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In the Kitchen With Ricky: Mexican street corn salad is a late-summer delight

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 8, 2021

By Ricky Webster For The Spokesman-Review

The word esquites literally translates to toasted corn, and I can’t think of a better way to serve up this delicious summer crop. You may have heard of esquites’ more popular cousin elote, which is also sold by street vendors in Mexico.

Elote is served boiled or grilled and right on the cob, whereas esquites are kernels toasted in a pan and served in a cup, making it a bit less messy to consume. Both are sweet, salty, spiced and sour in this dish of corn, cheese, chilies and lime.

The reason I chose to celebrate esquites this week is because it’s quick and easy, versatile and a great veggie-focused base for a late-summer meal. The sweetness of fresh summer corn is perfect for this dish, and I encourage you to take advantage of its bounty and availability.

When fresh corn isn’t so prevalent (here in a few weeks), feel free to use frozen kernels. Esquites are delicious topped with a few slices of grilled meats, roasted vegetables, avocado, shredded cabbage or even a fried egg for a flavor-packed one-bowl meal.

If for some reason you have leftovers, try mixing it with cooked pasta and chill for a fresh new take on pasta salad.

Esquites (Mexican street corn salad)

5 medium ears of corn, kernels removed (about 2½ cups)

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

¼ small white onion, diced

1 garlic clove, minced

½ teaspoon kosher salt or more to taste

Juice of 2 limes

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons sour cream or Mexican crema

3 tablespoons crumbled cotija cheese, plus more for serving (grated parmesan cheese can substitute)

½ teaspoon chili powder to taste (serve more on the side)

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste (optional)

1 serrano or jalapeno pepper, diced (optional)

2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped (optional)

Melt the butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the olive oil, serrano (if using) and onion.

Sauté for 2-3 minutes or until the onion begins to turn translucent. Add in the corn kernels, garlic and salt and continue to cook for another 4-5 minutes.

In a separate bowl, mix together the cilantro (if using), lime juice, mayonnaise, sour cream, cheese, chili powder and cayenne (if using).

Remove the corn from the heat and add to the combined cheese and spice mixture. Gently stir to combine and taste for seasoning. Adjust as needed to your liking.

Serve family-style or divide into serving bowls and serve with lime wedges, additional cheese and a side of chili powder for a little more kick.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Note: I like spicy food, so that is why I have included fresh chili and cayenne. If you’re not a fan of the heat, feel free to leave it out or cut down the heat by removing the seeds from the serrano or jalapeno.

Cilantro adds a nice fresh taste and a pop of color but isn’t traditionally served with esquites, so feel free to leave it out if you choose.

The chili powder is usually served on the side, so feel free to serve more with it. Add a pinch, stir and taste and then add more for that sweet and smoky chili flavor.

Local award-winning chef and Rind and Wheat owner Ricky Webster can be reached at ricky@rindandwheat.com. Follow Webster on Instagram @rickycaker.

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