Creamy, cheesy and spicy, this vegan Mexican street corn in a cup (aka esquites) is like elote but off the cob. Using frozen corn makes this recipe fast, easy and inexpensive. Serve it in a disposable cup, street food style, or in tacos, tostadas or as a dip.
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Mexican street corn is popular in the late spring and summertime, when corn is in season and cold salads and travel are in full swing.
This recipe (receta de esquites vegana) is vegan, dairy-free, oil-free, gluten-free and WFPB, if you use my recipes for the sour cream and parmesan substitutes.
🧄 Ingredient notes
- Frozen corn kernels - Super convenient, I always have frozen sweet corn from Aldi in the freezer. No need to thaw it first.
- Vegan sour cream - pictured is the Forager brand cashew-based sour cream, which is an oil-free product. I have also made this recipe with homemade cashew cream, homemade fat-free mayo and store-bought vegan mayo.
- Vegan parmesan cheese - to add a cheesy, umami flavor to the street corn without using dairy, you'll need to use a vegan grated parmesan product from the store. Or, make my 5-minute vegan grated parmesan cheese recipe using almond flour.
- Chili lime seasoning - A combination of chile pepper (ancho and/or guajillo), lime and salt, use a chili lime seasoning such as Tajín brand or the Trader Joe's brand chili lime seasoning.
📋 Substitutions and variations
Here are some suitable substitutions for the ingredients in this recipe:
- Frozen corn kernels - instead of frozen corn, you can use canned corn that has been drained. Or, you can use fresh corn that has been cut off the cob. Or you can use the pre-grilled corn kernels from Trader Joe's in the frozen section.
- Vegan sour cream - use a vegan sour cream of your choice for this recipe. If you don't have that, you can use vegan mayonnaise instead.
- Vegan parmesan cheese - use store-bought or homemade vegan parmesan cheese, cotija cheese or crumbly white cheese substitute. Or, you can subsitute this with nutritional yeast flakes and a pinch of garlic powder.
- Chili lime seasoning - Instead of Tajín or Trader Joe's chili lime seasoning, you can use ancho chile powder, guajillo chile powder or a blend of chili powder
- Lime juice - If you don't have fresh lime juice, you can use bottled lime juice or lemon juice.
- Hot sauce - Cholula hot sauce is the one I would recommend, but you can use any hot sauce you enjoy, such as Valentina, Tapatio, El Yucateco, etc.
- Fresh cilantro - instead of cilantro, you can use thinly sliced green onion or minced fresh parsley
- Nut-free - make this nut-free by using a nut-free sour cream and parmesan cheese subsitute.
- WFPBNO - make this whole food plant based no oil by using oil-free WFPB sour cream and parmesan recipes/products
- SOS-free - make this SOS-free by omitting the salt and using salt-free products
Switch things up with these variation ideas!
- Spicy - add extra hot sauce to make the corn extra spicy
- Bulk out the corn salad - Add diced red bell pepper, purple onion, rinsed black beans and chopped greens to make this salad more filling and veggie-packed.
Step by step instructions and photos for how to make vegan Mexican street corn in a cup using frozen corn kernels (como preparar esquites).
Heat a shallow skillet (does not need to be non-stick) over medium-high heat for 90 seconds. Then, add the frozen corn kernels to skillet and spread out across the bottom of the skillet. They will sizzle and maybe even jump or dance in the pan a little bit. This is good. Don't stir them for at least 2 minutes.
Stir the corn and then leave it to cook another 2 minutes. Do not add water or liquid to the pan. The high heat will char the corn and heat it up without having to grill it. Once your corn has browned with some little char marks and defrosted, remove the pan from the heat.
Close-up of the charred corn.
Transfer the corn to a bowl, along with the vegan sour cream (or vegan mayo).
To the bowl with the corn and sour cream, add the vegan grated parmesan, lime juice, chili lime seasoning and cilantro.
Stir everything together to coat. Taste the corn and add Cholula hot sauce, salt and pepper, to taste. Serve immediately or chill to serve cold later.
For a traditional street food style, serve the esquites in small disposable styrofoam or plastic cups with plastic spoons.
🧯 Food safety
- Wash hands with soap and water before cooking
- Don't leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove
⭐️ Expert tips
- High heat is key to charring the corn kernels on the stove without grilling or roasting them.
