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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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  • I am looking forward to making this. Normally, with fresh sweet corn I cook it for 2-3 minutes. I guess I am wondering about the 15 minutes of simmering the corn. Is this necessary…. wouldn’t it make it a little over cooked? Just a little wary… Thanks, mary

    • I know that sounds like a long time, but it does work. Feel free to pull it off the heat earlier though if you feel like it’s getting overcooked. Hope you enjoy!

    • Fresh corn on the cob not great now. How would you make this recipe using frozen corn?

      • — Mel on January 15, 2022
      • Reply
      • Hi Mel, While I think this is best with fresh corn, you could get away with using frozen. You’ll need 3 to 3-1/2 cups. Please LMK how it turns out!

        • — Jenn on January 16, 2022
        • Reply
  • I have a question about pairing foods together, because I think I’m overthinking it! This dish has lime in it – would you serve it with something with a similar taste, such as lemon chicken? Thanks!

    • Sure, Rachael, that would be perfectly fine!

  • The perfect side for summer. It’s delicious!

  • WOW, this is a treat for the tastebuds!!

  • For those of you that need to use frozen corn, I sometimes pulse the corn while frozen in a food processor very briefly. That gives the corn more of a fresh-cut texture. This is a trick I use to make southern “fried” corn when it’s out of season.

  • This was so delicious. My husband said I could make this whenever I could. Will be making this for a July 4th potluck.

  • I’m not a fan of cilantro. If I leave it out, would that ruin the recipe. Any suggestions for a substitute? Thanks.

    • Karen, flat-leaf parsley or mint would also work nicely here. Hope you enjoy!

  • This was amazing! It was like an explosion of flavor. The family loved it and it was soooo easy. Thank you 🙂

  • Does this recipe call for cheese? I didn’t see that.

    • — Victoria Anne Kelly
    • Reply
    • No, it doesn’t call for any cheese. Hope you enjoy!

  • This was fabulous! I made it with your Mexican Lasagna & it was the perfect side dish. I will use this recipe often. Thanks, Jenn

  • This was sooo tasty. I loved it. I had to use frozen corn and it turned out fine. Served with Jen’s Stacked Beef Enchiladas and Mexican Rice Pilaf recipes. Thanks!

  • Hi Jenn! Thank you for all your amazing recipes. Do you think frozen corn would work well in this recipe?

    • Sure, Bridget — while I think fresh corn would be best here, frozen should work too. Hope you enjoy!

  • Great recipe! I’m making it again.

  • Love this recipe!
    I have made this recipe so many times and it is always a huge hit. Super easy to prepare. I have brought it to several pot luck dinners and I get requests for the recipe every time. Huge fan of corn on the cob and cilantro so this was a winner for me! The cayenne pepper adds a nice touch of heat too, not too over powering. I highly recommend!

  • This is a delicious and super easy side dish. I prepared it for Sunday dinner to accompany a simple roasted chicken, and my family loved it. I adjusted the amount of cilantro but just because my husband is not a big fun of it. I will prepare this dish again.
    Thank you once upon a Chef, for such delicious and easy ideas.

  • Best fresh corn recipe- EVER !
    I would pair it with your marinated grilled chicken thighs, another favorite recipe. Thank you, this is terrific !

    • — Kathy Vukasovich
    • Reply
  • This was delicious! I made it mostly “as is”, except I cut salt in half and only had about 3 T butter on hand. I also used a bit more lime zest because I like citrus accents on pretty much anything. Wonderful!

  • Two great tastes that taste great together: Jennifer and Vivian. Excellent recipe for fresh corn, when you don’t feel like chomping down on cobs (been doing that all summer long. With the lime, creamy butter, and cayenne, it almost has a Thai feel (you could probably do this vegan with coconut cream, or Thai with fresh Thai basil). For your cilantro haters, or spice haters, use a little fresh chives or scallion tops, even parsley, and use paprika instead of cayenne. You can do a lot with this recipe.

  • I have to tell you that I’ve made so many of your dishes and they are all wonderful. You are a great chef. Just wanted you to know that. Thank you.!!

    • — Christine Johnson
    • Reply
    • 💕

    • That is exactly how I feel about Jenn, and her recipes!!

      • make that three of us

        • — Carol Winkelman on February 3, 2022
        • Reply
        • Awww….you guys are gonna give me a big head! 🙂

          • — Jenn on February 3, 2022
          • Reply
  • How far in advance can this be made? I have a BBQ coming up and know I’ll have a lot to prep and do right before it. Thx.

    • Hi Karen, I’d say two days ahead. It reheats well. Hope that helps!

  • Hi Jenn, I made this recipe for a party and it was fantastic! I loved the hint of lime and chili. My question is…could the corn be prepared using the same method as your recipe for corn/basil/scallion salad? Boil and then shuck…then pick up with added butter, etc? Just looking for short cuts that don’t compromise the dish. Thx!

    • Sure, Cheryl, that should be fine – enjoy!

  • Another fabulous recipe! Served with the Best Carne Asada recipe and they complemented each other perfectly!

  • How dependent on the butter is this recipe? I have to be dairy free — can I sub olive oil?

    • Hi Kate, Although I haven’t made it with anything but butter, I think you’d still get a good result with olive oil. I’d love to hear how it turns out!

    • While I absolutely LOVE this recipe with the butter, it always felt like a guilty pleasure. Given that I could eat it everyday during the summer, I tried it today without it (or any fat substitute) and it was just as delicious. My husband was fine with the change too. The only other things I have changed is using just 1 teaspoon of salt and zest of just one lime.

