Upgrade Chicken Chili With Mexican Street Corn-Inspired Ingredients

When chili season is upon us, it's fun to experiment with recipes to find ones you can enjoy bowlful after bowlful. Chicken chili, infused with shreds or cutlets of hearty, tender poultry, is often deemed a crowd favorite, pleasing palates all around the bonfire or dining table. If you're ever in the mood for a meal that's warm, zippy, creamy, and peppery but not overly spicy, take a page out of a traditional Mexican recipe book for an extra dose of inspiration — and a whole lot of flavor. You can easily elevate your chicken chili game by infusing it with the irresistible tastes of elotes and esquites — Mexican street corn. These iconic favorites share a slew of common ingredients, all of which offer a unique twist and have the power to transform basic chicken chili into a dinnertime masterpiece.

Let's start with the basics. Elotes are whole ears of corn that are grilled, smeared with a generous layer of mayo, rolled in Cotija cheese, sprinkled with chili powder, and finished with a squeeze of lime juice. Esquites, on the other hand, are essentially a deconstructed version of elotes, hence the popular term "corn in a cup." Sometimes, esquites are further enriched with aromatic epazote, a perennial herb grown across Central America with notes similar to those of mint.

Chicken chili, meet elotes and esquites

Now, let's explore how these elements work wonders in your chicken chili. Of course, the star of the show is corn. When grilled or toasted corn kernels are mixed into a hot pot of chili, the chewy, yellow grains yield a sweet, smoky crunch. And to bring forth a bit of tang, a scoop of crumbly, salty Cotija cheese gives chicken chili a rich, umami kick. Fold it into the batch and/or scatter it on top as a textural garnish.

A dash of chili powder enhances the heat and complexity of your chili, creating a beautiful balance with the other ingredients. While totally optional, the herb epazote lends an earthy, subtly minty flavor. If you can't find epazote in your local market, feel free to swap in other verdant garden staples such as oregano, fennel, or cilantro (that is, if it actually tastes good to you).

A lavish dollop of mayonnaise in your chili creates a velvety smooth, luscious mouthfeel, not to mention a pleasant tang. Finally, a squeeze of fresh lime juice over the chili immediately before serving adds a refreshing zing that mirrors the bright acidity of elotes and esquites. By incorporating the beloved features of Mexican street corn into homemade chicken chili, you'll quickly turn a classic comfort food into a delightful ode to the bustling, vibrant streets of Mexico.