All the authentic flavors of “elote” are combined in this great tasting Mexican street corn pasta salad: grilled corn, mayonnaise, chili powder, and cotija cheese.
Why you’ll love it: I mean…pasta, bacon, cheese, creamy dressing. How could you not love it?
How long it takes: 45 minutes
Equipment you’ll need: grill or grill pan, large pot, large bowl, measuring tools
If you’re not familiar with Mexican street corn, or elote (eh-LO-tay), you’re in for a real treat. A common street food in Mexico, elote is an ear of roasted or boiled corn that’s been slathered in lime juice and mayo (or Mexican crema), sprinkled with chili powder, and rolled in cheese. It’s amazing!
I’m so excited to bring you this Mexican street corn pasta salad. It incorporates all those great flavors of street corn into a wonderful salad that’s a little less messy to eat. I’ve added a few extras to add even more flavor.
Look for roasted or grilled corn in this pasta salad, along with traditional cotija cheese, mayo, chili powder and lime juice. Those are the traditional street corn ingredients. Add to that crunchy red bell peppers, spicy jalapeño, green onions, cilantro, and yes, BACON, and I think you’ll agree that this is one great pasta salad.
Be sure to make this salad soon when sweet corn is at its prime. There’s nothing quite like the taste of freshly picked corn on the cob, sweet and juicy! It’s featured in this summer pasta salad, too, with tomatoes, olives, smoked provolone, and salami.
About this pasta salad
This salad recipe isn’t difficult to make. It takes a bit of time, about thirty minutes, but if you can multi-task (and we’re all pretty good at that, right?), it goes quite quickly.
And it’s totally worth it!
I’ll get you started on the recipe here and give you some helpful tips. As always, you’ll find the complete printable recipe with instructions, measurements, and nutrition information at the end of this post.
What you’ll need
- Pasta: Use a small pasta, such as rotini, farfalle, or macaroni. Whole wheat is fine, too.
- Corn: For best flavor, buy fresh corn on the cob. There’s nothing like it! If fresh corn isn’t available, use good quality canned or frozen corn.
- Red Bell Pepper, Jalapeño Pepper, and Green Onions: This vegetable trio adds lots of crunch, color, and flavor to the pasta salad.
- Fresh Cilantro: What’s Mexican food without cilantro? The bright herbal flavor complements the salad perfectly. If you’re not a fan, parsley is a good sub.
- Bacon: I guess you could say the bacon is optional but why? It’s so good!
- Cotija Cheese: Authentic Mexican street corn is rolled in this tangy sharp cheese. You definitely want it in your salad.
- Dressing: The homemade dressing incorporates other elements of Mexican street corn: Mayonnaise, Sour Cream, Lime Juice, Chili Powder, Cumin, Salt, and a dash of Hot Sauce.
How to make it
Let’s get the most time consuming parts of the salad out of the way first. You can probably do all of them at the same time. Boil water to get the pasta cooking, fry or bake the bacon, and grill the corn.
Whew, got that out of the way! The pasta is rinsed, drained, and cooling. The bacon is crisp and ready to crumble. The corn is nicely charred. Your salad is on its way!
When the corn is cool enough to handle, set it on end in a large bowl and carefully cut the kernels from the cob. Discard the cobs.
Add the chopped peppers, green onion, and cilantro to the corn. Stir in the pasta, bacon, and cheese.
In a smaller bowl or measuring cup, stir together the dressing ingredients. By the way, use a fresh lime. You’ll need both juice and zest for the dressing.
Stir the dressing into the salad, making sure everything is coated well.
That’s it! I bet you can’t wait to give this great summer pasta salad a try. Serve it with tequila lime chicken or grilled salmon. It’s a great side for sandwiches, burgers, (I love these taco turkey burgers!) and pulled pork, too. Or serve it with delicious pork carnitas.
Elote, or Mexican street corn, is whole ears of corn, roasted or boiled, coated with chili spiced mayonnaise or Mexican crema, and rolled in either cotija or queso fresco. It may be garnished with a sprinkling of chopped cilantro or chili powder. There are lots of variations!
