As mentioned in a previous post, two very popular street foods in Mexico are corn on the cob and esquites. The word esquite comes from the Nahuatl izquitl – roasted fresh corn (from ixca – to roast, and elotl – young corn). For this ancient dish, kernels shaved from fresh ears of corn were traditionally roasted and then boiled with herbs, such as epazote, until tender. In pre-Hispanic times, esquite was probably eaten with dry hot peppers and salt and, after the Spanish conquest, lime juice was added to the seasonings. This is the way the recipe remained for a long time; I still remember, from my childhood, seeing portions served in husks from the same corn, being sold at roadside stands in the country side (as depicted at the top of the post.)
Corn has always been a central element in all aspects of Mexican culture – land, religion, power, lust, and of course, diet. Domesticated from wild grasses thousands of years ago, currently there are 64 recognized Mexican “races” of corn (Zea mays ssp), 59 of them considered native (the other 5 found earlier in the Caribbean and Central America regions, but appearing well established in Mexico.) The particular ones used for esquite widely vary by region, depending on culinary traditions and temperament of the soil, but are generally starchier than the sweet corn found in most of the USA and Canada; this affects cooking times, and flavour to some extent, but the most important factor for good results is the freshness of the ears. This makes esquite a late summer treat for regions with extreme seasonal weather; I prepared this recipe in July here in Southern Ontario, Canada, but I did not want to post about it until I had a chance to take some pictures from a Mexican stand, to show an authentic example of the dish and how, nowadays, it is very common to top esquites with mayonnaise, shredded cheese and a variety of spicy ingredients, as seen below at a typical stand in San Pedro Tlaquepaque, in the Mexican state of Jalisco:
I guess we will have to wait a while here and in other parts of the Northern hemisphere, but people in regions with temperate climate, and in the Southern hemisphere, might be able to try preparing esquites at home any time soon.
Mexican Corn Kernels – Esquites
Fresh ears of corn with husks (sweet corn, young Mexican corn)
1 bunch epazote (if available)
Salt, to taste
Toppings: salt, ground dry hot peppers (such as cayenne, or de árbol), limes for juice, mayonnaise, shredded cheese (such as Cotija), hot sauce.
Pick the freshest ears possible (the silk and husks should be green and not wilted). The corn pictured below was bought at a local produce store in Southern Ontario, in late July, 2019:
Cut the husks around the bottom of each ear (photo below, left). Peel ears; if using husks as serving cups (as pictured in the photo at the top of the post), be careful not to break them, removing one layer at a time (photo below, right):
Place silk in a saucepan, select larger husks and trim tips:
Wash and drain silk, selected husks and peeled ears, trying to brush off as much silk as possible from the corn:
Add onion to the silk in the saucepan, and cover with water:
Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer, letting it cook for about ten minutes. Meanwhile, Slice corn kernels off by running a sharp knife along the surface of the cobs (photo below, left). Warm up a pot over medium heat; add butter (if using; I chose to skip it), then add kernels (photo below, right):
Cook kernels for about five minutes, stirring constantly to avoid burning, then add epazote leaves (if available, photo below, left). Incorporate leaves with the corn, then strain the simmering liquid from the silk, through a mesh, into the pot (photo below, right):
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until corn is fully cooked and tender (any time between 5 to 45 minutes, depending on the type of corn). Season with salt to taste. From the simmering pot, esquites may be served in different ways:
1) The old-fashioned way, drained and onto a cup made of several layers of husks, and sprinkled with ground chili and lime juice:
2) “En vasito” (in a small cup), with plenty of liquid from the simmering pot, and the same toppings as above:
3) Or the most popular option nowadays, in a cup or other container, fully loaded with a little liquid from the pot but lots of salt, lime juice, mayonnaise, shredded cheese (I had Cotija) and ground chili or other hot sauce:
This is a delicious snack to enjoy anywhere, from an old-fashioned neighbourhood in Mexico, to a home in Canada, or anywhere else in the world (around the calendar), from the Prairies to the South seas.
To see a chart of the 59 races of Mexican corn, and more details about them, click on the highlighted text, found on the Government of Mexico’s Mexican Biodiversity website. Or click here for information in English from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.
I am joining Fiesta Friday #310 with Angie @ Fiesta Friday, co-hosting this week with Diann @ Of Goats and Greens. Special thanks to Angie and Antonia @ Zoale.com for featuring my heirloom Spaguetti and Brachiole! UPDATE: Thank you to Angie and Diann for featuring my Esquites at Fiesta Friday #311!
I am bringing my recipe to Thursday Favourite Things #423 with Bev @ Eclectic Red Barn, Pam @ An Artful Mom, Katherine @ Katherine’s Corner, Amber @ Follow the Yellow Brick Home, Theresa @ Shoestring Elegance and Linda @ Crafts a la Mode. Special thanks to Katherine for featuring my Leek and Potato Soup!