This sheet pan version features jalapeño and red bell pepper for extra flavor
Did someone say “fresh sweet corn”? It’s in season around here, so let’s enjoy it to the max!
No need to wrestle with a slippery cob, though. For this dish, we cut off the kernels and roast them, then add a lively mayo- and cheese-based dressing.
In Mexico, the dish is known as esquites, and it’s very popular. Once you taste it, you’ll know why.
Recipe: Mexican Street Corn (Esquites) Salad
It’s traditional to prepare Mexican street corn by grilling it. But we think it’s easier to roast the kernels in the oven. It makes for a simpler dish, and we think the flavor is actually better. Besides, when you roast the sweet corn, you can add other goodies along with it, which gives your salad more flavor and interest. For this recipe, we’ve added jalapeño and red bell peppers to the mix for extra goodness and color.
Prep time for this dish is about 20 minutes. Plus you’ll need another 20 minutes or so to roast the sweet corn mixture.
This dish yields about 4 servings when plated as a starter or side dish.
For the dressing:
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ½ cup sour cream or Mexican crema
- ½ cup crumbled cotija cheese (can substitute feta or Parmesan)
- ~2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice (approximately the juice of 1 lime)
- ½ cup scallion greens, finely sliced (minced shallot is a good substitution)
- 1 garlic clove, minced very finely (or to taste)
- ½ teaspoon ancho chile powder (or more to taste; may substitute a spicier chile powder)
- ½ cup chopped cilantro
For the salad:
- ~4 cups sweet corn kernels (fresh or frozen; see Notes)
- 1 to 2 jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded, and minced finely (to taste)
- 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and minced (¼-inch pieces are ideal)
- ~1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste; see Notes)
- First make the dressing (you can make this hours ahead of time – even the night before – and store it in the refrigerator until ready to use): Whisk together the mayo, sour cream, and cheese crumbles. Then whisk in the lime juice, chopped scallion greens, garlic, and chile powder. Finally, whisk in the chopped cilantro (if you’re making the dressing ahead of time, add the cilantro right before serving).
- When ready to roast the sweet corn, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
- Toss the corn kernels, chopped jalapeño, and red bell pepper with olive oil to coat. Season with salt to taste. Spread the corn mixture out on a sheet pan (or other baking pan) in one layer. You may want to first cover the sheet pan with heavy aluminum foil to make cleanup easier.
- Place the sheet pan in the oven. After 8 minutes, remove the pan and stir the corn kernels (flip them over so their other side is exposed to heat). Continue roasting until the corn kernels are slightly crunchy and some of the pieces are beginning to blacken (15 to 20 minutes total).
- Add the roasted corn-kernel mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add as much of the dressing as you like (we use about ¾ of it, reserving the rest for another use). Stir to mix.
- Serve the salad. We often add jalapeño slices for garnish, sometimes with a sprinkling of cheese, or a dollop of sour cream or Mexican crema, on top.
- Quantities for this recipe are very flexible – you can easily add more or less to taste.
- We often add the zest of one lime to the dressing (Step 1) for extra flavor.
- This dressing is so good we think it can double as a dip. Or use it as a sandwich spread in place of mayo. Or as a dressing for lettuce salad.
- Fresh sweet corn is in season at the moment, so that’s what we recommend using for this recipe. Just cut the kernels from the cob before roasting.
- But this dish is just as good made with frozen sweet corn. No need to thaw the corn – just toss it with the olive oil and other ingredients (Step 3) and spread it out on the sheet pan. Cooking time might be a bit longer with frozen corn, but not by much.
- Speaking of cooking time, that’s flexible too. It mostly depends on how crispy/crunchy you want the sweet corn kernels to be. The longer they roast, the more charred they become. We like a mix of some crusty and softer corn kernels.
- The char you get from roasting the corn kernels mimics the flavor (and texture) of grilled corn on the cob (known in Mexico as elotes).
- Roasting enhances the flavor of sweet corn. It also heightens the flavor of the diced jalapeño and red bell pepper, making both a bit sweeter (and slightly taming the spiciness of the jalapeño).
- Mayonnaise is essential for the dressing. We consider crema (or sour cream) somewhat optional. It adds flavor, but you can skip it if you don’t have any on hand.
- Crumbled cotija cheese is traditional in the dressing, but we actually prefer feta. Any hard, salty cheese (such as Parmesan) would probably work.
- Ancho chile powder is on the mild side. So if you want a spicier dressing, add more than we specify – or substitute a spicier chile powder. Chipotle chile powder adds terrific flavor, plus it has a slightly smoky character that works well in this dish.
- We use kosher salt in cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger and more irregular, so they pack a measure less tightly). If you’re using table salt, start with about half the amount we suggest. But always season to your taste, not ours.
- And speaking of seasoning: We add salt to the sweet corn kernels (Step 3) to help bring out their flavor, but don’t add any to the dressing – we think the cheese adds enough salt.
“Delicioso,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “And about as close to Mexico as we’re likely to get for a while.”
“Yeah, thought we escaped the pandemic after getting vaccinated,” I said. “But the delta variant circled back.”
“At least we can console ourselves with this dish,” said Mrs K R. “The dressing is so good I could eat it by the spoonful.”
“Indeed,” I said. “Stood guff.”
“Think you’re taking spoonerism too far,” said Mrs K R. “I assume you meant ‘good stuff’ there?”
Maybe. But after what we’ve been through in this pandemic, I’ll stand by my words.
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