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~Warm Mexican Sweet Street Corn Cups (Esquites)~

IMG_9972When you travel, if you enjoy exploring the ethereal world of street food, Mexico City just might be the mecca for this foodie sport.  The native locals call it street-food-hopping -- it's bar hopping for foodies.  While it's oh-so-much fun to participate in a street-to-street eat-fest like this with well-seasoned friends who have their own list of top-secret hot-spots, the street scene is so vibrant, if you're alone, you can sign on to take a professionally-arranged "street eats" or "taco tour" too.

When it comes to Mexican street foods, high on my short list are:  Barbacoa (agave-wrapped slow-roasted lamb barbecue), chicharrónes (deep-fried pork rinds), cochinita pibil (whole suckling pig), tacos al pastor (shaved spit-roasted pork and pineapple), and frutas en tacha (figs, pumpkin and/or sweet potatoes preserved in syrup).  That said, no one knows more about corn than the Mexican culture, and, when it comes to corn as street food (not just in tortilla or bread form), they serve two items that you must try:  elotes (ay-loh-tee) and esquites (es-kee-tay).

IMG_9971Mexican street food staples: elotes (ay-loh-tee) & esquites (es-kee-tay).

IMG_9957Elote (ay-loht) is the Spanish word for "corn", and in Mexico, it typically references a very special street-snack food:  grilled corn-on-the cob slathered in a crema, mayo, chili-powder and lime-laced sauce, then sprinkled with crumbled cotija cheese and chile powder (similar in texture to feta but similar in taste to Parmesan).  Street vendors typically pull back the husk but leave it attached, remove all of the silk,  IMG_9963return the husk to its original position, secure it at the open end with a piece of twine or husk and place it over hot charcoals.  In modern home kitchens with outdoor gas grills, it's common practice to remove the husks and simply place the cobs on a hot grill to char a bit.

You can find my recipe ~ Classic Grilled Mexican Sweet Street Corn (Elotes) ~ by clicking on the Related Article link below.

IMG_9991Esquites (es-kee-tays), meaning "cup of corn", is corn-on-the-cob, that has been grilled or boiled (a simple matter of preference), shaved from the cob, then sautéed in oil and butter along with minced onion, serrano chiles and epazote leaves.  While often referred to as corn salad, it is served warm (not cold), in a bowl, garnished with cotija cheese, chile powder and lime juice, and, eaten with a spoon. It's a marvelous side-dish to make when serving sweet corn to fussy women, like myself, who don't fancy gnawing it off the cob.

Remove husk, silk & trim 6 large cobs of sweet corn.

IMG_0822 IMG_0837 IMG_0838 IMG_0842 IMG_9998~Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons sugar to water. One-at-a-time, lower the corn into the water. When the water returns to a boil, simmer the corn for 5 minutes. While the corn is simmering, use a pair of tongs to dunk the tops down into the water. Do not overcook. Error on the side of undercooking -- the kernels will get cooked a second time in a few minutes.  Using tongs, remove the corn and set aside until corn can be easily handled with your hands, 20-30 minutes.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c6ce352f970bStep 2.  When the corn has cooled to the point where you can comfortably hold it with your hands, it's time to shave the kernels from the cobs.  This is quite easy.  For details and tips, click into Category 4, 15 or 20 to read my post ~ How to:  Shave Corn Off the Cob with No Mess!!! ~.  Note: Corn shaving is not a precise sport.  Three large cobs will yield about 1 1/2-2 cups shaved corn kernels.  Six cobs, about 3-4 cups, and so on.

Shave kernels from boiled or grilled corn & make a quick sauce.

It's worth mentioning, there are as many recipes for esquites as there are cooks, and, many do not take the time to make this or any sauce to stir into the sautéed corn.  They simply add some mayonnaise, crumbled cojita, garnish with lime juice, chile powder, salt and call it a day.  It's easier and it is ok, but, that is not the way I was taught to make esquites (by Mexican born, San Antonio-based girlfriend Toni).  Her recipe is perfect -- her esquites is "off the hook cob" elotes.

IMG_00021/2  cup Mexican crema (or sour cream)

1/2  cup mayonnaise

3/4-1  teaspoon ancho, chipotle or guajillo chile powder + additional chile powder for garnish 

IMG_9930Epazote-3003/4-1  teaspoon dried, crushed epazote leaves (Note:  "Eehp-ah-ZOH-teh" is a pungent, uniquely-flavored leafy herb that grows wild in the United States and Mexico and has been used in Mexican cuisine for thousands of years dating back to the Aztecs.  Its distinctive flavor cannot be replaced by other herbs, so, if you don't have access to it, its simply better to leave it out.  In the Mexico, fresh leaves are available everywhere all year round.  Here in the USA, dried is all I can ever find, and I keep them on hand in my pantry.  1 teaspoon dried = 7 leaves or 1 stem)

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

2  garlic cloves, run through a press

1/2  cup minced fresh cilantro leaves, no stems included, 1/4  cup for stirring into sauce and 1/4  cup for garnish

2  teaspoons lime zest from 1 lime

2 tablespoons lime juice from 1 lime

IMG_99363/4  cup finely-crumbled cotija cheese, or, 1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco cheese tossed with 4 tablespoons finely-grated Parmesan cheese (Note:  "Coh-CHEE-ha" cheese, a Mexican cow's milk cheese, can be hard to find.  Its texture is similar to feta, but it doesn't taste quite like feta.  It is, however, affectionately referred to as "Mexican Parmesan" because its flavor is very similar to fresh Italian Parmesan.

