Summer’s here and you know what that means: street fairs. There are few things I love more than food that can be eaten while walking. The late author David Foster Wallace wrote a hilarious essay about the Illinois State Fair, which he describes as a “peripatetic feeding frenzy.” (You can find the essay in his book A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, the title of which does not refer to the state fair, but rather, a luxury cruise. Just read it and thank me later.)
At Southern California street fairs, you will often find corn on the cob, grilled and seasoned in a Mexican fashion. It’s called eloté, and it usually comes smothered in butter, mayo, chili powder, and cotija cheese.
Just one look at all that dairy and my stomach starts to scream in revolt.
When I was looking online for a photo of eloté, I found this one from the LA County Fair, which doesn’t really show eloté (except if you look at the sign on the far left), but does show a ridiculous concoction from Chicken Charlie. Chicken Charlie is the county fair vendor known for deep-frying everything, including Oreo cookies, Lucky Charms, watermelon, even butter. But an ice cream chicken sandwich??? Have they gone too far? I think the answer is a resounding yes.
Eloté is definitely one of the healthier options compared to most street foods. But if you’re lactose-intolerant, even this dish can pose a problem.
That’s why I decided to make my own version of eloté without all that cheese. I also cut the kernels off the corn cobs because I just had some dental work done. This makes my version of eloté harder to eat peripatetically, but easier on the choppers.
I always grill corn cobs in their husks because if you grill them directly over the coals, they tend to get overcooked. An hour before cooking, start soaking the corn cobs in cold water. The pre-soaked husks will steam the corn inside. You’ll end up with juicy kernels that have a nice charred flavor.
The key ingredients in eloté besides corn are butter, chili powder, and lime juice. I like to use real butter (the amount of lactose in it is not enough to bother me), but feel free to use vegan butter. Make sure you use fresh-squeezed lime juice; if it sits for too long, it gets bitter. You can play with the ingredients until you find the balance of spicy and sour that you like.
I guarantee you won’t even miss the cheese!
DAIRY-FREE ELOTE (MEXICAN CORN) RECIPE
2 corn cobs, in their husks
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon ancho chile powder
2 teaspoons butter or vegan butter
1 tablespoon lime juice (about half a lime)
sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Soak the corn cobs in cold water, fully immersed, for one hour before grilling. When the coals are ready, remove the corn cobs from the water and shake off the excess. Grill the corn cobs over direct medium heat, turning every 5 minutes. Total cooking time: 20 minutes.
Remove the corn cobs from the grill. When cool enough to handle, peel off the husks and silk. Holding the corn cobs upright, cut the kernels off with a sharp knife and scoop them into a serving bowl.
Add the garlic, chili powder, butter, lime juice, salt, pepper, and cilantro. Mix well. Garnish with more cilantro, if desired. Makes 2 servings.