Yucatan street-food vendors offer esquites as fresh, warmed corn kernels in a cup, topped with crema, “cotija” cheese, chili powder and a squeeze of lime juice. Cream, roasted poblanos and fresh red bell pepper amp up the color and flavor.
You can easily cook this delicious snack at home without any trouble to obtain the ingredients at any local “mercado” or even at any supermarket.
“Esquites” or Toasted Corn:
Make Ahead: Leftover recado spice blend can be stored at room temperature for up to 6 months. The corn mixture needs to rest for 30 minutes.
Tested size: 10 servings; makes 4 cups
- 3 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
- 3 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano, lightly toasted (see NOTE)
- 20 whole cloves
- 20 allspice berries
- 13 bay leaves (8 of them broken up)
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish
- Kernels from 5 or 6 large ears fresh corn (4 cups)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 cup diced red bell pepper
- 1 1/2 cups diced roasted poblano chili pepper (see NOTES)
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
- 1/2 cup fresh lime juice, plus wedges for serving
- Mexican crema, for serving
- 3 1/2 ounces crumbled cotija cheese, for serving
- Ground cayenne pepper, for serving
For the recado: Combine the peppercorns, oregano, cloves, allspice berries and the 8 broken bay leaves in a spice grinder; grind to a powder. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl, crumbling any remaining larger bits with your fingers. Return anything left in the strainer to the spice grinder and grind to a powder. Repeat the straining step.
Add the remaining bay leaves to the powder and toss to incorporate. Transfer to an airtight container; the yield is 1/4 cup.
For the esquites: Heat 1/2 cup of the oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the corn, salt and 1 teaspoon of the recado spice blend; cook, stirring constantly, for 6 or 7 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan to keep the corn from sticking. The kernels should be a slightly deeper golden color and barely softened. Transfer to a bowl to cool.
Add the remaining 1/4 cup of oil to the bowl, along with the red bell pepper, poblanos and scallions, tossing to incorporate. Let the mixture rest for 30 minutes. (If you won’t be serving this right away, cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.)
Add the lime juice and toss to incorporate. Taste, and adjust the seasoning. Serve each portion with a drizzle of crema, a sprinkling of the cheese and cayenne pepper.
NOTES: Toast the oregano in a small, dry skillet over medium heat just until fragrant, shaking the pan to avoid scorching. Cool completely before using.
Broil 3 large poblanos on an aluminum-foil-lined baking sheet, turning until evenly charred, or char over the flame of a gas burner. Place in a plastic bag, seal and steam for 15 minutes. Discard the charred skins, seeds and ribs. Cut the flesh into small dice.
Adapted from “Yucatan: Recipe From a Culinary Expedition,” by David Sterling (University of Texas Press, 2014).
Tested by Johnna Rowe.
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