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Cookout sides are always a challenge, especially at our house. Jeff hates potato salad, slaw and guacamole. Really anything cold. And I’m not a fan of using the oven while he’s grilling. I don’t want to be cooped up in the house baking anything – potatoes, beans, fries, whatever – when I could be outside, sipping something cold. So, this summer I’m on a mission to find sides that will make us both happy.

Here’s the first winner: a light version of Mexican Grilled Corn or elote.

Traditionally, elote is a Mexican street food, but you’ll find vendor carts in major U.S. cities and across the South, especially in Texas. Vendors serve the roasted corn-on-the-cob either on a stick or with the husk pulled down (to use as a handle) and offer different condiments for your cornsicle – choices like crema Mexicana (a Hispanic creme fraiche), mayo, sour cream, butter, chili powder, lime juice, cheese, hot sauce and lemon pepper. A typical vendor might dip the corn in crema, dust it with chili powder and sprinkle on a little lime juice. Others slather the corn in a mixture of mayo, sour cream, chili powder and lime juice and roll it in crumbled cotija cheese (a Mexican cheese similar to Parmesan or Pecorino Romano).

For this lightened-up version, we grilled the husked corn, drizzled it with a little crema (you also could use low-fat sour cream), and added a sprinkle of chili powder and a squeeze of lime. The whole process took about 15 minutes, and the corn was definitely cheaper than a bag of chips and dip. Which Jeff won’t eat. Because it’s cold.

Anyway, the combination of spicy, smoky and bright flavors made this corn a perfect accompaniment for our grilled flank steak, but I can see pairing it with almost any Mexican-inspired meal, as well as grilled shrimp or fish.

What about you? Do you stick with traditional cookout sides (i.e. chips, potato salad, baked beans, slaw) or do a little something different? Please, give me ideas. Jeff’s a grilling machine, and I don’t want us to get scurvy.

Mexican Grilled Corn with Crema

Adapted from “Cooking Light”(August 2003)

Yield: 6 ears

  • 6 ears corn, husked
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/4 cup crema Mexicana (can be replaced with low-fat or regular sour cream)
  • 6  lime wedges
  1. Preheat grill to medium-high.
  2. In a small bowl, combine chili powder, salt and pepper.
  3. Place corn on a grill rack coated with cooking spray; cook 12 minutes or until corn is lightly browned, turning frequently. Place corn on a platter; drizzle with crema. Sprinkle with chili powder mixture. Spritz with lime juice.

Oven Directions: If you need to roast the corn in the oven, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and place the corn (in its husks) on the middle rack for about 30 minutes.