What Are Esquites and How To Make Them

What Are Esquites and How To Make Them
A Favourite Snack All Over Mexico. Nancy Lopez-McHugh
  • 40 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins,
  • Cook: 30 mins
  • Yield: Serves 2-3
Ratings (6)

Fresh, succulent ears of corn are at their best in these late summer and early autumn months. There are many ways to prepare corn, and each country that grows and consumes it typically has a long list of their traditional corn recipes. Today I’d like to share with you one, of the many, flavourful ways we eat fresh corn in Mexico. This dish is called esquites, and translates to “toasted corn” from the the Aztec Nahuatl language. But esquites are so much more than just toasted corn, it is among the most popular and loved snack in Mexico. 

If you travel to Mexico you will undoubtedly come across a stand or street vendor selling warm esquites being served in white styrofoam cups. (If you live in the US, you can find esquites in neighbourhoods with a large Mexican immigrant population.) The vendors are always present in neighbourhood corners as well as at markets, local festivals, and countrywide holiday celebrations. The surefire way of finding the best esquites, and grilled corn on the cob, another Mexican favourite, is by following the crowds to the vendors. Choose one that has at least a couple of people waiting to be served or with people already spooning the delicious kernels into their mouths. 

The recipe, ingredients, and topping options vary not only from one Mexican state to another, but also between families. Once the corn kernels are stripped from the cobs they can be sautéed with either oil, or lard or butter, and with an array of seasonings. Some people like to add broth to the kernels and stew them a while longer. When it comes to serving the esquites, it is typically inside a cup. If you are purchasing them from a vendor it will most likely be served in a styrofoam cup and with a plastic spoon. They may ask you if you want broth and which toppings; The toppings can be lime wedges, grated or crumbled cheese, mayonnaise, and ground red chile powder. All of these choices will greatly depend on where in Mexico you’re eating esquites and how they are prepared in that particular region. The commonality among the regions will always be the love and enjoyment the Mexican people (including this Mexican girl) get from eating cupfuls of esquites. 

If you do a quick internet search for esquites you'll see it being referred to as a salad, but it really isn't one. Another name is "Mexican corn in a cup", which is an accurate description of how they are served and another name we have for esquites in Mexico, elote en vaso. Regardless, the snack is fantastic and surely one that will quickly become a favourite of yours too. 

What You'll Need

  • 4 ears of corn (use whatever is locally available to you)
  • 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup/30 grams of white onion (finely chopped)
  • 2 serrano chiles (finely chopped)
  • 1 sprig of epazote (or 1 large pinch of dried epazote leaves)
  • 2 cups/470 ml. of water or chicken broth (the amount needs to be just enough to just cover the corn)
  • 4 tablespoons of mayonnaise 
  • 6 tablespoons of queso fresco or cotija cheese (replace with grated parmesan cheese in a pinch)Red chile powder (ground) to taste
  • Fresh limes

How to Make It

1. Shuck the ears of corn, making sure to remove all of the fibbers or silk. (Watch this video on how to do it quickly.) Use a sharp knife to carefully slice off the corn kernels -- be extra careful as you can easily cut yourself. Set the corn kernels aside. 

2. In a pot melt the butter, then add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent. Next add the serrano bit and sauté for three minutes before adding the corn kernels.

Saute, and stir often, for about eight minutes just to lightly toast the corn kernels. Next add the epazote and a pinch of fine sea salt and stir the ingredients well before pouring in the water or broth. Over medium-low heat allow the esquites to simmer until the liquid is reduced by half -- but don't let it dry out. Turn the heat off and gather the toppings: mayonnaise, cheese, ground red chile, and limes. 

3. To serve scoop some equites with a little bit of broth into each cup, top with a dollop of mayonnaise, a large sprinkling of cheese, a big dusting of ground red chile and a lime wedge. Of course the amounts are up to your personal preference -- in fact, you may completely leave off the toppings if desired. Enjoy!