Recipes

corn salad with chile and lime

For July 4th, we hosted a dozen people (no, we don’t have space for this but why learn now) and I prepared six racks of ribs, a double batch of broccoli slaw, a kind of ad-hoc-ed potato salad with a mustardy-caesary vinaigrette, a charred corn salad, a flag cake, lemonade, Aperol spritzes, Suze-and-tonics, watermelon, and then we went up to the roof to light sparklers and watch the fireworks and approximately 95% of the people who slid into my DMs after seeing photos of all of this on Instagram only asked me about the corn. It’s okay, my ribs’ feelings will eventually recover.


first corn of the season

I get it though, it’s kind of cute (I’d unquestionably wear it as a printed skirt), especially with pink pickled onions, many shakes of Tajin (chile-lime salt), and cilantro on top. The corn salad is loosely modeled on esquites, the Mexican street snack. Typically, corn is cooked in butter with onions, chiles, and epazote (an herb) is served in cups with lime juice, chile powder, mayo, and crumbled cheese and I don’t care what you think, or think you think, of mayo; you will inhale it and then want another cup immediately. You often see these same ingredients slathered on to corn on the cob. But, I was craving more distinct layers of flavor — a cool dressing, warm corn, and then crunchy heat and acidity on top. (Also, I dreaded imagining the condition of my children’s okay my clothes if I made the slatethered-on version, but that’s not exactly a “culinary” decision.)

pickled red onionscharredcut from the cobmayo, sour cream, cotija

The result is basically inhale-able. Each element gets to be its best self and nothing mingles long enough to get monotonous. Or lingers, so you’ll just have to make it every weekend for as long as the good corn lasts.

corn salad with chile and lime

Previously

One year ago: Grilled Zucchini Ribbons with Pesto and White Beans
Two years ago: Grilled Pizza and Confetti Party Cake
Three years ago: Peaches and Cream Bunny Cake
Four years ago: Green Beans and Almond Pesto and Very Blueberry Scones
Five years ago: Sticky Sesame Chicken Wings and Brownie Ice Cream Sandwiches
Six years ago: Slow-and-Low Dry Rub Oven Chicken and Grilled Bacon Salad with Arugula and Balsamic
Seven years ago: Blackberry Gin Fizz and Bacon Corn Hash
Eight years ago: Skirt Steak with Bloody Mary Tomato Salad and Flatbreads with Honey, Thyme, and Sea Salt
Nine years ago: Bread and Butter Pickles, Blue Cheese and Red Potato Tart, Zucchini and Ricotta Galette and Porch Swing
Ten years ago: Mediterranean Pepper Salad, Cherry Brown Butter Bars and Watermelon Lemonade
Eleven years ago: Chopped Vegetables, Watermelon, and Feta Salad
Twelve years ago: Rosanne Cash’s All-American Potato Salad and Ratatouille’s Ratatouille

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Bodega-Style Egg and Cheese Sandwich
1.5 Years Ago: Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cookies and Slow-Roasted Sweet Potatoes
2.5 Years Ago: Guacamole and Broccoli Pizza
3.5 Years Ago: Taco Torte and Miso Black Sesame Caramel Corn
4.5 Years Ago: Charred Cauliflower Quesadillas and Chocolate Oat Crumble

Corn Salad with Chile and Lime

  • Servings: 4 to 6 as a side
  • Source: Smitten Kitchen
  • Print

If you cannot find cotija, use queso fresco, ricotta salata, feta, or another crumbly sharp cheese. Most cotija is salty and a little funky; I didn’t need any salt in my sauce below the corn, but with a milder cheese, you probably will.

  • 1/2 a small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • Slightly heaped 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 medium ears corn, shucked
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 ounces (heaped 1/2 cup) crumbled cotija cheese, crumbled
  • 1 lime, halved
  • Tajín seasoning or chile powder
  • Handful of fresh cilantro leaves

Combine red onion, red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons cold water, salt, and sugar in a bowl or jar. Set in fridge until needed. Onions will be very lightly pickled by the time you’re done assembling the salad, but if you can give it 1 to 2 hours in the fridge, they’ll be moreso.

Heat a grill to medium-high. Lightly oil grill grates and place corn cobs directly on them. Cook corn until charred in spots all over, turning as often as needed. Transfer them to a cutting board to cool slightly. Don’t have a grill? I have often charred corn directly over the gas flame on my stove (be careful; it will crackle and spatter a little). You oven’s broiler, should it be more robust than mine, might also work for the task.

While you’re grilling your corn, combine sour cream, mayo, and cotija cheese. Spread on the bottom of your serving plate. Cut corn corn from cobs with a sharp knife and heap it over the cheese spread on the platter. Squeeze the juice of half a lime all over, then scatter the corn with pickled onion rings from the fridge. Generously shake Tajín or chile powder all over; if you’re using plain chile powder, season with salt and an extra squeeze of lime, too. Top with cilantro leaves. Cut remaining lime half into wedges and serve alongside. Eat right away — while the dressing is cold and the corn is hot.

