Mexican Corn Salad (Esquites)

Corn season is on the wane here in the Northeast, but while you still can, make sure to try the following creamy and tangy recipe. This Mexican Corn Salad from Cook’s Illustrated features charred kernels whose nutty, slightly bitter flavor complements corn’s natural sweetness. It was a perfect companion to our main entrée of Grilled Cedar-Planked Salmon with Lemon Thyme Rub.

The corn is dressed with a mixture of sour cream, a touch of mayonnaise and some lime juice. Chopped cilantro and spicy serrano chiles add bright colors and fresh flavors. A half dozen ears of corn yields enough for 6 to 8 guests, but if you have any leftover, it’s still very good when reheated slightly.

Cotija is a Hispanic-style cheese named after the town of Cotija in the Mexican state of Michoacán. This hard, crumbly Mexican cheese is made mainly from cow’s milk, and is white, fresh and salty thus bearing an immense resemblance to feta cheese, which would make a suitable substitution. However, with aging it becomes hard and crumbly like Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Mexican Corn Salad

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 3 tablespoons lime juice, plus extra for seasoning (2 limes)
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1–2 serrano chiles, stemmed and cut into ⅛-inch-thick rings
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 6 ears corn, kernels cut from cobs (6 cups)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • 4 ounces cotija cheese, crumbled (1 cup)
  • ¾ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 3 scallions, sliced thin


  1. Combine lime juice, sour cream, mayonnaise, serrano(s), and ¼ teaspoon salt in large bowl. Set aside.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add half of corn and spread into even layer. Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, without stirring, until corn touching skillet is charred, about 3 minutes.
  3. Remove skillet from heat and let stand, covered, for 15 seconds, until any popping subsides. Transfer corn to bowl with sour cream mixture.
  4. Repeat with 1 tablespoon oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and remaining corn.
  5. Return now-empty skillet to medium heat and add remaining 1 teaspoon oil, garlic, and chili powder. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  6. Transfer garlic mixture to bowl with corn mixture and toss to combine. Let cool for at least 15 minutes.
  7. Add cotija, cilantro, and scallions and toss to combine. Season salad with salt and up to 1 tablespoon extra lime juice to taste. Serve.

NOTE: If desired, substitute plain Greek yogurt for the sour cream. For the serrano chile, you can substitute a jalapeño chile that has been halved lengthwise and sliced into ⅛-inch-thick half-moons. Adjust the amount of chiles to suit your taste. If cotija cheese is unavailable, substitute feta cheese.

IMG_7508We served our corn salad at an outdoor BBQ along with Cedar-Planked Salmon with Lemon Thyme Rub.

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