      • — Barbara Webster
      • Reply
  • We have been buying fresh corn and cutting off the cob for years. We steam it on the BBQ for a few minutes and then cut it off and freeze it for future recipes. When I made this recipe I made about four other recipes that used limes and bought about a dozen limes! This recipe is a great way to make corn and gives it a fresh flavor that is unique and a crowd pleaser!

  • We plan on using frozen uncooked corn as one reader described. How much corn would be equivalent to 4 ears for use n this recipe?

    • Hi Maureen, You’ll need 3 to 3-1/2 cups frozen corn. Enjoy!

  • The best corn side dish ever – my husband and guests raved and wanted to know when I’ll make this again!! Another home run, Jenn!

  • This recipe was great! I made a couple modifications which were that I added less butter, 2 Tbsp, and used frozen corn (though I’m sure it tastes better with fresh!). There was just the right amount of spice and it was a great side for the fajitas I made. I also had it on the side of eggs as well, which gave them a nice kick!

    • — Meenakshi Mehra
    • Reply
  • This recipe is sooo very delicious, I have been making it back-to-back all summer long! Aside from being fantastic on its own, it is also great added to tacos, on top of fresh sliced tomatoes with basil and balsamic glaze, and included in a meat empanada filling. I fear we will go into withdrawal when corn season ends.

    • — Barbara Webster
    • Reply
  • I made this for the first time about a month ago and I have made it every week since (sometimes twice!). Super easy and melt in your mouth delicious. The tang of the lime and sweetness of the corn go perfectly together and the cilantro makes it taste super fresh.

  • I have made three of your recipes since yesterday. The Caesar Salad with the Grilled Chicken and this Corn recipe.
    All delicious and so easy!
    Happy 4th !

    • — Debbie Sheppard
    • Reply
  • I’ll confess, I made this recipe using frozen “organic supersweet white corn” which had already been cut off the cob. Simmered the frozen corn kernals for 5 to 7 minutes in approx. 1/4 cup water. Then proceeded as directed in Jen’s recipe. Absolutely delicious! I will be making this again & again.

  • I made this dish to go along with crab cakes-perfect choice. I cooked as instructed with the exception of omitting sugar. I lucked out and got “sweet” sweet corn, and did not think it needed the additional sweetness of sugar.

  • This was a really great twist on sweet corn. Really loved the lime and cilantro, but like others the corn was already sweet enough so I cut the sugar.

    Wanna make it even more amazing? Grill your corn on the cob with a brush of olive oil, salt & pepper instead of cooking in liquid. Makes for a simply wonderful side with any other summery dishes.

    This is definitely a keeper!

    • — Gregory Cutler
    • Reply
  • If you place a smaller bowl upside down in the center of the larger bowl, it is easier to slice the corn off.

    Not my idea, just saw it somewhere, works great.

  • Beautiful corn side. My cook time was reduced because the kernels were small. Amazing flavour combination! My guests kept going back for more!

  • This is wonderful! Skipped the sugar as the corn was sweet already.

  • This was my first corn dish of the season! Unbelievable! So delicious and so easy…my husband wants a lot of it this summer!

  • Excellent recipe if you love cilantro. Very easy and very fresh tasting. Great side for the summer cookouts!

  • I also made this Memorial Day weekend and it was perfect with the ribs and chicken I smoked. Easy and quick, and something a little lighter to go along with meat and potato salad. Had to give everyone the recipe.

  • I happen to have several cans of corn in my pantry. Would canned sweet corn work as well?

    • Hi Danielle, Unfortunately canned corn won’t work for this recipe since it’s already cooked. Sorry!

  • I would love to bring this to a potluck – any suggestions – should I refrigerate it and then serve cold? Thanks for your help!

    • Hi Susan, Feel free to make ahead and refrigerate (although add the cilantro before serving) but the butter may congeal in the fridge – in that case just reheat in the microwave and serve room temp. Enjoy!

  • Fresh sweet corn…how could you possibly improve on it?? But, you did!
    This recipe is so easy and quick! The corn is tastier than ever with the additions of lime and cilantro; cooking in salted water with a touch of sugar also boosted flavors -and- lots of butter afterward! Thanks, Jennifer, for another winner!

    • — Kathy Vukasovich
    • Reply
  • Delicious! Thank you for another outstanding recipe!

  • Delicious.Only change I made was I added siracha instead of cayenne pepper.Will definitely be making again!

  • Delicious! I had a few ears of corn handy, so I halved the recipe (all except the butter), and my husband and I loved it. I will make this again and again. Thanks, Jen!

    • Thanks Katie! Was wondering if a half recipe would work as well!

  • Made this for a Memorial Day BBQ, simple and very flavorful!!!

  • Delicious! Just happened to have bought corn before seeing your recipe, so we gave it a try and loved it!! The water didn’t cook down nearly as much as stated in the first 15 minutes, and I debated whether to drain it a bit or cook longer. I cooked it longer. We will be having this whenever there is good corn in the store. The flavors are wonderful. Thank you!

  • Looks amazing! I am going to try this weekend and serve with some baby back ribs!

  • Love your stuff, Jen. Sweet corn is one of our family faves! Plus lime, etc. of course ??? Easy and healthy and yum!

  • Excellent recipe! I am looking forward to our local white corn coming into season. Thank you.

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