- Do not add oil, water or any other liquid to the pan, as this will deglaze the pan and make your corn kernels brown and muddy looking.
🥡 Make ahead and storage tips
Yes, this can be made ahead. Store the prepared Mexican street corn in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Good for 2-3 days.
This recipe does not stand up well to freezing.
🚦 Calorie density score
🟡 This recipe gets a yellow light on the calorie density chart. Some of the ingredients (the vegan sour cream and vegan parmesan cheese) are higher than 600 calories per pound, so eating richer foods like this regularly may prevent you from losing body fat or may even cause you to gain weight. Learn more about calorie density from Jeff Novick, MS, RDN.
Get your own printable calorie density chart for your refrigerator and free ebook explaining calorie density in simple terms.
👨👩👦👦 Serving suggestions
This vegan Mexican corn salad goes well as a side dish or topping with any TexMex meal. It is delicious on tostadas with beans, mini vegan tostadas, included in tacos or on top of a burrito bowl.
No, unfortunately, Trader Joe's elote seasoning has parmesan cheese in it, which is made from cow's milk, so it's not vegan.
Ancho chile powder is the most common chile used on elote and esquites. You can also use guajillo chile, chili powder and chili lime seasoning.
Elote served off the cob in a cup is called esquite or esquites.
They are very similar, the main difference is how they are served. Elote is served as corn still on the cob. Esquites is where the corn has been cut off the cob and mixed with the seasonings and dressing and is served in a cup.
Using high heat in a dry pan, you can char loose corn kernels in about 5 minutes.
🗺 Cultural influences
I grew up shopping at Fiesta, a grocery store chain in Houston, Texas with a focus on Hispanic foods. Fun fact: our family took care of Paco, the green parrot mascot, when he wasn't appearing in TV commercials for Fiesta in the 80's.
Outside Fiesta, there was always a food truck surrounded by the scent of grilled corn. Elote, Mexican street corn on the cob, smothered in mayonnaise, cotija or parmesan cheese, chile pepper and hot sauce, was always a welcome snack. If my mom was feeling generous, a Mexican coke in a tall glass bottle would accompany it.
Esquite or esquites is the Spanish word for elote that has been cut off the cob and is served in a cup, mixed in with the mayo, crumbled cheese, chile pepper and hot sauce.
Did you know that elote served in Mexico is often made with a starchier corn than the sweet corn variety we eat here in the United States?
This recipe is inspired by my mixed ethnic background and heritage as a native of Houston, Texas and by the strong cultural influences of my friends from Mexico. See About for more information on my cultural influences and how I attribute recipes.
💜 More recipes you'll love
If you love this vegan elote off the cob recipe, check out these other plant-based TexMex and Mexican-inspired recipes!
Vegan Esquites - Mexican Street Corn in a Cup with Frozen Corn
- 12 ounces frozen corn kernels
- ½ cup vegan sour cream or vegan mayo
- 1 tablespoon vegan grated parmesan
- 2 teaspoons lime juice
- 1 teaspoon chili lime seasoning Tajín or Trader Joe's chili lime
- 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro chopped
- Cholula hot sauce optional but recommended
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper optional, to taste, if needed
- Heat a shallow skillet (does not need to be non-stick) over medium-high heat for 90 seconds. Then, add the frozen corn kernels to skillet and spread out across the bottom of the skillet. They will sizzle and maybe even jump or dance in the pan a little bit. This is good. Don't stir them for at least 2 minutes.12 ounces frozen corn kernels
- Stir the corn and then leave it to cook another 2 minutes. Do not add water or liquid to the pan. The high heat will char the corn and heat it up without having to grill it. Once your corn has browned with some little char marks and defrosted, remove the pan from the heat and transfer the corn to a bowl.
- To the bowl with the corn, add the vegan sour cream, vegan grated parmesan, lime juice, chili lime seasoning and cilantro. Stir everything together to coat.½ cup vegan sour cream, 1 tablespoon vegan grated parmesan, 2 teaspoons lime juice, 1 teaspoon chili lime seasoning, 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
- Taste the corn and add Cholula hot sauce, salt and pepper, to taste. Serve immediately or chill to serve cold later.Cholula hot sauce, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper