Do you love the flavor of Mexican street corn, but hate having to floss when you’re done eating? Boy, do I have a surprise for you! This easy recipe for Elote en Vaso (a.k.a. Esquites) is about to change your life for the better. This authentic Mexican recipe has all the flavor of the original but without the cob! Made with just 7 ingredients in less than 10 minutes.

short mason jar filled with elote en vaso (a.k.a. esquites) and garnished with chili powder.

What are Esquites?

Perhaps Mexico’s finest street dish, Esquites are steaming corn kernels drenched in melted butter and aromatic lime juice that have been topped with crumbly, salty cheese. Typically served in styrofoam cups (giving it the alternative name elote en vaso, or “corn in a cup”), this simple, comforting classic is sold all over Mexico and in border cities like my hometown El Paso. You can find it everywhere from street corners and bazaars to festivals and parades!

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

Made with just 7 ingredients in less than 10 minutes, this simple recipe for elote in a cup is quick and easy enough to whip up on a moment’s notice. Literally anytime I get a craving, I make a batch. (Except now, I like to make it fancy by serving it in a pretty glass or mason jar instead of the styrofoam cups I grew up with.)

While I find the proportions to be spot on, you can feel free to adjust the proportions of lime juice, crema, cheese, and spices to taste. No matter how you serve it, you’re sure to fall in love with the sweet, crunchy, fiery, and juicy flavor.

Similar to traditional elote, this Mexican street corn salad (as they call it on TikTok) is made with boiled corn kernels plus salty butter, creamy crema mexicana, crumbly, salty cotija, tart, fresh lime juice, warming chili powder, and a splash of vinegary hot sauce for an appetizer or side dish that is nothing short of addictive.

5 ears of corn on a foil-lined sheet pan.

Ingredients & Substitutions

As promised, you don’t need much to make my elotes salad. Here’s what to gather:

  • Corn – When summer is in full swing, take advantage of the amazingly cheap and ridiculously sweet ears of corn available at grocery stores and farmer’s markets. Otherwise, feel free to cut out a prep step by opting for frozen corn kernels and enjoy esquites all year long.
  • Butter – I use salted butter here, but you can easily swap in unsalted. You can also feel free to use dairy-free butter if needed.
  • Limes – Fresh is always best, especially as pertains to citrus. To get the most juice from your fruit, give it a firm roll on the countertop for 10-15 seconds before slicing open.
  • Crema Mexicana – I love the tangy flavor of crema for my elotes. Feel free to swap in sour cream if needed, or opt for mayonnaise if you prefer.
  • Crumbly, Salty White Cheese – Traditional esquites recipes call for Mexican cheeses like cotija, but feel free to swap in queso fresco, or parmesan.
  • Chili Powder – I highly recommend Tajín Clásico Chile Lime Seasoning.
  • Valentina Hot Sauce – Not only does a vinegary hot sauce like Valentina offer a gorgeous burst of color to these corn salad cups, but also adds a bit of heat and acidity. Feel free to swap in your own favorite brand like Cholula or Tapatio.
  • Salt – Only use this as needed, and sparingly at that. The cotija is plenty salty!

How To Make Elote in a Cup

This simple recipe for esquites mexicanos comes together in a flash. Here’s how it’s done:

Step 1: Prep Corn. Husk the corn, remove the silks, and slice the kernels from the cobs with a sharp knife.

Step 2: Cook Corn. Place the corn in a saucepan with enough salted water to cover. Bring to a boil; let boil for two to three minutes, then drain. Turn off the heat, and return corn to saucepan.

turquoise cast iron dutch oven with corn kernels and an antique silver spoon in it with 2 ears of corn off to the side.

Step 3: Assemble. Add 3/4 cup of cooked corn to a glass, add butter, and stir to melt the butter. Mix in lime juice and crema. Sprinkle with a good, heavy coating of chili powder and salt to taste, though you should taste first as the cheese adds plenty of salt. Mix well.

ingredients for making esquites Mexican corn salad laid out on black and white patterned tiles.

Step 4: Garnish & Serve. Top with crumbled cheese. If you like spicy food, then add a few drops of some hot sauce for that extra bit of oomph. Serve with a spoon and lime wedges.

Watch my video below to see how simple this recipe can be made at home.

