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When it comes to summer salads, nothing gets the party started quite like tangy, spicy Mexican Corn Salad, aka esquites. It’s the spoonable, easy-to-eat cousin of elotes, or Mexican Street Corn, and it can’t wait to be on your next summer barbecue menu!
If you’re ever in Mexico and visit a market or outdoor zòcalo, you might see a few different vendors selling fragrant roasted corn, either on the stick or spooned into paper cups with a spoon. Buy one of each, and enjoy every bite! It’s a delicacy in Mexico, because there are so many interesting varieties of fresh corn that are almost impossible to find in the United States.
Thankfully, you don’t need a specialty corn to make this salad. Fresh ears of summer corn get roasted in the oven until sweet and soft—but you can throw them on the grill, too—and turned into a creamy, luscious salad that’s just phenomenal with steaks, tacos, and grilled chicken.
It’s smoky, spicy, sweet, creamy, and fresh, all at the same time. Little sweet kernels of corn, green chilies, cilantro, lime… crumbly cotija cheese…there’s nothing better.
Making a double batch of Mexican Corn Salad? Click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
How to make Mexican Corn Salad:
- Once you remove the raw kernels from the cob, spread them out on a rimmed baking sheet and roast them in the oven. Of course, you can grill the whole cob if you have space on the coals or you don’t want to heat up the kitchen!
- Then make the Mexican Corn Salad lime dressing: stir together the canned green chiles, garlic, onion, most of the cotija (or crumbled feta) cheese, cilantro, lime juice, mayonnaise, sour cream, Chile powder, cayenne pepper, and salt.
- Once the corn is finished roasting, remove it from the oven and let the corn cool for a few minutes. Finally, toss everything together until well blended.
- Move the corn salad into a beautiful bowl and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top just before serving.
Mexican Corn Salad with black beans:
Bean lovers, rejoice! A can of drained, rinsed black beans mixed into this recipe wouldn’t be out of place—far from it. You can also cook your own black beans from dried and use them.
Mexican Corn Salad with frozen corn:
Sure thing. You can definitely use bags of good quality frozen corn and roast them according to the recipe. I also happen to know that Trader Joe’s sells excellent frozen roasted corn that has a nice grill-y taste; all you have to do is let it thaw. Summer corn salad couldn’t be easier!
Mexican Corn Salad with canned corn:
It may not quite have the same crisp freshness, but if you have a favorite canned corn brand and the fresh stuff just isn’t in season yet, go ahead and make Mexican Corn Salad with the canned corn. Just watch your seasoning—canned corn may contain more sodium and you may want to cut back on the salt.
Other things to add to Mexican street corn salad:
Jicama: tiny diced bits of crunchy jicama add a lot of crunch–perfect in the summertime.
Avocado: creamy cubes of diced avocado give some extra richness and may just make the perfect dip for corn chips or tostadas.
Mango: sweet sweet mango make corn salad a little more tropical; it goes nicely with the smoky chilies, too.
Fritos: coarsely crushed corn chips, like Fritos, make a fantastic addition to this recipe. Try this version of Frito corn salad, and then please leave a comment about how you loved it.
Vegan Mexican Corn Salad: switch out the cheese, mayonnaise, and sour cream for your preferred plant-based substitutes. Add a little more lime juice if it needs it. Easy!
Mexican Corn Salad with cilantro or not?
If cilantro tastes like soap to you, or you find it overpowering, garnish the salad with minced parsley, chives, or a sprinkle of fresh lime zest.
What is cotija cheese?
Cotija is a cow’s milk hard cheese that originated in Mexico. It is named after the town of Cotija, Michoacán. It’s usually sold already crumbled in bags, but you can also find it in solid discs. It is firm in texture, and has a saltiness that tastes great with corn.
Compared to queso fresco, a young, fresh cheese, cotija is dry and crumbly. Queso fresco is softer, a little creamier and much more mild in flavor than cotija.
Look for cotija cheese in the cheese section of a well-stocked grocery store or at Mexican markets. A good substitute for cotija cheese in this recipe is crumbled feta cheese.
Can you eat Mexican Corn Salad warm or cold?
Freshly made, this salad can definitely be eaten while the corn is still warm off the grill or out of the oven. It certainly doesn’t need to stay warm, however. Because it’s made with mayo and sour cream, it should be stored in the refrigerator if you’re making it in advance, or immediately after you’ve served it.
Mexican Corn Salad (Esquites)
- In a large pot, bring 4 quarts water to boil. Add corn and boil until bright yellow and tender, about 4 minutes. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet to cool.
- In a large bowl, add cooled corn, mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese, and lime juice. Stir to combine, then sprinkle with Tajin or chili powder. Garnish with cilantro and serve with Doritos.
- Corn: To substitute fresh corn, boil 8 ears of corn in 4 quarts boiling water for about 4 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly, then cut the kernels off the cob. You should have about 6 cups kernels.
- Parmesan: Look for the grated Parm in the green shaker can. This might sound inauthentic, but it is closest to what street vendors actually use in the non-touristy parts of Mexico. Or, substitute Cotjia cheese or feta cheese.
- Tajin seasoning: Tajin is a mild chili powder with a bright lime flavor that tastes great on Elote. Or, try regular chili powder, ancho chile powder, or even cayenne pepper (if you love the heat).
- Doritos: Nacho Cheese Doritos are the preferred dipper in rural Mexico. Fritos (corn chips) or tortilla chips are good, too.
- Yield: This recipe makes 8 cups of Esquites.
- Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- Make ahead: Cook the corn a day in advance and store in the refrigerator. Bring the corn to room temperature before assembling the rest of the salad.
Meggan Hill is the Executive Chef and CEO of Culinary Hill, a popular digital publication in the food space. She loves to combine her Midwestern food memories with her culinary school education to create her own delicious take on modern family fare. Millions of readers visit Culinary Hill each month for meticulously-tested recipes as well as skills and tricks for ingredient prep, cooking ahead, menu planning, and entertaining. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the iCUE Culinary Arts program at College of the Canyons.