaise. Crumble in the feta or grate the Pecorino.

3. Finely slice the spring onions and coriander, and add to the bowl.

4. Core the jalapeño, peel the garlic and chop both very finely. Add to the bowl, with juice squeezed from half the lime.

5. Heat a wok or a large non-stick frying pan over high heat. Add the oil, and when it’s shimmering, add the sweetcorn. Leave it in to pop and crackle for 2 minutes. Cover the pan/wok with a splash guard if you have it, otherwise stay well clear of the occasionally shooting kernels.

6. Toss the sweetcorn and char it on the other side for 2 minutes. Continue tossing or turning over until it’s all charred, about 8 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and let the sweetcorn calm down a little.

7. Scrape it into the bowl with the other ingredients and stir well. Add some chilli powder and salt to taste and serve hot or at room temperature.

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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