One of summer's true pleasures is the elote. While it's more commonly found in Mexican neighborhoods, it's a super-easy snack you can make yourself.
The tradition of slathering corn with mayo, butter and cheese is well-known in Mexico, and to some extent, here in Chicago, especially in Pilsen and Back of the Yards.
And while a trip to 18th Street will yield plenty of options this summer, one local chef says elotes are easy enough to make yourself at home.
Just about any day of the week, you'll spot him on 18th Street, just a few yards west of Carpenter, selling agua frescas and elotes. The latter is a summertime ritual. Essentially steamed and boiled corn, covered in mayo, Parkay squeezable butter, a ton of aged cheese and some ground chili for heat. You can get it on the cob or sliced off into a cup.
"It's one of those things as a kid, that horn that they have on the cart, you'd hear it, and run out of house and ask your mom for a dollar and be like ready to eat because it's delicious," said chef Jonathan Zaragoza.
Zaragoza grew up in the business. His family still runs Birrieria Zaragoza on the Southwest Side, and the snack is a staple for him in the summertime.
"I like mine in a cup, but the traditional way to do it is on a cob," he said. "Summertime, what's better than on the street eating and getting messy, I think that's delicious."
And doing it yourself is easy. For the cup version, he slices off kernels over tinfoil, adding enough to fill the cup halfway. Then he adds some mayo, as well as sour cream, topping with the same squeeze bottle butter. Not only does he had cotija cheese, but also grated Parmesan and queso fresco.
"Usually a dry-aged cheese, cotija is big, sometimes you see queso fresco on there; and some people use parmesan as well," he said.
He then adds the second half of the corn, tops it the same way, and finishes off with a bit of arbol chile for a jolt of heat. For the cobs, he slices off the bottom, jams in a stick, then adds all of those same ingredients while the cob sits on tinfoil; he can then roll the cobb around to spread out the crema, mayo and butter, before adding the grated cheeses and arbol chile. He says elotes also make great party food.
"You can have them ready in the oven and pop 'em and dress them as you go, or have them pre-dressed for your guests coming in," he said.
Extra Course: The legendary 18th Street elote guy, and when you can see him in action.