Optional Variations

Consider this esquites recipe a loose template for your cravings, adjusting the seasonings and ingredients as you see fit. Here are a few ideas on how to customize this corn salad to your liking:

  • Add cilantro. Typical elote on the cob is served with a dusting of this fresh herb. Feel free to add some chopped cilantro to your corn cups, too!
  • Swap in mayonnaise. I love the tangy flavor of crema mexicana for my elotes, but many people prefer making this corn in a cup with mayo. Feel free to use whatever you most crave!
  • Serve as a salsa over fish or chicken. The best thing about elotes in a cup is that it’s ready to shovel into your mouth. Take advantage by using it as a sort of salsa for your favorite grilled meals!

Expert Tips

These corn esquites are one of the easiest side dishes to pull off — after all, you only need 10 minutes! That said, I do have a few words of wisdom for you:

  • Use a bundt or tube pan for fresh corn. It might sound strange to bust out your baking ware for corn, but it’s the absolute best way that I’ve found to remove kernels from the cob without them flying every which way! Place the cob on the center tube, then use a sharp knife to slice the kernels off; the recessed cake pan will help to catch all the goodness.
  • Opt for frozen corn in the winter or to cut down on prep. If you’re not in the mood to prep corn from fresh, do yourself a favor and visit the frozen aisle. Frozen corn kernels are harvested at peak freshness, so they’ll be just as sweet and nutritious without needing to dirty a knife.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between elotes and esquites?

Elotes, which translates to “corn,” is the name of a traditional Mexican street food where corn on the cob is cooked, slathered in a creamy sauce, then coated with cheese, fresh lime juice, and chili powder.

Esquites comes from the Nahuatl word for “toasted corn,” ízquitl. Esquites is nearly the same dish as elote, except the corn kernels are removed from the cob for more of a salad that can be eaten with a spoon or fork.

Should I serve elote in a cup warm or cold?

Either! I love it both ways.

Can I make vegan elote en el vaso?

Absolutely! Simply swap in your favorite plant-based butter and vegan crumbly white “cheese” like Forager brand queso fresco or Follow Your Heart brand feta.

Can I use frozen corn to make esquites?

Heck yeah! In fact, unless you’re in prime corn-growing season, I suggest that you use frozen corn to eliminate a prep step.

More Recipes for Corn Lovers

If you made this recipe for Elote en Vaso or Corn in a Cup (a.k.a. Esquites), please be sure to rate and review it below or tag me in your social posts so I can cheer you on!

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mexican street corn in a mason jar with turquoise spoon.

Elote en Vaso (a.k.a. Esquites)

5 (1 rating)
This is Mexico’s finest street dish, often sold in styrofoam cups.

Ingredients

  • 10 ears of corn, shucked and cut from the cob
  • 2 tablespoons butter, per serving
  • 1/4 cup lime juice, per serving
  • 1/4 cup crema mexicana, per serving
  • 2 tablespoons crumbly salty white cheese
  • chili powder
  • Valentina hot sauce
  • lime wedges for garnish
  • salt to taste

Instructions 

  • Husk the corn, remove the silks, and slice the kernels from the cobs with a sharp knife.
  • Place the corn in a saucepan with enough salted water to cover. Bring to a boil; let boil for two to three minutes, then drain. Turn off the heat, and return corn to saucepan.
  • Add 3/4 cup of corn in a glass, add butter, and stir to melt the butter. Mix in lime juice and crema.
  • Sprinkle with a good heavy coating of chili powder and salt if desired, though the cheese adds plenty of salt. Mix well.
  • Top with crumbled cheese.
  • If you like spicy then add a few drops of some hot sauce for that extra kick of heat.
  • Serve with a spoon and lime wedges.

Video

Notes

  • Cotija cheese is ideal, but parmesan is acceptable as a substitution. 
  • This is a very loose recipe. Feel free to adjust the proportions of lime juice, crema, cheese, and spices to taste!
Calories: 99kcal, Carbohydrates: 15g, Protein: 3g, Fat: 4g, Saturated Fat: 2g, Cholesterol: 10mg, Sodium: 80mg, Potassium: 208mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 5g, Vitamin A: 233IU, Vitamin C: 7mg, Calcium: 23mg, Iron: 1mg

Photography by Jenna Sparks
Originally published: September 2010.