Mexican Corn Salad

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Mexican corn salad, also known as “esquites,” is a vibrant and flavorful dish that has captured the hearts of food enthusiasts both within and beyond Mexico’s borders. This delightful salad is a deconstructed version of the beloved Mexican street food “elote,” which consists of grilled corn on the cob slathered with a mixture of mayonnaise, chili powder, lime, and cheese. In this article, we will delve into the cultural significance of Mexican corn salad, its ingredients, variations, serving suggestions, and why it has become an international sensation.

Cultural Significance

Corn, or “maíz,” is a staple in Mexican cuisine and has been a fundamental part of Mexican culture for thousands of years. It is not only a primary food source but also a symbol of life and fertility in indigenous cultures. Mexican corn salad pays homage to this heritage by showcasing corn as the star ingredient, celebrating its versatility and the rich agricultural history of Mexico.

The dish is particularly popular as a street food sold in cups for easy consumption while on the go. Vendors can be found in town squares and at local markets, serving up this warm salad with its signature combination of creamy, tangy, spicy, and salty flavors that dance on the palate.

Ingredients and Flavors

While recipes can vary, the essence of Mexican corn salad lies in its simple yet robust ingredients. The base of the salad is sweet corn, which provides a juicy crunch and natural sugariness. To this, a variety of elements are added to create a complex flavor profile: the creaminess of mayonnaise or Mexican crema, the tanginess of fresh lime juice, the saltiness of cotija cheese, and the heat from chili powder or sliced jalapeños.

Other common additions include chopped cilantro for freshness, diced red onion for sharpness, and sometimes a hint of garlic. Each ingredient plays a role in building the depth of flavor that makes this salad so irresistible.

Variations Across Regions

Mexican corn salad is a dish that invites creativity, and as such, it has many regional variations throughout Mexico and in other countries where it has gained popularity. Some versions use roasted or sautéed corn to bring out a smoky flavor, while others stick to boiled or steamed corn for a softer texture. Avocado, black beans, bell peppers, and tomatoes are also frequently included to add color and nutrition.

In the United States and other parts of the world, Mexican corn salad has been adapted to suit local tastes and ingredient availability. For instance, some might add a splash of hot sauce or use feta cheese as a substitute for cotija. The spirit of the dish, however, remains the same: a celebration of corn and the bold flavors of Mexican cuisine.

Serving Suggestions

Mexican corn salad is incredibly versatile when it comes to serving options. It can be enjoyed on its own as a light meal or as a side dish complementing a variety of main courses. It pairs exceptionally well with grilled meats, tacos, and fish, making it a perfect addition to barbecues and summer picnics. It’s also a popular choice for potlucks and family gatherings because it can be made in large quantities and is easily transportable.

For a more authentic experience, serve the salad in small cups or bowls, garnished with extra cheese, a sprinkle of chili powder, and a wedge of lime on the side. This method of presentation pays tribute to the street food origins of the dish and allows guests to customize their portion to their liking.

Why It’s Loved Worldwide

The international appeal of Mexican corn salad can be attributed to its balance of flavors and textures, as well as its simplicity. It’s a dish that can be quickly thrown together with minimal cooking, making it accessible to cooks of all skill levels. Additionally, its bright and cheerful appearance makes it a visually appealing choice for any dining occasion.

Moreover, Mexican corn salad embodies the fusion of traditional and modern culinary practices, bridging the gap between rustic street food and contemporary gourmet cuisine. Its popularity around the globe is a testament to the universal love for dishes that are both comforting and exciting to the senses.

Mexican corn salad is more than just a side dish; it’s a culinary expression of Mexico’s rich agricultural legacy and its enduring influence on global cuisine. With its combination of sweet, savory, creamy, and spicy elements, it captures the essence of Mexican flavor in every bite. Whether served at a casual family dinner or a festive outdoor feast, Mexican corn salad is sure to delight and satisfy with its unique taste and cultural significance. As it continues to spread across the world, this humble salad stands as a reminder of the power of food to transcend borders and bring people together.

Mexican Corn Salad

Mexican corn salad is a zesty, colorful side dish featuring sweet corn, fresh vegetables, and bold spices, often finished with lime juice and cotija cheese.
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Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 18 minutes
Course Side Dish
Servings 12 servings


For the dressing:

  • 2 tablespoon Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

For the corn tortillas:

  • 6 6- inch corn tortillas
  • tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

For the corn:

  • 8 ears of fresh corn kernels removed

For the salad:

  • 2 medium hearts of Romaine
  • 1 large mango peeled, pitted and cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 1 large bell pepper diced about ½ inch
  • 1 medium red onion diced about ½ inch
  • 1 large seedless cucumber diced about ½ inch
  • 2 medium jalapeño peppers finely chopped
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro finely chopped
  • ¼ cup cotija cheese or Feta, crumbled
  • extra cilantro leaves for garnish


For the dressing:

  • In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the Greek yogurt and mayonnaise until nice and smooth. Slowly add the lime juice while whisking. Add the sugar, spices, salt and pepper and whisk until well combined. Cover and set aside in the refrigerator.

For the corn tortillas:

  • Preheat oven to 375˚F. Stack corn tortillas on a cutting board. Cut in half. Cut each stack of halves into thin strips, widthwise, about ¼-inch thick.
  • Transfer tortilla strips to a sheet pan. Drizzle with oil. Sprinkle with salt and toss to coat.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, or until light golden brown and crisp. Set aside to cool.

For the corn:

  • Place three ears of corn in the microwave and cook for 6 minutes on high power. Remove with a hot pad and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. Repeat with the next three ears. For the last two, cook for 4 minutes on high power.
  • After the corn is cooled, cut off the bottom end of each cob about 1½ inches from the end. Pull back husk and silks (almost all of the silk should easily pull away). Cut kernels from husks (avoiding the tough core) and set aside.

For the salad:

  • Pull off any browned or blemished outer leaves from the hearts of Romaine. Slice Romaine into ½-inch slices and then run your knife a few times across each slice to create small bite-size pieces.
  • Combine the Romaine, corn, mango, bell pepper, red onion, cucumbers, jalapeno and chopped cilantro. Stir gently to combine. Add 3-4 tablespoons of the dressing and stir again gently to coat all ingredients. Taste and add more dressing as desired. Serve any extra dressing at the table.
  • Sprinkle the salad with the Cotija (or Feta) and garnish with cilantro leaves, if desired.
  • Serve with tortilla strips on top or place a bowl on the side and let guests help themselves.
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