The BEST Esquites Recipe (Mexican Elote in a Cup)

Esquites or Mexican corn in cup or vaso elote, whichever name you know this delicious corn snack, you must try this recipe! This is one of Mexico’s top street food snack and it’ll become your favorite way to eat corn.

A small glass filled with Mexican esquites or corn in a cup.

Esquites The Corn Snack You Gotta Try

I’m so excited to be sharing with you today one of my all-time favorite snacks, esquites!

In Mexico, esquites, are among the most popular street food snacks or antojitos which means little cravings. You can buy esquites from the street vendors in any town of the Mexican republic. 

Mexican street vendor selling  esquites.
Public Domain Photo via Wikipedia

Elote in a Cup or Esquites

I’m sure you are familiar with the traditional elote snack sold by street vendors all over Mexico and in many parts of the US. In case you aren’t: elote is the Spanish word for corn cobs and in Mexico we boil them until tender, spike them on a wooden stick, then smother with a variety of toppings. 

So now think of esquites as an elote off the cob — still with all the delicious toppings and flavors, just served inside a small cup and much easier to eat.  

Esquites, elote in a cup or elote en vaso, Mexican street corn, or vaso elote – they all refer to same delicious corny snack. 

Among my family and friends we call it both esquites and elote en vaso. The later literally translates to corn in a cup, and this is perhaps the English name most of you have heard. Any name is fine, really. All you need to know is that this is one of the BEST corn recipes you can possibly make, and probably the best way to enjoy fresh corn. 

What are Esquites or Elote in a Cup

Esquites is a very popular Mexican snack that’s super easy to prepare at home. 

To make esquites, a fresh ear of corn is shucked (meaning the corn husks are removed), the corn kernels are sautéed then simmered in a light broth with some seasonings and spices. 

The recipes tend to differ a bit from each Mexican region. They can be quite simple or a bit more flavorful like my recipe. However ingredients such as corn kernels, water or broth, onion, garlic, fresh chilies, epazote, and salt are among the most common.

One white corn on the cob on a dark table.
Mexican White Corn

Esquites Are Not a Salad!

Among many non-Mexicans, for some reason, esquites are incorrectly referred to as “Mexican street corn salad”. This is incorrect. Elote en vaso are served with toppings in a small cup or a corn husk but the ingredients are never pre-mixed for you. Esquites are not a salad! 

People can totally make a Mexican-inspired meal, I have no problem with that, they can make a corn salad inspired by esquites. But it’s not authentic or traditional and it’s shouldn’t be tried to pass off as so. It’s not the same thing, so it shouldn’t be called esquites or elote. I don’t know maybe just call it grilled corn salad….

Are Esquites Vegan?

Traditional esquites or corn in a cup is not vegan friendly.

The reason is that it can be cooked in a chicken broth and the toppings contain dairy and eggs.

So when you buy esquites from street vendors, they’ll ask you if you want broth or would prefer it dry.

Make sure to ask if the broth is made with chicken or vegetable stock. Additionally you may have to skip most of the toppings and ask for just lime and chile powder.

Ingredients used to make esquites or Mexican corn in a cup.

Elote in a Cup Ingredients

Amigos the ingredients for esquites are simple and you shouldn’t have a difficult time finding them anywhere in the world.

  • whole ears of corn
  • butter (either vegan or dairy butter)
  • white onion
  • garlic cloves
  • Serrano peppers or jalapeños for a milder flavor
  • fresh epazote or substitute with dried epazote
  • vegetable broth
  • sea salt
  • mayonnaise (vegan or regular)
  • cotija cheese (vegan cotija or dairy cotija cheese)
  • lime wedges
  • ground red chili powder

Ingredient Substitutions

Esquites are always made using fresh corn on the cob, but in a pinch or when out of season, you could use frozen corn kernels. Another option is canned corn – white corn would be even better if you can find it.

In Mexico we use sweet white corn to make our elotes and esquites. Use whatever is available locally to you.

We use a lot of white onion in Mexican cooking but you could replace it with brown onion in this recipe. I wouldn’t use red onions because they’ll give the esquites a strange color.

​If epazote is not something you can get, you can omit it or use my affiliate links to purchase it on Amazon. 

If you can’t get cotija cheese locally you can substitute it for Mexican queso fresco or in a pinch parmesan cheese – which cotija is kind of like the parmesan of Mexico. If you can’t get either of them then even feta cheese works really well.

Four small glasses filled with Mexican street corn and topped with mayo, cheese and chili powder.

What Toppings to Use on Elote in a Cup

The toppings too can range from regions, but more specifically from person to person.

There’s always the debate of sour cream (Mexican crema) or mayonnaise. It’s completely up to you. In fact, many people will add both of them. I tend to prefer mayo because it adds more flavor, but will never turn down either of what’s available.

Crumbled cheese like queso cotija or fresco are typically used. As is freshly squeezed lime juice and ground chile powder or hot sauce. 

But really which toppings and their quantities are entirely up to each individual’s taste.

How to Make Mexican Esquites

Making elote in a cup is really just a matter of chopping, sautéing, simmering, scooping into a cup, and finishing each cup with some delectable toppings. Let me share how it’s done.

Steps showing how to make Mexican corn in cup.

Step 1: Shuck the corn and remove as much of the corn silk as possible. Then slice off the corn kernels, rinse and drain throughly.

Step 2: In a small pot, melt the butter and once melted add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft. Then add the serrano pepper and cook 2 minutes.

Step 3: Add the corn kernels to the pot and sauté for a few minutes until they begin to crisp up a bit.

Step 4: Pour in the broth, add the epazote and give the ingredients a good stir. Partly cover the pot and simmer until the broth has halved and the kernels are nice and tender. Allow to cool before serving but serve warm or at room temperature.

