Street Food – Esquites

Go to printable recipe: Mexican Corn Kernels – Esquites

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:

016 esquites and toppings
Portions of esquites next to a large selection of toppings, such as mayonnaise and spicy sauces
017 Loaded esquites.jpg
Esquites in a cup, loaded with toppings

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

Printable recipe: Mexican Corn Kernels – Esquites

Ingredients

Fresh ears of corn with husks (sweet corn, young Mexican corn)
Butter, optional
½ onion
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:

001 Freshest ear of corn

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:

004 place silk in a pot, trim tips of husks

Wash and drain silk, selected husks and peeled ears, trying to brush off as much silk as possible from the corn:

005 prepped silk, husks and ears

Add onion to the silk in the saucepan, and cover with water:

007 boil silk with onion

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:

011 Traditional esquites

2) “En vasito” (in a small cup), with plenty of liquid from the simmering pot, and the same toppings as above:

012 Esquites en vasito

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:

000 Esquites preparados

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 BrachioleUPDATE: Thank you to Angie and Diann for featuring my Esquites at Fiesta Friday #311!


I am sharing my recipe at What’s for Dinner? Sunday Link-Up # 235 with Helen @ The Lazy Gastronome.


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!


I am bringing my recipe to Full Plate Thursday # 468 with Miz Helen @ Miz Helen’s Country Cottage.


I am also joining Classy Flamingos Blog Party #86 with Linda @ poinsettiadr.comUPDATE: Thank you so much to Linda for featuring this recipe at Classy Flamingos Blog Party #87!

25 thoughts on “Street Food – Esquites

  1. Ah, street food is something I miss so much. Thank you for giving it back to me. And I’ve never heard of silk water before. I love it! All this time, I considered it just an impediment in my mad rush to get to those sweet golden kernels. That’s what I love about your blog, you always give me some new gift to change my world!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Irene, can this be made with the US corn? I noticed you specified Mexican variety of corn. I also am happy to learn about using corn silk. It sounds like I’ve been tossing something healthy out without a thought.

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    1. The batch featured here was fresh Canadian sweet corn. It works with any corn, just the boiling time is basically 5 minutes for our sweet corn. To get the flavour as close to Mexican esquites, try to buy corn with some starch. It is great to use that silk; my mom used to save the water from boiled corn on the cob and drink it as tea 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Looks excellent, and I like that you give some history/background to many of your dishes. I’m glad you brought this to Fiesta Friday to share. And, yes, I’m getting hungry looking at this!!

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  4. Hi Irene,
    Wow, this must be loaded with flavor, I can’t wait to try this recipe! Hope you are having a great week and thanks so much for sharing with us at Full Plate Thursday!
    Miz Helen

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  5. I never knew you could cook the corn silks. I love learning new things especially when it involves utilising parts of plants I have normally put straight into the compost. I have corn growing so love these ideas.

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      1. fingers crossed. Though it is only 16dC 60,8dF today Mon after 40dC 104dC on Friday which is hard for any plants to cope with plus high winds

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