Sweet corn salad, Mexican style.
Grilled Mexican street corn — charred corn on the cob smothered in crema, cotija cheese, chili and lime — may be my favorite summer side of all time. But when fresh corn on the cob isn’t available, or if you want an easy variation of this truly awesome snack, this grilled Mexican street corn salad fits the bill.
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I sank my teeth into Mexican street corn (or elote) for the first time not in Mexico, or anywhere close to Mexico. It was over 12 years ago at New York City’s tiny but mighty Café Habana. Café Habana is a happy, boisterous little restaurant in NoLiTa where people (in pre-Covid times) squeezed shoulder to shoulder for mojitos, rice and beans, Cubano sandwiches, and above all: The Corn. It tasted amazing. It was cheesy, salty, spicy, fresh, and wholly satisfying. I needed another order. I needed a Mexican street corn recipe.
It took a while for me to get a Mexican street corn recipe together that matched what I still consider the Café Habana gold (yellow?) standard. The ingredients are simple, but combine forces to achieve an incredible but uncomplicated flavor.
This recipe gives you options. You can grill whole corn on the cob and then slather it with the spicy mayo mixture and coat each cob in fresh cotija cheese and a squirt of lime juice. But I have written this as a corn salad because it lends itself to year-round cooking with fresh frozen corn, and is more side-dish friendly and easy to prepare. The flavors are the same.
Recipe Notes: Mexican Street Corn Salad
- Make sure you get a nice char on the corn. That is part of the flavor. To achieve this in a pan — preferably cast iron — heat the pan with a little oil until it is hot. Then add the corn and let it sit without stirring for a couple of minutes until the corn browns on one side. Then stir and let brown some more.
- Feel free to use mild or spicy chili powder, depending on your preference.
- If you make this as corn on the cob, eliminate the shallot, cilantro, and grape tomatoes. Those are just a flavor and texture boost for the salad version, but is not necessary and not a part of the corn-on-the-cob version.
How do you like corn on the cob? Share in the comments!
Mexican Street Corn Salad
- 6 cups fresh or thawed corn kernels (about 5 ears of corn)
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons good mayonnaise, such as Hellmann's
- 2 teaspoons chili powder, mild or hot
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
- 2 fresh limes
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 1/2 cup cotija cheese, divided
- 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cup loosely-packed fresh cilantro, leaves and tender stems, torn into small pieces
- If using fresh corn, remove the husks and, using a sharp knife, slice the corn kernels from the cobs by placing each ear upright in a bowl. Discard cobs. If using frozen corn, thaw according to package directions and pat dry.
- Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat with the oil until very hot. Add the corn and salt in a single layer. Let the corn sit and cook for several minutes until brown on one side (careful, the kernels sometimes jump!). Stir, and continue to cook several more minutes until the corn kernels have a nice brown char. Spoon the corn into a large bowl.
- Whisk together the mayonnaise, chili powder, the juice of one lime, and shallot. Add to the corn and stir to combine.
- Crumble the cotija cheese all over the salad, reserving a bit for garnish. Add the tomatoes and cilantro. Stir to combine.
- Serve, garnishing with the reserved cotija and lime wedges from the second lime.