In the lingo of street food, the horn equals corn: tamales, mayo corn, and increasingly, esquites. Although you might be familiar with the first two, now is the ideal time to get acquainted with roasted richness of the esquite.
In her recently updated The Essential Cuisines of Mexico, Diana Kennedy notes that the name Esquite derives from the Nahuatl word izquitl, meaning toasted corn. These days, esquite is most likely to be composed of freshly shaved roasted corn kernels, and is tossed with any combination of the herb epazote, lime, mayonnaise, chile power and cojita cheese. It's similar to mayo corn, but since it's served in a cup, it's a bit more portable and a lot less messy.
Throughout Mexico, where there are street food vendors, there are esquites. In L.A., esquites have been available from street vendors and the stands at El Mercado de Los Angeles for a while now. Recently they've also started to make appearances at farmers markets and restaurants. Plus with fresh of ears of corn now in season at markets, it is very easy treat to make at home.
For the last few months, Nolin Roasted Corn has offered esquites at their stands in farmers markets, including Culver City, Cerritos and Long Beach. Along with the usual esquite ingredients, they can also add garlic salt, lemon pepper and a slug of hot sauce if you like it extra spicy. These are the loaded variation.
If you'd like to enjoy cocktails with your esquites, a more refined version can be found at Yxta Cocina Mexicana near downtown Los Angeles. Described on the sides menu simply as 'grilled corn', the esquite heritage of the dish is revealed at first bite, when you taste the sharp acid of lime juice followed by the slow burn of cayenne. Sprinkled with a minimum amount of cojita, it allows the corn flavor to come out, in little pockets of bursting sweetness.
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Perhaps what makes esquites so delicious, is that the dish is composed of humble ingredients that are prepared in a simple way and delivered to you on the spot. But that is what also makes esquites easy to make at home. Gourmet Sleuth has an esquites recipe that is very similar to the one in Kennedy's book which serves as an esquite base that you can customize with your own add ins such as different herbs, ground chiles or cheeses. Just like on the street, the corn is just waiting for you to make it what ever you want.
Nolin Roasted Corn: Farmers Markets - South Gate (Monday), Culver City (Tuesday), Huntington Park (Wednesday), Long Beach (Friday), Cerritos (Saturday).Yxta Cocina Mexicana: 601 South Central Avenue, Los Angeles, (213) 622-5540.