6a0120a8551282970b01630627a618970dQueso fresco cheese is a Mexican cow's milk cheese which is common in authentic Tex/Mex dishes.  It's a fresh cheese, similar to feta, with a shelf life of about 5 days.  When placed on top of a dish, or stirred into it, it softens rather than melts, and, with enough heat becomes slightly creamy.  When queso freso is tossed with a a bit of Parmesan, it's a great texture and flavor substitution for hard-to-find cotija.)  

IMG_9948IMG_9951In a medium bowl, stir together the crema, mayonnaise, your choice of chile powder, dried epazote, salt, garlic, 1/4 cup of the cilantro, lime zest, lime juice and 6 tablespoons of crumbled cheese (a hand-held box grater works really well for crumbling cotija or queso fresco).

Note:  Sauce can be made a day ahead and refrigerated.  Return to room temperature prior to using.

Sauté the corn, first to brown in oil, second to flavor in butter.

Important note -- read before proceeding with recipe:  If using grilled corn kernels instead of boiled corn kernels, no problem.  Skip the step of browning the boiled kernels in oil, simply melt the butter in the skillet, add the grilled kernels and proceed with recipe as directed.

IMG_00043 1/2-4  cups cooked corn kernels

enough vegetable oil to lightly-coat a 10" skillet

4  tablespoons salted butter

1/2  cup finely-diced sweet onion

1  minced serrano pepper or jalapeño pepper

1  teaspoon dried epazote leaves

1/4  teaspoon salt

reserved crumbled cotija & minced cilantro (from above prep)

chile powder & lime wedges, for garnish

IMG_0006 IMG_0008 IMG_0014 IMG_0018 IMG_0019 IMG_0021~Step 1.  Heat a thin coating of vegetable oil in a 10" skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the corn and sauté, stirring often but not constantly, until corn is developing golden brown spots, about 4-5 minutes.  Adust heat to low, add the butter, and stir until butter has melted.  Add the onion, minced chile pepper, epazote and salt.  Adjust heat to medium-high and sauté until onion is softening but still has some crunch to it, 2-3 minutes.  

IMG_0023 IMG_0025 IMG_0028~ Step 2.  Remove pan from heat and allow to cool about 5-10 minutes. Add the reserved 6 tablespoons of crumbled cotija cheese and 1/4 minced cilantro.  Give the mixture a thorough stir.  Begin adding sauce, 1/2 cup at a time, until the desired flavor and consistency is reached.  I added 1 cup today, and, how much sauce to add depends on how many actual cups of cooked corn kernels there were to begin with.  Portion into bowls and garnish each portion with a sprinkling of chile powder and a lime wedge or two.  Serve remaining sauce at tableside.  It is common for folks to dollop and stir additional crema or mayonnaise into their own portion -- the sauce is better than either!

Portion & garnish w/lime, chile powder & additional sauce.

IMG_9974Properly prepared esquites is amped-up elotes.  Cha-cha-cha!

IMG_0032Warm Mexican Sweet Street Corn Cups (Esquites):  Recipe yields 2 generous cups sauce and 6-8 servings esquites.

Special Equipment List:  8-quart stockpot; tongs; chef's knife; cutting board; garlic press; microplane grater; hand-held box grater; large spoon; 10" skillet, preferably not nonstick 

6a0120a8551282970b0168ebf0c318970c-800wiCook's Note:  Purchasing chile powder or chili powder blends can be confusing, but once you know what the spelling means, you will know what it is and what is in it.  ~ Is it spelled chile or chili?  It's Not a regional thing! ~ can be found in Categories 13, 15 or 16.

There is indeed a difference between a chile, chili, chile powder and powder and chili powder.

IMG_2464CHILE:  Spelled with an"e" at the end, refers to the fresh or dried plant or pod or fruit of any member of the pepper family.

CHILI:  Spelled with an "i" at the end, refers to soups, stews and/or sauces made with fresh or dried chile peppers (like chili con carne).

CHILE POWDER:  When spelled with and "e" at the end, means it is a powder made from one or more dried chiles exclusively.  This is sometimes referred to or marketed as POWDERED CHILES, or CHILE BLEND (if it contains more than one kind of chile powder).

CHILI POWDER:  When spelled with an "i" at the end means it is a mixture of ground, dried spices (for example:  cumin, garlic, onion) and chile powder, meaning:  the manufacturer has added spices to the chile powder or a blend of chile powders.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)


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