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78 comments on corn salad with chile and lime

    1. deb

      Boiled mixed color small potatoes, halved, cold (of course), then olive oil, white wine vinegar, a not-small amount of both smooth and coarse Dijon, a tablespoon of anchovy paste, a minced garlic clove, a shake or two of Worcestershire, and then salt and pepper to taste. A lot of minced chives.

      1. ajfifth

        I’ve read that when making a potato salad with a vinaigrette dressing, the dressing should be put on the potatoes while they’re hot, and then allowed to come to room temp. Supposedly that makes the potatoes able to soak up the dressing more effectively. Maybe that’s a myth and I’ve been hoodwinked?

        1. MR in NJ

          No, it’s true. I learned that decades ago from watching the Renoir film “Rules of the Game”! It’s in a scene in the kitchen of the estate where the shooting party is taking place. Have done it ever since.

        2. Totally true! I made potato salad today with the vinaigrette and onions going on the hot potatoes and then later, when it’s all chilled, the mayo/celery/parsley part. Recipe on my blog. I’ve been told this is the French way with potato salad.

  1. JV

    Wow this looks scrumptious and makes me want to run out and get fresh corn ASAP. Love corn + cheese + lime, but I’ve never had a good, easy recipe until now.
    The family greatly enjoyed your broccoli slaw and watermelon lemonade during our 4th! And my daughter had the best time making the flag cake! Glad to hear you had a nice, busy holiday as well!

    1. I use frozen corn when I don’t have fresh. Toss the frozen kernels into a dry, hot cast iron skillet and stir over until the kernels have some caramelization. ALMOST just as good as fresh grilled! I do it often when I’m craving a corn salad and don’t want to go to the market or just don’t feel like going to the trouble of shucking and cutting the kernels off.

        1. Yes, TJ’s frozen roasted corn is a staple for us. I sauté it briefly in a cast iron skillet in a bit of coconut oil, delicious in tacos, taco salad, anywhere you want to add corn flavor.
          I cab’t wait to try this Corn platter, looks gorgeous and a lot easier to do that another recipe that requires sauté of the corn in batches. Thanks Deb for sharing this one!

    2. sjohns

      I used canned, but fried up with a little oil and salt until charred in places. Used a funky feta in the dressing. Was perfect!!

  2. Megan Fenderson

    This week we ate our fill of Ina’s Fresh Corn Salad (YUM), but still had many ears of corn on hand. I started dreaming of Elote, then I remembered your post from earlier in the day. Perfect!! I had to sub yogurt for sour cream, and feta for Cotija. We still loved it!! Perfect summer side dish – light but still feels indulgent. And so pretty. Great recipe, as yours always are!

  3. Marcia

    This looks wonderful… Penzeys has a newish spice called PICO FRUTA. They sent me a sample last summer and it’s a combination of chili and citrus. It would probably be great with this. They also sell epazote.
    I can’t wait to make this this weekend.

    1. Rachel

      Bill Penzey is the hero we need and deserve! I just got a big box of yum from them… you’re the second person in 48 hours to mention Pico Fruta to me, looks like I need to start a new shopping list!

      I’d love to make this ahead for a potluck cookout; think it’ll still be yummy if the temperatures aren’t as big a contrast? (Chilled, not cold?)

    2. Oh I got a sample of Pico Fruta too last year, had it on grilled pineapple, but haven’t had it since…. that is a great idea to use it for this. Thank you! Love Penzey spices myself!

  4. Robin

    You always come to my rescue as I am planning menus for something. This and the broccoli slaw going on my bbq menu for next weekend!! So my question….for the Tajin would Trader Joe’s chili lime seasoning be a good substitute?
    And you know since we’re all asking the ad hoc recipe on the potato salad needs to become a full post (pretty please). :)

  5. Betty

    A few weeks ago, I saw a recipe for a summer strawberry cake. It was a sheet cake with strawberries baked on top. When I got the berries, I could not find the recipe

  6. Mary Ann

    I want to make this tomorrow morning for a 4 y.o.’s taco themed bday party – her choice. Can TJ’s frozen roasted corn an acceptable substitute?

  7. Magan

    Deb, I love the addition of red onions; however, what do you think of taking them in a different direction and putting pickled onions on your fabulous corn dish? Mmmm…me gusto.

  8. Melissa

    This was absolutely amazing! Everyone was raving about it. The only thing I should have changed was I should have doubled the recipe. Thank you for the great recipe.

  9. Elizabeth

    We made this, grilling the corn over a gas burner inside. So easy! It was a party pleaser fresh… and the leftovers (cold, with the onions even more pickled) are great with tortilla chips!

    1. Allie

      Did you use a grate or anything to grill the corn over the gas burner? Like the idea of this but scared to do it… how’d you hold the corn etc?

    1. Kelly

      If you are looking for the Tajín seasoning, my Aldi consistently has it in stock. Deb, this looks like summer fireworks for my mouth! I can’t wait to try it!

  10. Brenda

    I have Tajin that I “imported” from a trip to Mexico last winter. Love it sprinkled on raw veggies. But here in Canada, I’ve not seen cotija cheese for sale. What can I sub in for the cheese?

