Inspired by the street food south-of-the-border, this Mexican Corn Salad is a tangy, sweet and savory side for anything coming off your grill this summer.
Across the world, street food is considered a vital part of heritage food culture, dishes tied to history by ingredients and techniques significant to the country and its people. It’s so important that a World Street Food Congress is held each year, with contributors like Anthony Bourdain, to showcase food from around the globe and build a dialogue around supporting local vendors and preserving street food traditions.
Celebrity chefs like Rick Bayless and Susan Feniger have dedicated valuable cookbook space to these flavorful, simple foods, with complex flavors steeped in history. Whether it’s crepes in Paris, grilled meat skewers (espetinho) in Rio de Janeiro, or stir-fried noodles (hokkien mee) in Singapore, you’re doing yourself and your taste buds a disservice by skipping these small carts or makeshift cooking setups with griddle pans the size of a small car.
Mexico is definitely a famous, fabulous street food destination, selling fruit-filled tamales at breakfast and every manner of taco, torta (sandwiches made with bolillos), tostadas, and sopes (here’s my recipe) for hungry humans throughout the day.
When the sun goes down, you’ll find carts full of crispy, cinnamon-dusted churros and one of the most well-known Mexican street foods: elotes or street corn. These are whole roasted or grilled ears, skewered and slathered in a creamy, salty schmear of mayo or Mexican crema, lime juice, cilantro, and cheese crumbles. You can also find a Mexican street corn salad (esquites), which is similar but served in a cup for easier eating.
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While there are days diving into a big ear of corn is just my speed, I’m a fan of forks (and utensils in general), plus a salad is much easier to prepare, serve, and transport. So, here’s my Mexican street corn salad recipe with all the flavor and textures of the golden kernels you’ll find wrapped in little foil packets on the streets of Mexico City.
My Mexican Corn Salad only has a few things in common with the Mexican corn black bean salad recipes you’ve seen (often served as salsa). Those have black beans, which mine doesn’t, and the dressing is usually a simple vinaigrette with olive oil and lime juice, maybe a pinch of cumin or chili powder. Those recipes also usually call for uncooked or canned corn.
To mimic Mexican street corn, though, the kernels really need to be charred. Roasting or grilling the corn grounds this dish and gives it a warm, subtle smokiness and caramelized sweetness. Feel free to use grilled corn leftover from a weekend cookout, but otherwise browning the kernels in a skillet will produce great results.
Mexican Corn Salad does have an advantage over the whole ears (other than the fork thing), and that’s added color. I use red/purple onions, bright red grape tomatoes, and sliced radishes. If you haven’t visited many authentic Mexican restaurants, radishes may seem like a strange choice. The Spanish gifted them to Mexico in the 16th century (there’s even a Radish Night in Oaxaca each year during the Christmas season), and you’ll find them in soups like posole or tacos, adding a wonderful crunch and peppery nose similar to a mild horseradish.
Like the street corn, and other corn salads, I make my Mexican Corn Salad recipe with mayo, but I also use sour cream. In Mexico, they’ll use crema, a less acidic but higher fat version of sour cream, so this emulates that and provides a little extra tang. There’s also lime juice and zest, which leaves pretty little green flecks in the dressing and adds concentrated lime flavor.
Speaking of green, to make this Mexican Corn Salad recipe, cilantro really isn’t optional. I know people either love or hate this citrusy-herb, but I always recommend trying it until you like it! J If you’re allergic or there’s some nationwide shortage, you can substitute flat leaf parsley, but you’ll want to use about half as much since parsley adds bitterness you don’t want in this recipe.
Everything has so much flavor already there’s no need to refrigerate this salad before serving. I actually prefer to serve it right after mixing it all together since the flavors seem to be the strongest when they’re closer to room temperature, but you can certainly serve this Mexican Corn Salad cold (it can even be made a day ahead).
I guarantee my Mexican Corn Salad will inspire you to ditch the hesitation and sample the offerings of every truck, trailer, and stand you come across the next time you’re visiting a new place.
Mexican Corn Salad
Our Easy Mexican Corn Salad is inspired by the street food south-of-the-border. It's a tangy, sweet and savory side for anything coming off your grill this summer.
- 1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
- 3 (15 Ounce) Bags Corn Kernels, Thawed and Well Drained
- 1/2 Cup Red Onion, Finely Chopped
- 2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
- 1 Jalapeno Pepper, Seeded and Finely Chopped
- 2 Cup Grape Tomatoes, Cut in Half
- 4-5 Radishes, Thinly Sliced
- 3/4 Cup Mayonnaise
- 1/4 Cup Sour Cream
- 1 1/2 Lime Zested and Juiced
- 1/4 Teaspoon Sugar
- 1/2 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Chopped
- 1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
- 1/2 Teaspoon Black Pepper
- 10 Ounces Cojita, Crumbled
- 3/4 Cup Pepitas
- 1/2 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Chopped
In a large, heavy bottom skillet, heat the vegetable oil over high heat. Add corn and red onion and cook, until corn is slightly charred, about 5-7 minutes.
Turn heat to low and add garlic, and jalapeno and cook for 1 minute longer. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
In a large mixing bowl, mix together the cooled corn, cut tomatoes, and radishes.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients until they are well combined.
TO SERVE: Add just enough of the dressing to coat the cooled corn mixture and gently fold.
Taste. Add more dressing if desired (You may have some dressing leftover). Pour salad out on a serving platter.
Sprinkle the top of salad with cojita, pepitas, and remaining 1/2 cup cilantro. Serve
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Nutrition information will vary based on the specific products. To be safe, check the nutrition facts labels of your products. Optional object listed above have been left out of nutritional data.
Recipe Notes For Mexican Corn Salad:
Corn – A lot of recipes for this salad call for using a certain number of ears of corn. There can be a significant difference in the size of each ear, and the amount of corn on them, so, rather than guess how much actual corn is on the cobs YOU’RE using I call for a specific amount of corn. This means you can use it off the cob if you want, but the recipe also works great with frozen corn. I would suggest partially thawing it before putting it in the skillet so it won’t take as long to brown.
Serving suggestions – This is a great salad to serve with any kind of grilled meats/veggies. The smokiness of both works well together. You can also turn this salad into a meal by plating it with a grilled chicken breast and a little-sliced avocado. While this salad is crunchy as-is with the radishes, you can add a little more texture by making this Mexican Corn Salad with Fritos, tossing in a ~10 oz. bag right before serving.
Cotija – The cotija cheese we find in the U.S. is usually a little softer than what you’d find in Mexico (which is similar to a Parmesan). What I find in my grocery store is closer to the texture of feta, so you can substitute with that if needed.
Different brands of either Cotija or Feta cheese will contain varying amounts of salt. With most brands, I do not need to add any salt to the finished salad.
Heat – There’s a ½ tsp. of cayenne in this salad, which isn’t for the faint of heart. You can use less, according to your taste, or substitute a little paprika or chili powder. Want to up the heat more than the cayenne and hot sauce? You can use the suggestion of the Mexican street corn salad Serious Eats published and add a chopped jalapeno or two. These can be tossed in with the onions to toast a little or added as-is.
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Quick Mexican Chicken – Perfect mid-week meal loaded with chunks of chicken, veggies and a mild yummy tomato sauce.
Beef Enchiladas -Tender, slow-cooked shredded beef and a sassy cheese combination wrapped up in a warm tortilla topped with a generous helping of sour cream.
Taco Pasta – has all the taco flavor you love in a simple skillet meal! Its creamy sauce marries meat, taco seasoning, and pasta wonderfully!
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Originally Published on Centsless Meals