The weather is getting warmer and that can only mean one thing: an explosion of Mexican street food carts popping up on every corner in the neighborhood where I do all my grocery shopping.
Among the carts that make my mouth water the most is one from which the sweet smell of roasted corn wafts through the spring air – and through my car window enticing me to stop for a quick treat. Yep, you guessed it: esquites.
The key ingredients of this antojito are roasted corn, lime juice, salt and dried ground chile piquin. And then there are the customizations and variations on the snack that can make it so unique from place to place. Sometimes sauteed with butter or onions and epazote, it can also be topped with mayonesa or crema Mexicana. And my favorite touch: a sprinkle of queso cotija, a dry, crumbly cheese with a little bite.
It’s usually served in a Styrofoam or plastic cup on the street, but don’t let the simple presentation fool you. Serve this at a spring or summer backyard barbecue and impress your guests with this simple treat they’re sure to love. Or just make it at home as a weekend snack!
Part of the beauty of this dish is that you can make changes or adjustments to your own tastes very easily without compromising any kind of measurements or balance so long as you follow the base of the recipe by roasting the corn either with butter or by adding a little water to the corn once you’ve cut it to help create a little juice. The portions of the lime juice, chile and toppings is up to you. The end result should be a sweet, sour, salty and spicy taste in every bite.
- 4 medium ears of corn (should produce about 2-2 1/2 cups)
- 1/2 tbsp butter per ear of corn and a sprinkle of kosher salt (optional)
- a small handful of fresh epazote leaves
- juice of 1-2 limes
- a few tablespoons of queso cotija
- ground chile piquin and kosher salt OR tajín (lime salt with ground chile) to taste
- mayonnaise (optional; about 1 tbsp per serving)
You’ll also need:
Remove the husk and all the silk from the corn and gently rinse under cool water. Place two ears of corn together in a sheet of aluminum foil and cut the butter into small pieces (if you’re using butter) and place it over and between the ears. Add a sprinkle of kosher salt if you like. You can also add the epazote in there if you plan to use it – you can either tear the leaves into little pieces or leave them whole, and it’s up to you as to whether you want to discard them after cooking or include them in dish after you cut the corn. Seal up the aluminum foil tightly. Do the same with the other two ears. Grill the corn in the aluminum foil for about 15-20 minutes over medium to medium-high heat. When they’re done, remove from the grill and let cool slightly. Open very carefully so you don’t burn your fingers with the steam. Some of the kernels should have turned brown or slightly black.
Placing the corn ears on one end and using a sharp knife, cut the kernels away from the cob. Place cut kernels into a mixing bowl and add any juice that run off the cob while cutting the corn to the bowl. If there’s not much juice, add about a quarter cup of warm water.
Add the juice of one lime (or more to taste) and stir. At this time, either add kosher salt, stirring to incorporate, and then stir in ground chile piquin, or add tajín and stir well to incorporate.
Distribute into small cups. If desired, put a little dollop of mayonnaise or crema on top and sprinkle liberally with queso cotija. The esquites pictured here were made with tajín, and without epazote and mayonnaise but a test batch I made the day before had them both. It’s all up to you! Obviously, it’s a little healthier without the butter and mayonnaise but you can experiment to see what you like.
- How do you like your esquites?