  11. KATHERINE A ARNOLD

    This was PERFECT with fish tacos! It repeats a number of the ingredients, so it’s a money saver as well. Kids liked it too- even the one with braces who is sad he can’t eat the corn off the cob this summer! Thank you!

  12. Megan

    Delish! I served it in a bowl and scaled down the recipe to two ears. Started the corn over my gas stove and finished in a hot cast iron after I cut off the kernels.

    Added grated onion to the mayo/sour cream. Added finely diced raw onion and seeded jalapeño to the corn. I kept heaping more dressing on while I ate, it’s definitely addicting. I might add diced avocados to the leftovers! P

  13. Rachel Joy

    Made this for a grill out gathering this evening with freshly picked local corn from the farmers market and got great reviews! So yummy. I used Trader Joe’s Chili Lime Seasoning in place of the Tajin as another commenter had mentioned. I also used feta instead of Cotija because that’s what i could find at TJs. And I live in a condo with no outdoor grill so I did my corn in then oven broiler and it seemed to cook well! Actually that’s much easier than waiting for a huge pot of water to boil, I’m going to start cooking my corn that way! Thank you Deb, your recipes are always the best!!!

    1. Helen

      So tip I learned from someone else – if you want fresh corn (without char) then microwave it in the husk for like 3 minutes – then the husk and silk comes off perfectly! No more boiling water in our house.

  14. diveintomalaysia

    Having recently returned from a trip to Peru, I was missing all of these flavours so had to give it a go. Sooo good!
    To Courtney: I am not a mayonnaise fan either and it tasted great with all sour cream

  15. Kelly

    I fail at being from the Midwest and really don’t like mayo OR sour cream. I can’t even do cream-of-anything soup either, for that matter. I love the idea of this dish, though – is there anything I could substitute for the mayo and sour cream (greek yogurt, maybe?), or any other dressings you’d recommend?

  16. Julia

    I subbed 2% Greek yogurt for sour cream (what I had on hand but also in case anybody trying to be healthier), it was delicious!

  17. Rebecca

    I made this last night for a dinner party and it too was the recipe people were talking about. I love the way the dressing sits at the bottom and can be piled on or just barely grazed depending on people’s love of creaminess. Instead of sour cream I used low fat plain yogurt, which worked perfectly. I didn’t have Tajin so I used a creole style seasoning salt for the top since that’s what I had and it was awesome- salty, tart, spicy, smoky. This is a very easy and very tasty side dish.

  18. Karen Sullivan

    This is perfect. I made it this weekend and am planning when I can make it again. My husband said “the pickled onions are essential.” I agree, and the cilantro, too. I made a bit extra of the cheese mixture, as I thought hubby had 8 ears of corn, but he had 6. It wasn’t a bad thing. I may have eaten a spoonful or two of it. I just ate the leftovers for lunch and wish there was more!

    1. I made this for lunch today- subbed feta and used the Penzey’s Pico Fruta, extra lime and had some left over. I had some cold for supper!!! SO GOOD COLD!!! I might have to make another half recipe tomorrow….

  19. Melaura

    This was delicious! Even though I doctored it based on what I had (greek yogurt, veganaise, queso fresco) and added some chickpeas and tomatoes to make it a bigger meal (it doesn’t need it!) this was still super tasty and forgiving of my meddling. My broiler also proved too wimpy to get any color on corn, so I held the ears over my gas burner with metal tongs and that worked well. Don’t skimp on lime and chili powder/spices.

  20. Kate

    Is there a secret to cutting corn from the cob without it ricocheting all over the kitchen? We love corn salads (or as an ingredient in one) but I can’t seem to remove from the cob without making a colossal mess.

    1. I put my dishpan down in my sink and hold the cob upright in there with one hand and slice down with a serrated knife with the other hand. Spritzes and kernels stay down in the dishpan, which easily washes out when I’m done. This is the method used in many many Mennonite households around here who cut and freeze literally hundreds of ears.

  21. This was SO SO SO GOOD. I cooked up some rice and grilled shrimps to make this a complete meal, and plated it all together roughly as outlined. Also substituted housemade pickled radish for the red onion, and this was just SUCH A HIT. We ate way more than we should’ve and I will definitely be making this a summer staple!

  22. Andrea

    I made this as written (with chili powder & previously grilled and then frozen corn) last night and it was wonderful. My husband I ate nearly the entire thing as dinner, saving just enough to give one of us a few bites for lunch today. Another outstanding recipe that was lightning fast to make & have ready to eat on a sweltering hot weeknight.

  23. Kelley

    We made this tonight using our Cha Cha Chile spice blend from The Spice House. This will be in our regular summer rotation from now on, another hit!

  24. Labelo

    I’ve eaten a version of this every night this week. I’m obsessed!
    I did start replacing the sour cream with Greek yogurt when I ran out, and it still tastes great. Might be a good option for those looking to cut some fat and calories!

  25. Lizzy

    This is so good. We didn’t have cheese, so we skipped it (diet version? I’d like to think so!). Had this and some steamed fingerling potatoes for dinner last night. Then we had cold leftover corn salad for breakfast today and it was even better. Didn’t miss the cheese. Looking forward to eating this many more times this summer!