leave your inhibitions at the door
One of my favorites restaurants anywhere – and definitely the best in Ann Arbor – is Isalita. I’ve been there at least half a dozen times in the past few months and everything we’ve ever ordered has been absolutely golden. Their cuisine is Mexican street food-inspired and they really do stretch the definition on items like truffled guacamole and hamachi ceviche with lime granita. The elotes, however, are indeed straight off the street and as simple as can be.
I first had elotes in Puerto Vallarta a few years ago. We were on vacation with my mom and brothers’ families, staying at one of those all-inclusive resorts. The food was decent, but was still a little Americanized – aka “dumbed down” – slightly-bland, mass-produced, nothing adventurous, and a lot that wasn’t even Mexican.
One night we ventured into the downtown area for Christmas mass.
Afterwards, we were walking along the beach and had the best food on the trip. Isn’t it interesting how this happens? The hotels have a lot more resources, professionally-trained chefs, and new equipment. Yet, they can’t come close to the quality of food served on street carts by people whose lives depend on it. I’m sure that the cooks in the hotels secretly agree and would prefer to eat at these carts themselves.
Sorry, I wasn’t a blogger back then so I didn’t think to take pictures of the food. If I did, you’d be treated to pictures of vibrantly colored ceviches of all kinds – octopus, shrimp, fish. You’d also see pictures of all kinds of fruits, churros, and other snacks. But I wasn’t a blogger so you’ll have to settle for a picture of a seahorse sculpture.
Anyway, that was also the first time I had elotes. I totally forgot about them until Isalita’s version brought me back to that street corner. Elotes are simply roasted corn dipped in mayonnaise and sprinkled with grated cheese and some spices. I’m not a huge mayo fan, but it works really well here to complement the spice from the cayenne pepper and acidity from the lime juice. This is so simple to make. I’ve already warned the family that almost all the corn we’re going to have for the rest of the summer is going to be prepared this way. I heard no complaints.
I came up with this recipe myself and was very happy with the way it turned out. The only thing that I would change is the kind of cheese I used. I didn’t really set out to make elotes and only thought of it when I came across queso blanco at Costco.
Elotes are usually made with grated cotija cheese, which is a dry and firm cheese similar to parmesan. The queso blanco was softer and, when grated finely, it stuck together a bit more than I wanted. It still tasted fantastic.
– ½ cup mayonnaise
– 2 Tablespoons lime juice
– 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
– 8 ears of corn, shucked
– ¼ cup melted butter or olive oil
– Salt and pepper
– 4 ounces cotija, grated finely. (I used 8 ounces and it was wayyyy too much)
– Lime wedges
1. Prepare a grill
2. Stir together the mayo, lime juice, and cayenne in a small bowl
3. Brush the corn with the butter or oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the corn for a few minutes, rotating often to evenly cook. I like a little bit of a char on it, so I left it on longer. But you can cook for less time.
4. Remove corn from grill.
5. While still hot, spread the mayo mixture on the corn and then either dip the corn in the cheese or sprinkle it on.
6. Serve with a wedge of lime to squeeze on, if desired.
Since the mayo was chilled it took enough of the heat off the corn so that we were able to eat it right away. Obviously, if it’s still too hot you may want to wait a bit. But definitely get the mayo and cheese on right away – don’t put it on after the corn cooled. You want it all melty and delicious.