Our Mexican street corn in a cup recipe for Mexico’s esquites or elote en vaso, which means ‘corn in a cup’, makes a Mexican street food snack or antojitos, meaning ‘little cravings’, that we became addicted to on our first trip to Mexico many years ago. Like most Mexican food, it’s absolutely delicious. It’s also super easy to make, especially if you have leftover corn on the cob.
This recipe for Mexican street corn in a cup makes the popular Mexican street food snack called esquites or elote en vaso, which consists of steaming hot corn kernels with Mexican crema, cotija cheese, lime juice, and ancho chilli powder that’s sold in a takeaway cup.
It comes with a spoon and you stir it all up and the first time you try it on the streets of Mexico City or Merida or Oaxaca, like a slap to the face – or a whack to a piñata – you realise what’s been missing in your life.
Our easy Mexican street corn in a cup recipe is quick to come together, too, particularly if you made our Mexican street corn on the cob recipe and have some corn cobs leftover. If you didn’t, grilled corn cobs are easy to do. If corn is not in season where you live, you could use a quality frozen corn brand or tinned corn kernels. Like peas, corn doesn’t lose its flavour from being frozen or canned. If you made our Mexican street corn salad recipe, this esquites recipe is a cinch.
Some Mexican street corn ingredients can be hard to come by outside North America, so if you don’t have access to Mexican crema, use creamy egg mayonnaise or sour cream – you can also try combining the two – and if you can’t get Mexico’s cotija cheese, crumbly feta cheese works. I also like to add a generous sprinkle of ground parmesan cheese – and I know I’m not alone! – I just hope my Mexican friends don’t read this. Here’s how to make Mexican street corn in a cup…
Mexican Street Corn In A Cup – How to Make Esquites or Elote en Vaso
This grilled Mexican street corn in a cup recipe for esquites or elote en vaso can be made from scratch, starting with soaking (or steaming or boiling) and grilling the corn, and we’ve provided instructions for doing that in the recipe below. If you made our Mexican corn on the cob street food snack called elotes and you have leftover corn cobs, you can skip the first six steps.
If you happened to make our Mexican grilled corn salad recipe and have leftovers, even better, jump to the final stage. There are just a few tweaks to the measurements for this elote en vaso recipe in case you’re serving this as an appetiser or at a barbecue or picnic and you want to distribute it amongst a larger number of people.
If you’re considering cooking a meal of traditional Mexican food, do take a look at our recipes for an authentic Mexican guacamole, a sopa de tortilla (tortilla soup) that we learnt to make in San Miguel de Allende, and tacos al pastor based on the version we fell in love with in Mexico City. The Mexican street corn salad would fit in very nicely with that menu, as would these esquites.
We also have more Tex-Mex style recipes for Terence’s easy red tomato salsa, chili con carne, and quesadillas, and my ultimate nachos, along with recipes for classic margaritas and micheladas. This Mexican street corn in a cup recipe is perfect for kicking off a Tex-Mex feast, too.
And I’ve come full circle as far as this series of Mexican street food recipes and grilled corn recipes goes. Because it was esquites – along with the corn cob street food snack here in Cambodia and traditional Cambodian grilled corn, poat dot – that inspired my first Southeast Asian-style corn dishes.
My char-grilled corn with lime butter and lemongrass mayonnaise recipe and grilled corn salad with lime, chilli, lemongrass mayo, and sourdough croutons recipe that I published all those months ago, soon after the world went into lockdown and we all began staying at home, were inspired by these traditional Mexican street food specialties.
I can’t say that will be the last of our Mexican street corn recipes, though… an American food writer friend told me that there are such delicious things now as a Mexican street corn dip, a Mexican street corn soup, and a Mexican street corn casserole… viva Mexico! And happy Mexican Independence Day to our Mexican amigos.
Tips for Making our Mexican Street Food Corn in a Cup Recipe
This is the best Mexican street corn recipe. Like the Mexican grilled corn salad recipe, the beauty of this Mexican street corn in a cup recipe for esquites is that you can make it using leftovers and any other ingredients you might have had if you made our Mexican elotes recipe.
Or you can just make it from scratch. In the recipe below I’ve assumed that you’re starting this elote en vaso recipe from the beginning with how to prepare corn cobs for grilling. We recommend char-grilling the corn cobs on an outdoor grill or barbecue.