Cotija cheese is named after the Mexican town where it was first produced. It’s pronounced kuh·tee·huh. It’s made from cows’ milk and is aged, giving it a firm dry texture.
Queso fresco (pronounced kay·sow freh·skow) comes from Spain originally. It is a fresh, curd-like cheese similar to ricotta, fresh mozzarella, or feta. It has a mild, slightly tangy flavor.
Aged cotija is similar to Parmesan or Romano: firm, dry, and salty. It’s not a melting cheese. If you happen to buy fresh cotija, it will be more like feta or goat cheese.
How to make this pasta salad your own
- Make the salad vegetarian by simply leaving out the bacon! For a vegan pasta salad, substitute vegan products for the cheese, sour cream, and mayo.
- Make this salad a main dish by stirring in rotisserie or shredded chicken, shrimp, pinto or black beans, or another protein of your choice.
- Like most pasta salads, you can add or subtract ingredients easily. Try adding chopped tomatoes, green pepper, or sweet onions.
- If you can’t find cotija cheese, try other types of cheese. Shredded Parmesan, cheddar, or a Mexican blend are good substitutes.
- Rather have a warm dish? Try this cheesy baked corn casserole (with bacon) or Mexican corn dip.
Make Ahead Ideas
Want to get the salad started ahead of time? Cook the bacon, pasta, and corn the day before. Refrigerate in a big bowl, tightly covered. If you have more time, chop the veggies and add them too. It won’t take any time at all to stir up the dressing and add it to the salad when you’re ready.
Leftover salad will keep up to three days in the fridge.
You can turn leftover pasta salad into a tasty casserole. Simply make an easy cheese sauce (you can do it in the microwave!) and combine it with the pasta salad in a greased baking dish. Add shredded chicken or another meat if you want. Bake in a preheated oven at 350°F for 20-25 minutes or until heated through.
More summer salad recipes
- Southwestern BBQ Chicken Salad (best chopped salad!)
- Panzanella Salad Recipe – perfect summer salad!
- The Best Potato Salad Recipe (easy & creamy!)
- Creamy Coleslaw Recipe
- Vinegar Coleslaw (no mayonnaise)
- The Best Caprese Pasta Salad Recipe
- Grilled Vegetable Salad with Goat Cheese
- Taco Salad Recipe – with optional homemade dressing
- Bruschetta Orzo Pasta Salad — one of my most popular salads!
- Thai Noodle Salad with Peanut Sauce from Feasting At Home — can’t wait to try this!
- 8 oz. uncooked pasta (rotini, macaroni, farfalle, etc.)
- 6 ears fresh corn, husked and rinsed (4 cups frozen or canned corn)
- 1 cup finely diced red bell pepper (about 1 pepper)
- ½ cup finely chopped green onions (about ½ bunch )
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- ¼ cup finely diced jalapeño pepper, seeds and membranes removed (about 1 large pepper)
- 8 strips bacon, cooked and chopped
- ½ cup crumbled cotija cheese
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup sour cream
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- ½ teaspoon lime zest
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce, more to taste
- Heat a grill pan or a grill to medium. Add corn and cook, turning occasionally until slightly charred. Let cool slightly before cutting off the kernels. Place kernels in a large bowl.
- Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions. Drain and rinse well with cold water, tossing to make sure it is all cooled.
- Add pasta to corn, along with bell pepper, green onions, cilantro, jalapeño, cooked bacon, and crumbled cotija.
- In a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients. Pour dressing over pasta and vegetable mixture and stir to combine.
- Serve or immediately or refrigerate for up to three days. Makes 10 cups.
- Make the salad vegetarian by simply leaving out the bacon. Or make this salad a main dish by stirring in shredded or rotisserie chicken, pinto beans, or another protein of your choice.
- Try adding chopped tomatoes, green pepper, or sweet onions.
- If you can’t find cotija cheese, substitute shredded Parmesan, cheddar, or a Mexican cheese blend.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition data is gathered primarily from the USDA Food Composition Database, whenever available, or otherwise other online calculators.