Re-creating a beloved dip takes trial and error to get it right
I know I will always eat well when visiting my cousin Victoria's home, so it was no surprise when she served a memorable spread at her son's first birthday party, including a huge pan of a creamy corn mixture. I would come to learn it was a version of Mexican Street Corn.
I will admit to having had more than one serving and even asked for the recipe because it was so darn good. My cousin was flattered I asked for the recipe but quickly admitted she had ordered her corn from a favorite local restaurant, so there was no way for her to share any recipe secrets with me.
I went home and started looking for recipes and discovered Mexican Street Corn is a term used by many to refer to corn, either on the cob or not, combined with a mayonnaise mixture, chile powder, cheese and lime.
However, I still had more to learn as further research would reveal more terms one should know when referring to Mexican Street Corn.
The word elote means corn cob, and Mexican elote is grilled corn on the cob served slathered in mayonnaise and sprinkled with toppings. Esquites, also called elote en vaso, or corn in a cup, is grilled corn that has been cut off the cob, topped with a similar combination of ingredients and is served in a paper cup.
The modern-day versions of both are commonly sold from street carts and have roots in Mexico City.
According to Forbes.com, the Mexican love affair with on-the-go cuisine has only strengthened in the high-paced modern era. Mexico City, for example, is frequently praised as one of the most significant cities on earth in terms of street food. Referred to as pequeños antojos in Spanish (meaning little cravings), street dishes here can count corn as a near-universal ingredient.
I was able to find a number of recipes for what I now recognize as esquites. But when I looked for a recipe to use as a dip, I could not find any that tasted as good as the one served at my cousin's party.
After a few at-home attempts to re-create the flavors I remembered, I am happy to say I found one I am excited to share.
I grilled ears of fresh sweet corn, allowing them to char a little. While the corn was on the grill, I combined mayonnaise, sour cream, cotija cheese, chile powder, garlic, lime juice and zest in a large bowl. Next, I cut the kernels off the cob, being careful to scrape every last morsel off the cob, and added it to the mayonnaise mixture. Finally, I placed the mixture into an oven-safe dish and baked until it was bubbly and lightly browned.
In my favorite version of the dip, I added minced jalapeno and some cilantro, but I know these aren't ingredients loved by all. I listed them as optional in the ingredient list.
The best dipper I have found for this dip is a traditional tortilla chip. It is sturdy, and the taste complements the corn mixture perfectly. Be careful with the amount of salt you add to the dip, especially if you have a very salty chip.
I have also discovered a few shortcuts that may serve you well if you are in a hurry and don't have fresh ears of corn on hand. Defrosted good-quality frozen corn can be used without sacrificing flavor. Just be sure to try to char some of the kernels while in the skillet. I also found a pre-seasoned corn mix at Trader Joe's that was very convenient and turned out very tasty. If you try this, experiment with the proportions of cheese and spices, but be sure to add the mayonnaise and sour cream.
No matter what type of corn you use, if your friends and family are anything like mine, you will want to make a full recipe, or two, as everyone loved it, and sadly there were no leftovers. That's the sign of a great recipe, if you ask me. Enjoy!
• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.
Easy Esquites or Mexican Street Corn Dip
6 ears sweet corn or 6 cups fresh or frozen (defrosted) corn kernels
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (only needed if using skillet cooking method)
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup Mexican crema or sour cream
Zest and juice of one large lime
1 large clove garlic, pressed or minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
8 ounces cotija (or Feta) cheese, crumbled
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced (optional)
½ cup minced fresh cilantro (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Extra lime wedges for garnish
If starting with sweet corn on the cob: Shuck and clean corn. Place on hot grill turning every 5 minutes to cook. A little browning is nice and will add flavor. Remove from the grill, allow to cool until able to handle and cut corn from ears, scraping cobs to get any remaining juice.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
If starting with corn kernels: Heat oil in a large skillet; add corn kernels, stirring frequently until cooked through.
In a large bowl, combine mayonnaise, crème or sour cream, lime zest and juice, garlic, chili powder, cheese, jalapeño and cilantro, if using. Add corn kernels and salt and pepper to taste, stirring to combine. Place in greased iron skillet, 2 quart casserole or oven-safe serving dish. Bake 30 minutes or until bubbly and warm throughout. Remove from oven and serve with tortilla chips.
Makes approximately 8 cups
-- Penny Kazmier