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Vivian Howard’s Cilantro Lime Sweet Corn

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Cilantro Lime Sweet Corn

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Spicy, buttery and bright, this is the perfect make-ahead corn dish for summer.

cilantro lime sweet corn

For Mother’s Day, the kids gave me a cookbook that’s been on my wishlist for months: Vivian Howard’s much-acclaimed Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South (Little, Brown and Company, 2016). I don’t know how to articulate my love for this book other than to say that it’s so beautifully written and photographed, even if I never cooked a single recipe from it, I’d still treasure it. Vivian Howard is the owner and chef of Chef and the Farmer in Kinston, North Carolina and also the creator and star of the PBS documentary and cooking series A Chef’s Life. Her book is so much more than just a collection of recipes — it’s a personal story of Southern cooking filled with warm family anecdotes, tales from the restaurant business, and insight into the food and culture of Eastern North Carolina.

There are a lot of “cheffy” recipes in the book – like Braised Pork Shoulder and Sweet Potato Free-Form Lasagna or Fried Green Tomatoes with Curried Peach Preserves and Whipped Feta — but for every one of those, there’s an equally homey and simple one, like Grandma Hill’s Candied Yams or this cilantro lime sweet corn that my family loves.

What you’ll need To Make Cilantro Lime Sweet Corn

ingredients for cilantro lime sweet corn

How To Make Cilantro Lime Sweet Corn

A quick note before we get to the step-by-step: this version of the recipe is slightly different than the one in the cookbook. I made a few minor adjustments to simplify it and suit my cooking style, but the essence and taste of the dish are the same.

cutting the kernels off the corn cobs

To begin, remove the kernels from the cobs. The best way to do this is to this (without having corn kernels fly all over the kitchen) is to invert a small bowl inside a larger bowl.

Hold the cob upright on top of the inverted small bowl,  with the flatter end down, and use a sharp knife to slice downward as close to the cob as possible.

ingredients prepped on cutting board

Next, combine the corn, 1-1/2 cups water, salt and sugar in a 10-inch skillet or medium saucepan and bring to a boil.

cooking corn in the skillet

Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes — until the corn is tender-crisp and there are about 2 tablespoons of water left in the pan.

adding butter, spices, herbs, and lime to skillet

Stir in the butter, lime zest, lime juice, cilantro, and cayenne pepper.

finished cilantro lime sweet corn in skillet

Serve warm and enjoy!

cilantro lime sweet corn in serving bowl

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Cilantro Lime Sweet Corn

Spicy, buttery and bright, this is the perfect make-ahead corn dish for summer.

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 20 Minutes
Total Time: 35 Minutes


  • 4 cups corn (cut from about 5 ears)
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Zest of 2 limes
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • ½ cup cilantro, finely chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper


  1. Combine the corn, 1½ cups water, salt and sugar in a 10-inch skillet or medium saucepan. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes -- until the corn is tender-crisp and there are about 2 tablespoons of water left in the pan (it's fine to eyeball it; it doesn't need to be exact).
  2. Stir in the butter, lime zest, lime juice, cilantro, and cayenne pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve warm.
  3. Make Ahead: This dish can be made up to a day ahead of time but wait to add the cilantro until right before serving.

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (4 servings)
  • Serving size: 1 cup
  • Calories: 234
  • Fat: 14 g
  • Saturated fat: 8 g
  • Carbohydrates: 29 g
  • Sugar: 10 g
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Protein: 5 g
  • Sodium: 412 mg
  • Cholesterol: 31 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

Gluten-Free Adaptable Note

To the best of my knowledge, all of the ingredients used in this recipe are gluten-free or widely available in gluten-free versions. There is hidden gluten in many foods; if you're following a gluten-free diet or cooking for someone with gluten allergies, always read the labels of your ingredients to verify that they are gluten-free.

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  • Can you use frozen corn for this recipe? Fresh corn on the cob is out of season where I live… 🙁

    • — Carolyn on February 7, 2024
    • Reply
    • Hi Carolyn, While I think this is best with fresh corn, you could get away with using frozen. Please LMK how it turns out!

      • — Jenn on February 7, 2024
      • Reply
  • Easy and so much flavor! I did not add the butter, and it was still delicious. Paired with Grilled Shrimp Tacos with Avocado Salsa.

    • — Liz on October 8, 2023
    • Reply
  • I made this for a potluck and got rave reviews. This dish is absolutely delicious. Full of flavor for something with just a few ingredients. Absolutely amazing. It’s so fast & easy and perfect to serve at a party or for dinner. I doubled the recipe and used frozen corn. I could have eaten the whole thing myself. Great, great, great.

    • — Jen M. on August 26, 2023
    • Reply
  • This was a perfect and delicious side dish for your carne asada !!! I used the avocado salsa from your shrimp tacos. Beyond yum!!!

    • — Lori on May 21, 2023
    • Reply
  • This was phenomenal! My kids both loved it also. The corn was crispy and perfectly cooked. I followed the recipe 100% and would not alter it at all. I bought some corn from Costco in a pack and had to use all 8 to make the 4 cups (they were smaller ears). YUMMY!

    • — Becky G on April 13, 2023
    • Reply
  • This is one of the best corn recipes I’ve ever made. Absolutely delightful! The amount of lime used was pitch perfect. This time of year, I had to use Steamfresh frozen sweet corn, and it was still great. Can’t wait to try this with our local Olathe sweet corn next season. I’ll have to check that book out. Thank you as always, Jenn.

    • — John M. on February 26, 2023
    • Reply
  • Yummy and such an easy way to use fresh corn. I admit I’ve always been lazy and resorted to canned corn, but this recipe has changed my mind – makes our home cooking healthier!

    • — Mel on November 1, 2022
    • Reply
  • Great way to eat fresh corn. Especially for people who do not like eating it off the cob for their personal reasons.
    Left overs go in soup, scrambled eggs, even salads and grain bowls.
    Love it! Thanks!

    • — Jeanette on August 26, 2022
    • Reply
  • Just delicious. That’s all I can say!!!

    • — Judy Melin on August 23, 2022
    • Reply
  • Terrific recipe, made, but not as written. My version, so much easier. Used two bags of Birdseye frozen steamed corn (just shy of four cups) and steamed in the microwave for four minutes. Drained and added remaining ingredients plus a little sugar. Looked so much nicer than the picture and was absolutely delicious

    • — Carol Winkelman
    • Reply
  • This recipe is sensational! It brings out the best fresh corn has to offer. I paired it with the Mexican Lasagna. Wow!

    • — Victoria Wilson
    • Reply
  • I make this as a side with Tex mex meals as a change from rice. We put up corn in the freezer when it is plentiful, and this recipe works just as well with our frozen corn. I do cut back by at least half on the water since the frozen corn is already partially cooked. It is also easily halved when serving two, which I do to keep from eating 3 cups by myself! It’s that good!

    • Can you please tell me the best way to freeze fresh corn?

      • Hi Abby, Here are some tips on how to freeze fresh corn. 🙂

  • One of my favorite summer recipes. I have a family that hates to eat the leftovers, I am always have to reinvent them into a slightly new meal! This recipe is perfect to spice up cooked corn from the night before, with littler time or effort. Thank you Jenn

  • Simple and perfect for end-of-summer corn!

  • question…what’s a good substitute for cilantro….allergic to it! other than parsley?

    • You could try it with basil. Please LMK how it turns out!

  • Any adjustments if I were to double the recipe?

    • No — just make sure you use a pan large enough to fit all the ingrdients. Hope you enjoy!

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