Mexican Street Corn Ditches the Cob for Pasta

May 24, 2018

Wander any festival or fair or market in Mexico and you’ll likely cross paths with elotes, mayo-smeared, chili-sprinkled, cheese-covered corn on the cob. Sometimes, the husks are pulled backward, like a handle, but often it’s speared on a stick, like a corn dog or frozen banana. You’re ambling around this happy place, while eating, which makes it all the happier.

I wouldn’t recommend that here.

Photo by Rocky Luten

Don’t get me wrong: It will still be happy and mayo-y and chili-y and cheesy. But a bowl of pasta begs for a fork, a chair, a table where there is, hopefully, a bottle of wine or two. I have this working theory—tested often just to make sure—that if you have a vegetable and some pasta, you have dinner.

Shop the Story

Such was my muse here. While elotes are traditionally a snack or, in Stateside Mexican restaurants, an appetizer or side, I kept wondering: How could I turn this into a whole meal? If you’ve ever had elotes, you get why. The combination of charred corn, spicy mayo, salty cheese, fresh cilantro, and juicy lime is sublime. (Sorry, couldn’t help it.)

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I cannot do mayo but will absolutely make this. I wish I could make it right now!”
— alygator

So why not put it on pasta? There is already precedent for taking the recipe off the cob: esquites, which some translate as elotes in a cup, but there’s more nuance. With esquites, the kernels are cooked in a salty epazote broth (pronounced eh-pah-ZOH-teh, a popular, ultra-aromatic herb). From there, the toppings are identical.

This pasta-fied version borrows inspiration from both.

More Cheese, Right This Way

First, strip the corn kernels. Then, instead of boiling, char them in a squealing-hot cast-iron skillet. The trick is: Pat down, then don’t touch. Like a piece of fish or steak, which needs to form a crust before being flipped, the longer the kernels stay put, the deeper their color and flavor. Once they’re super toasty, call in some jalapeño (remove the pith and seeds or skip altogether if you aren’t into spice), garlic, and chili powder. Toss this with mayo, lime juice, chives, cilantro, and cotija, a hard, crumbly cow’s milk cheese. If you can’t find cotija, parmesan works, too.

All of this gets tossed with hot pasta. I opted for rigatoni, whose big tubes offer sanctuary for the corn kernels. But any short shape, from penne to fusilli, will do. Just make sure it’s hot! This way the noodles and sauce fall hopelessly in love with each other.

If there are any leftovers, they make the very best pasta salad for tomorrow’s lunch.

What’s your favorite veggie pasta of the moment? Tell us about it in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Giggles
  • Erin Alexander
    Erin Alexander
  • FrugalCat
  • Hana Asbrink
    Hana Asbrink
  • alygator
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Giggles June 30, 2018
A perfect application for Gluten Free Corn based pasta, for an even cornier taste ;-)
Erin A. May 24, 2018
Literally can't wait to make this tonight.
FrugalCat May 24, 2018
Shell pasta! It can trap the corn kernels inside.
Hana A. May 24, 2018
UGH, this was soo good!!!
alygator May 24, 2018
I cannot do mayo but will absolutely make this. I wish I could make it right now!
Emma L. May 24, 2018
I bet butter would swap in really well here!
Chris H. May 24, 2018
Didn't even have to click the link to guess the author of this article. Emma, you're the best thing to happen to this site since its inception. Thanks, and keep up the great work!
Emma L. May 24, 2018
That's very kind—thank you!