This Mexican Street Corn Pasta Salad is loaded with grilled corn and tossed with a tangy lime dressing. Bring it to a summer BBQ and watch it disappear!
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So, what happens when you cross the goodness of traditional Mexican Street Corn with pasta?! You get this irresistible pasta salad that will be the hit of your next summer party! Every time I make it, it pretty much disappears!
The inspiration for this recipe came from one of my friends, who brought Mexican Street corn out on the boat one afternoon. It was so good that everyone was asking for more, and while I love the traditional version it can be a bit challenging to make for a crowd so I came up with the idea to turn it into a salad. Making it the perfect party or picnic side dish!
On the day I did my first test of this salad one of my friends tried a bit of the dressing before I put it on the salad and she told me she could drink the dressing! Well, maybe not such a good idea, but it really is amazing!!
So, what exactly is Mexican Street Corn?
Street corn or Elote is a dish made up of cooked sweet corn on the cob smothered in a spicy mixture of mayonnaise, crema, and chili powder and then sprinkled with cheese. It's a popular snack sold by vendors both on the streets and at festivals in Mexico. It's become really popular in many other places, especially the US, as it's a great picnic and BBQ food!
Making Street Corn pasta salad
Like most pasta salads, this one is pretty easy and only requires a few simple steps.
Grill the corn: Start with this step and you can prep everything else while the bread is cooking and cooling. We all know fresh grilled sweet corn is pretty hard to beat when it comes to summer veggies!
Cook the pasta: Once you get the corn on the grill heat the pasta water and get the pasta cooking. The corn and the pasta will both be done around the same time so you can let both cool while you finish prepping.
Make the dressing: Up next, you make the irresistible spicy lime dressing that is out-of-this-world delicious! I often use a small mason jar to make salad dressing. You simply add the ingredients and shake to blend.
Strip the corn: Once the corn is cool enough to handle, strip the kernels from the cobs. You'll want to either use a corn peeler (see below) or a sharp knife
Assemble the salad: Add the pasta to a very large mixing bowl. Add the corn, veggies and cheese. To finish it off you'll add that delicious dressing. This is really the ultimate summer salad. It took me a while to get it on the blog, partly because every time I make it, it seems to disappear before I can photograph it!!
What's the Best Way to Grill Corn?
You'll hear a lot of debate about the "best" way to grill corn, at least I do amongst my friends. My answer is it depends on what you are going to do with it! You can actually grill it with the husk on or off. I've tried all three ways of grilling corn - husk on, husk off straight on the grill and husk off wrapped in foil. They all ended up being delicious!
When I'm mixing it into something, I prefer grilling the corn with the husk off so it gets nice and charred giving the corn a rich, nutty flavor. For just straight-up eating I actually prefer to wrap it in foil so it stays super tender. Nothing wrong with the husk on option, but personally I think it's just a bit messy dealing with hot, burnt corn husks and silk!
A note about the ingredients
- Corn: In the summer I try to get fresh corn from the local farmer's market or a farm stand whenever possible as it's just a little fresher and sweeter than what you can get in your local grocery store.
- Cotija Cheese: This is the traditional cheese for Elote. It's salty and crumbles easily making it work well in a pasta salad. You'll find it in most major grocery stores. If necessary you can substitute Queso Fresco.
- Dry pasta: I use Celentani for this recipe, which gives you that nice corkscrew shape that holds the dressing well. It's also known as Cavatappi.
- Vegan Mayo: The recipe calls for a plain, vegan mayo for the dressing. If you don't regularly use vegan mayo and don't want to buy it just for the recipe, you can substitute regular mayo. If you want to give your salad a little extra kick you could use a Siracha flavored mayo
Additional notes from the kitchen
- Make sure you salt your pasta water. I generally start by adding about a teaspoon of salt. Let the water come to a boil and then taste it (be careful not to burn your tongue!) It should taste salty.
- Cook the pasta to just al dente so you don't end up with a soggy pasta salad. Depending on where you live this will likely be about a minute less than the lowest suggested cooking time on the package directions.
- I have a couple of friends who are vegan so have a few go-to dishes like this pasta salad that are either naturally vegan or can easily be made vegan. Leaving the cheese off of this one gives you a vegan salad.
How to serve Mexican Street Corn Pasta Salad
This salad is a great dish to bring to a potluck or backyard party. And it also makes a nice light vegetarian lunch or dinner all on its own.
Or if you want to create your own small group gathering featuring this pasta salad, I'd add on:
- Healthy Cowboy Caviar or Melon, Proscuitto and Mozzarella Skewers
- Southwestern Turkey Burger Sliders
- No-Churn Salted Caramel Ice Cream
Include a couple of bottles of Pinot Gris and you'll have the perfect summer evening.
More summer salad recipes
things you may want for this recipe
Corn Peeler - You can use a sharp knife to remove corn kernels from the cob but if you make a lot of corn salads or salsa a corn peeler can be a very useful kitchen tool. I've tried a few different ones and this is my favorite because it removes kernels really well and is easy to clean and store.
Mexican Street Corn Pasta Salad
For the salad:
- 4 ears of sweet corn, will yield approximately 2 cups once off the cob
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cups uncooked cavatappi pasta
- ¼ cup chopped green onion
- ½ cup chopped red or orange bell pepper
- ¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
- ⅓ cup crumbled cotija cheese, optional
- Extra lime for serving, if desired
For the dressing:
- ⅓ cup vegan mayo, you can use regular if you prefer
- 1 teaspoon lime zest
- ⅛ teaspoon sea salt
- ⅛ teaspoon ground pepper
- 2 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 2 teaspoons finely minced jalapeno
- Heat the grill. Preheat a grill to medium-high heat.
- Grill the corn. Husk the corn and rub with the olive oil. Place the corn on the grill and cook for 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes until all sides begin to char slightly.
- Make the pasta. While the corn is cooking add the pasta to a large pot and just cover with water. Cook according to package directions (about 10 - 12 minutes) until the pasta is al dente. Drain the pasta and let cool slightly.
- Strip the corn. When the corn is cooked, remove from the grill and let cool slightly. Remove the kernels from the cob using a sharp knife or corn removal tool.
- Make the dressing. Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl, using a fork to whisk everything together.
- Assemble the salad. Add the pasta to a large mixing bowl. Add the corn, green onion, red onion, and cilantro. Mix well. Top with the dressing and toss to coat.
- If you don’t want a vegan version top with the cheese. If you want to keep it vegan, serve with the cheese on the side.
This recipe post was originally published in August 2017 and updated in July 2020 with some new information. No changes have been made to the original recipe.