Esquites (Warm Mexican Corn Salad)

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.




6 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked
4 tablespoons (56gsalted 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 200gMexican crema
Cholula hot sauce, to taste


  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

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