Corn in a cup is an extremely popular Mexican street food, called esquites in Spanish. It is made of creamy, smoky, seared corn kernels that abound with tangy, spicy, salty and cheesy flavor for an addicting taste that dances across your taste buds.
Elote in a cup is a delightful combination of crunchy caramelized corn kernels and sautéed garlic and dressed with a creamy, slightly tangy sauce with flourishes of lime, cilantro, chili pepper and cotija cheese. Purely a dreamy corn salad in a cup.
Mexican corn in a cup brings together so many of the spices and flavors of Mexican cuisine that it is no wonder this street corn recipe is a crowd favorite. When you smell the roasting corn from street vendors in Mexico your mouth just begins to water.
What makes this popular street food extra special is that it is far less messy than eating corn on the cob. We love roasted corn, such as in this traditional Elote Recipe. But, you can also enjoy the same flavors, creaminess and crunch with this elote in a cup recipe.
What We Love About This Recipe
- Easy side dish, appetizer or snack.
- Festive. Colorful and fresh tasting that will brighten up any event.
- Mouth-watering taste. Sweet, juicy corn on the cob slathered with a creamy, cheesy, spicy sauce.
Esquites (corn in a cup) is the perfect side dish to your Mexican main dishes. These delightful Mexican street corn cups are also a great appetizer for your next taco night or Cinco de Mayo party.
Ingredients for Corn in a Cup
Corn kernels - frozen corn or fresh sweet corn kernels work in this recipe.
Onion and pepper - red onion and jalapeño add just the right amount of color and kick.
Herbs and spices - garlic, chili powder, and kosher salt.
Mayonnaise and sour cream - both give the corn a creamy and slightly tangy texture and flavor. Use real mayonnaise instead of Miracle Whip or similar.
Crumbled cotija cheese - a semi-hard cheese that crumbles easily. It's texture is similar to parmesan cheese. Cotija has a slightly salty and tangy taste that balances out the spices in the corn in a cup.
Lime wedges - cut the limes into wedges and squeeze a bit of fresh juice into the corn mixture. Then place a lime wedge on each cup of corn.
(The exact measurements of these ingredients are in the recipe card.)
Cheese is an important component to esquites and elote. I highly recommend you use cotija cheese.
Cotija is easier to find than you may expect. Many cheese makers, especially in Wisconsin, produce cotija. My second choice is Queso fresco another Mexican-style cheese is also widely available. Feta cheese is not a good alternative.
How To Make Mexican Elote in a Cup
1 Sauté the garlic in butter over medium heat until fragrant.
2 Add the frozen corn kernels and cook until caramelized and slightly charred.
3 Place the corn into a large bowl and stir in the red onion, cilantro and jalapeños.
4 Stir mayonnaise, sour cream and spices in a separate small bowl before stirring into the corn mixture.
5 Stir in the cotija cheese and lime juice.
6 Spoon mixture into cups and garnish with red onions, cilantro and a sprinkle of chili powder.
Serving Tip: For a festive presentation, use pretty glass cups or to serve this popular Mexican snack like on the streets of Mexico serve it in a clear plastic cup.
How to Prepare Fresh Corn on the Cob
Grill: Preheat your grill to medium-high heat. Grill the corn about 8 to 10 minutes until cooked through and lightly charred.
For the following cooking methods, you will need to cut the kernels off of the corn after cooking. Then, sauté the corn kernels with the garlic as directed in step 2 of the recipe card for 2 to 3 minutes.
Roast: Keep husks on corn. Preheat oven to 350° F. Place corn husks directly on the oven rack and roast for 30 minutes or until corn is soft.
Boil: Remove husks from corn. Add corn to a large pot of boiling salted water and cook for 5 to 7 minutes.
Microwave: Cut stem end and about ½-inch up from the bottom of the cob off using a sharp knife. Microwave on High 2 minutes per cob. Holding the tassel end, shake until the corn slides out from the center.
For removing kernels from corn cobs, you can use a sharp knife or I highly recommend using this corn peeler.