We use a traditional clay brazier here in Cambodia which we heat up with coconut charcoal BBQ briquettes. But if we’re not using the brazier, we use either a stovetop Korean BBQ grill pan or a griddle pan on the gas stove. For more information on grilling, see my Mexican corn salad recipe (link above).
If you’ve already got char-grilled corn cobs, you could pop them on the griddle pan on the stove to warm them up or even microwave them. This snack could be eaten cold like the salad, but I prefer it warm. If you’re starting with leftovers, jump to the final couple of steps.
As I said in my last Mexican corn salad post, do try to use Mexican crema and cotija cheese if you can for an authentic Mexican esquites but if you don’t have access to Mexican crema use sour cream or creamy egg mayonnaise – you can also experiment with combining the two, which some cooks do – and if you can’t find Mexican cotija, use crumbly feta cheese.
As we’re in Southeast Asia and we like things spicy, I also sprinkle on dried chilli flakes and finely sliced birds eye chillies, as well as some fresh coriander (cilantro) – which is used in Mexican cuisine anyway.
‘Cilantro’, after all, is the Spanish word for coriander (Coriandrum sativum), not to be confused with culantro (Eryngium foetidum L.), which is in the same family (Apiaceae) from a different genus, has a more potent perfume, and is also used in traditional Mexican cooking.
Mexican Elote en Vaso Recipe
- 4 corn cobs
- 1 tbsp neutral oil
- 1 tbsp coarse sea salt
- 120 g Mexican crema or creamy egg mayonnaise and/or sour cream
- 1 tbsp ancho chilli powder and/or dried chilli flakes
- 120 g cup cotija cheese grated or crumbly feta cheese if you can’t get cotija
- 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese - finely grated (optional)
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander cilantro
- 2 limes
- 1 tsp cotija cheese grated or crumbly feta cheese if you can’t get cotija
- 1 tsp Parmesan cheese - finely grated, optional
- 1 tsp dried ancho chilli powder and/or dried chilli flakes
- 1-2 birds-eye chillies - fresh, de-seeded, finely chopped (optional)
- 1 tsp coriander - chopped
- 1 lime - quartered
- Remove the outer husks of each corn cob, leaving just 3-4 inner husks on the cob, then carefully peel the remaining husks right back, taking care not to pull them entirely off the cob.
- Remove the silky threads from each cob by wiping them off with a damp kitchen paper towel.
- Soak the corn cobs with the remaining husks in a pot of hot water for 15 minutes.
- Heat up the barbecue, grill or griddle pan and add a tablespoon of oil, just enough to cover the surface.
- Dry the corn cobs completely with a dry paper towel, then place the corn cobs beside each other on the barbecue, grill or griddle or grill pan. Season the cobs generously with coarse sea salt.
- Grill the corn cobs until they’re slightly charred, then turn all cobs to char-grill the next side, and so on, until each corn cob is char-grilled on all sides. This should take around 15 minutes.
- As the corn cobs are grilling, prep the other ingredients and the garnish.
- Once the corn cobs are char-grilled on all sides, take them off the stove, transfer them to a chopping board.
- After the cobs have cooled, cut the kernels from the cobs onto the chopping board, slicing them off with a sharp knife from the top to the bottom of each cob, getting as close to the inner core as you can.
- Slide the corn kernels into a big bowl, then add the rest of the ingredients – the Mexican crema or creamy egg mayonnaise or sour cream, ancho chilli powder (and dried chilli flakes if you like spice), the grated cotija cheese grated or crumbly feta cheese, the optional parmesan, fresh coriander, and the juice of the lime quarters – and gently combine.
- Scoop loose spoons of the mixture into cups – don’t jam it down into the cups as you don’t want to break the corn and mush the ingredients together – and distribute amongst the cups. If you’re serving lunch, use large cups or glasses and this should feed four, but if it’s a snack or appetiser, use smaller cups or glasses and you should be able to distribute this amongst six or eight people.
- Garnish each cup or glass with the remaining ingredients, sprinkling a little of each onto the top of each cup, but check with your guests first if they like birds-eye chillies. You may like to serve those in a separate dish with a spoon.
Do let us know if you make our Mexican street corn in a cup recipe for esquites or elote en vaso as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.