When referencing major historic events–especially dramatic, unexpected ones–people always say, “I remember exactly where I was when…(fill in the blank).” For my parents’ generation, it’s “I remember where I was when Kennedy was shot” or when the Challenger exploded. For my generation: “I remember where I was when the O. J. Simpson car chase was on,” or when Obama was elected. Well, I’m going to play the “I’m a legit foodie” card and say that I tend to remember exactly where and when I first had particular amazing foods. Apparently certain gustatory experiences are right up there with transformational historical events in my mind. So it is with Mexican street corn, also known as elote: immediate mental time travel to March 2006 at a hole-in-the-wall Cuban restaurant in Manhattan.
My husband and I were on a pre-kids spring break vacation to New York to spend time with his extended family and some friends in NYC. I have glimpses of memories of a boat tour to the Statue of Liberty, a visit to Oheka Castle (later to be used as Taylor Swift’s crazy-lady mansion in her Blank Space video), and the two of us sleeping in a twin bed at Anthony’s friend house (at 23, we were still in Piaget’s We’ll-Sleep-Anywhere-As-Long-As-It’s-Free stage of development). But perhaps over and above these experiences, I remember eating street corn for the first time. Anthony’s friend Rosemary, whose twin bed we were maxing the weight limit on, told us we not only HAD to try this Cuban place, but we HAD to have the street corn. As we waited for a table in the freezing cold of a Manhattan March evening, I recall being a little skeptical. As much as I love mayonnaise, putting it on corn on the cob has never seemed like a natural impulse. It sounded like putting chocolate on carrots. But once I tried it–caramelized roasted corn slathered with a creamy-cheesy-limey sauce–I was a believer.
I think I’ve been chasing that first street corn experience ever since that spring break trip. I’ve tried elote at numerous restaurants here in the Phoenix area (where you’d think we’d really have the hang of all Mexican foods) but none has ever hit the spot quite like the kind at the Cuban restaurant with the long-forgotten name. Hence this recipe for Mexican street corn dip. It’s not really fresh corn season right now, being December, but I’ve been craving that creamy-limey blend of flavors lately and I wanted to try something along those lines for our upcoming annual Christmas party. This dip is my answer–creamy, limey, a little spicy, and super simple to make with frozen corn in the absence of fresh. Nothing may ever live up to my fondly remembered first taste of elotes, but this one comes pretty close. I’m calling it a winner for a crowd-pleasing crunchable appetizer that comes together in under 15 minutes.
Mexican Street Corn Dip
(Adapted from Damn Delicious)
2 Tbsp. butter
12 oz. bag frozen corn (roasted frozen corn, like Trader Joe’s, would be even better)
2 Tbsp. diced jalapeño
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
3 Tbsp. crumbled cotija cheese
1 garlic clove, minced
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
salt, to taste
- Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add corn and jalapeño and sauté 8-10 minutes, or until corn is cooked through and begins to char.
- Remove from heat and stir in all remaining ingredients. Serve warm or cold with tortilla chips (but I think you’ll prefer warm)!
Makes about 3 cups.