Step-by-step photos showing how to top Mexican corn in a cup with mayo, grated cheese, lime juice and cayenne pepper.

How to Serve Elote in a Cup

To serve elote in a cup you’ll need to gather some small glasses, traditionally esquites are served in disposable cups but we want to be kind to Mother Earth and instead just use a pretty glass you already have.

Ladle some esquites into each glass. Top with mayonnaise or crema or both. Then sprinkle in the crumbled queso, squeeze in some lime juice, and lastly dust with red chile powder.

Serve immediately and enjoy!

If you want you can also allow each person to top their own elote in a cup. This way everyone can enjoy as they’d like.

To eat simply begin to stir mayonnaise and the other toppings into the cooked corn kernels. 

Remember if you want to make this a 100% vegan snack, use vegan mayo and use a crumbly vegan cotija cheese.

How to Store Leftovers

Any leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. I’d suggest storing the esquites without the toppings so they’ll last longer. The toppings, specially the dairy ones, will go off before the corn. 

To enjoy the next day you can reheat on the stove until warm. 

Eating Mexican stewed corn kernels out of a small cup.

What Do Esquites Taste Like

Esquites are beyond delicious!

The tender savory and sweet corn kernels, touches of chile bits, creamy and tartness of mayonnaise, more creaminess from crumbly cheese, sweet and tart lime, and touch of heat from chile powder is such a treat for your taste buds.

Once you take a bite you’ll see why this perfect snack is so beloved in Mexico and slowly become popular with people all over the world.

You really want to make this easy recipe as soon as possible!

Authentic Esquites Recipe

Amigos I really hope you give my esquites recipe a try. This is one of the more authentic traditionally recipes you’ll find — of course it does have a few special touches that I added myself. But I think you’re going to love it.

Go on and either print out or save the recipe card so you can get this great recipe on your cooking list soon. 

Glasses filled with Mexican esquites which are sautéed and stewed fresh corn kernels then served with mayo, cheese, lime and chile pepper.
Glasses filled with Mexican esquites which are sautéed and stewed fresh corn kernels then served with mayo, cheese, lime and chile pepper.

The BEST Recipe for Esquites | Mexican Corn in a Cup

Nancy Lopez & MexicanMadeMeatless.com
Esquites, or elote en vaso, is a very popular street food in Mexico, and with this quick and easy recipe you can make it at home! You’re going to love the tender corn kernels simmered in a light broth and topped with tangy, creamy, spicy garnishes.
5 from 5 votes
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Print Recipe
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Course Appetizer, Snack
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 4 small servings
Calories 241 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 4 whole ears of corn shucked
  • 3 Tablespoons of butter
  • ¼ small white onion roughly chopped
  • 2 whole garlic cloves very thinly sliced (optional)
  • 2 whole Serrano peppers roughly chopped (seeds removed for milder option)
  • 1 whole sprig of epazote or sub with 1 teaspoon dried epazote
  • 2 cups vegetable broth I used half a vegetable bouillon cube with water
  • pinch sea salt fine texture
  • 4 Tablespoon mayonnaise to taste (use vegan or regular)
  • 4 Tablespoon cotija cheese use my vegan cotija or sub with queso fresco or in a pinch parmesan cheese may be used
  • 2 limes freshly squeezed
  • 4 teaspoons ground red chili pepper cayenne works great

Instructions
 

  • Do watch the video guided visual instructions. Shuck the corn to remove all of the husks and the silk. Rinse to remove any extra silks, but if a few are left it won't hurt anything.
  • Melt the butter in a hot pot, then add the onion and garlic and sprinkle a small pinch of the salt over them, sauté until soft. Next add the serrano and cook for a couple of minutes before adding all of the corn kernels. Sauté until the kernels begin feeling just a bit crispy.
    Steps showing how to make Mexican corn in cup.
  • Now add the epazote, the broth and give the ingredients a good stir. This is completely optional, but I like to add a couple of the leftover corn cobs that have had their kernels sliced off, to the pot to give the broth extra flavor.
  • Next cover the pot and bring to a boil, once boiled uncover and continue simmering until the liquid has halved and the kernels are nice and tender. Taste and adjust salt if necessary — but remember you'll be adding cheese too which is a bit salty.
  • Once the esquites are cooked you can allow to cool slightly then serve in small cups. This recipe makes enough for four small servings. Remove the corn cobs, if used, ad the sprig of epazote.
    Step-by-step photos showing how to top Mexican corn in a cup with mayo, grated cheese, lime juice and cayenne pepper.
  • Ladle some corn and as much broth as desired (it tastes really good, so do add it) into each cup. Top with some mayo, cheese, lime juice and ground chile pepper — the amounts are to taste and not everyone likes everything, customize it to your taste.
    A small glass filled with Mexican esquites or corn in a cup.

Notes

*This recipe makes 4 small appetizer and size servings. You can easily double or triple the recipe for larger portions.
**Fresh epazote may be purchased a your local Mexican food market or you can buy dried online.
***The nutritional information may differ depending on the brand of products you use. 

Nutrition

Serving: 4servingsCalories: 241kcalCarbohydrates: 8gProtein: 3gFat: 23gSaturated Fat: 10gPolyunsaturated Fat: 7gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 44mgSodium: 858mgPotassium: 103mgFiber: 2gSugar: 3gVitamin A: 1210IUVitamin C: 11mgCalcium: 108mgIron: 1mg
Tried this recipe?Leave me a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review and tag me on social media @MexicanMadeMeatless or tag #mexicanmademeatless!

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Small glass filled with Mexican corn in a cup.

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10 Comments

    1. Thanks so much, John! I hope you get to try it sometime. If fresh corn isn’t available you can use frozen or canned. Enjoy 🙂