For simplicity, I like to use frozen corn kernels versus cutting fresh kernels off of the corn cobs. However, fresh corn kernels are particularly awesome for that fresh flavor when corn is in season. Use the tips in the recipe card for equivalent amounts of frozen kernels to cobs of corn.
Use Mexican crema in place of the sour cream. Mexican cream is less tangy than sour cream and has a higher content.
Omit the cilantro if don't have it on hand or you are among the people that don't like cilantro's taste. The esquites will still be delicious without it. If you still would like a leafy garnish, use flat leaf parsley.
Cotija cheese can be relaced with queso fresco. Queso fresco is not as salty or tangy as cotija but crumbles nicely and will add a nice flavor and texture.
For a spicier Mexican corn cup, leave the seeds in the jalapeños.
Mexican Street Corn Salad: Serve the Mexican corn in a small bowl instead of individual cups.
Street Corn Quesadillas: Stir in ¾ of a cup of shredded Mexican cheese blend into the corn. Slightly dampen 2 large tortillas. In a hot skillet, add 1 tortilla, place the corn mixture on the tortilla and spread to about 1 inch from the edge. Add the remaining tortilla, pressing slightly onto the corn. Flip the quesadilla and cook for up to 2 minutes or until lightly charred. Cut into wedges and serve with Pico de Gallo on the side.
The recipe for Mexican corn in a cup is the best Mexican side dish for The Best Beef Birria Recipe. If you want to rock taco night or a Cinco de Mayo party, serve elote in a cup with Chicken Tinga tacos or these epic Birria Tacos.
Give your birthday boy or girl a Disney Cars Theme birthday party with Champion Corn Cups just like at Disneyland.
Make mealtime or dinner parties fun. Serve the corn salad in a festive way such as in colorful cups, corn husks, or a stemless margarita glass!
Storage and Food Safety
You can sauté the corn in advance and refrigerate in an airtight container for 3 to 5 days. Reheat it in a skillet before making the rest of the recipe.
Esquites is best served fresh. If you do have leftovers, they can be covered tightly and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat the leftovers in a skillet slowly over low heat before serving.
Now it's time to dive into one of our favorite Mexican street corn recipes.
Mexican Corn in a Cup (Elote en Vaso)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 3 cups corn kernels 4 ears of corn or 16 ounces frozen corn
- ½ red onion, minced divided
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro about ½ of a bunch, divided
- 1 jalapeño, seeds removed, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
- 1 teaspoon chili powder approximately
- Kosher salt
- ⅓ cup crumbled cotija cheese or more to taste
- 2 limes
- In a large skillet over medium heat, add the butter and heat until melted and bubbly.
- Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the corn and cook, stirring often, for 5 to 8 minutes or until caramelized and slightly charred in spots.
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer the corn to a large bowl. Set aside.
- Reserve about 2 tablespoons each of the red onion and the cilantro. Stir the remainder of the red onion and cilantro, and the jalapeños into the corn.
- In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, chili powder and salt.
- Stir the mayonnaise mixture into the corn, mixing well. Stir in the cotija cheese and 2 tablespoons of the lime juice until just combined. Add more lime juice to taste, if desired. Cut the remaining limes into wedges.
- Spoon mixture into cups. Garnish with reserved red onions and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.
- For simplicity, I like to use frozen corn kernels versus cutting fresh kernels off of the corn cobs. However, fresh corn kernels are great particularly when corn is in season. Use the tips in the recipe card for equivalent amounts of frozen kernels to cobs of corn.
- For a spicier cup of corn, leave the seeds in the jalapeño.
- Use Mexican crema in place of the sour cream. Mexican cream is less tangy than sour cream and has a higher content.
- Omit the cilantro if don't have it on hand or you are among the people that don't like cilantro's taste. The esquites will still be delicious without it. If you still would like a leafy garnish, use flat leaf parsley.
- Cotija cheese can be relaced with queso fresco. Queso fresco is not as salty or tangy as cotija but crumbles nicely and will add a nice flavor and texture.