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Spiced Indian Corn

If I had a nickel for every time I heard, “You should go to_________,” I’d have enough money to upgrade on all those flights that I’d be taking, which would make that prolific quantity of air travel a little more tolerable. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate suggestions and people looking out for me, so I don’t miss anything great.

But for anyone who has ever spent an afternoon (or morning, or evening) in an airport, waiting on the tarmac, or in the airport for a delayed flight watching the overworked staff calm everyone’s frayed nerves, or being crammed into one of those remarkably uncomfortable economy airplane seats for 12 hours, perhaps you’ll understand why I’m not all that anxious to get on a plane, in spite of all the great places that I am missing out on visiting.

Indian Spiced Corn

At this rate, I don’t think India is going to happen for me unless I find myself with a month of free time, because it seems like going over there and not spending that much time would be criminal, and they let me sleep in the area where the flight attendants sleep on the plane. (If any are reading, I promise to bring you cookies and treats for our little slumber party.) But for now, it looks like I will only have to imagine the swirl of colors, naans, dust, spices, curries, mukhwas (seed mixtures), animals, chutneys, music, and fiery chiles that all come together in that fascinating country.

So I was stoked when my copy of Near & Far: Recipes Inspired by Home and Travel by Heidi Swanson landed in my mailbox. (See? I’m so lazy, I don’t even like to travel to the store…) Heidi writes the blog that most inspires me to quit blogging since I don’t think mine could ever be as beautiful as hers. Every photo on her site looks like something I need to eat right now, even if it has an unusual name or features an ingredient that I am unfamiliar with.

Spiced Indian Corn

Fortunately I’m not the jealous type so you’ll still have me to kick around a little longer. And to be honest, Heidi’s also a lovely person – and a coffee (and Kouign Aman) pal when I’m in San Francisco – and has shared a glass or two of rosé with me in Paris, too.

In addition to liking the same foods and wines, she also seems to like all the same countries and cuisines that I like, which she features in this gorgeous cookbook, which isn’t just a book of recipes but also a travelogue inspired by her travels to distant lands, as well as her home in San Francisco.

Spiced Indian Corn

Italy, Japan, France, and Morocco are represented in the book, and the one place that’s still on my “You should go to” list, India, which, when I have enough miles (or goodwill, in the form of cookies for the flight attendants) to upgrade to a bigger seat on the plane, I hope to visit. While I wait for that good karma to arrive, I’ll have to be an armchair traveler and enjoy India from afar, which is a pleasure in Heidi’s book, with her descriptions of the markets, traveling on funky roads and, of course, hitting the food stalls.

Spiced Indian Corn

The first recipe that caught my eye in the book was an Indian dish, which was accompanied by her description of seeing a woman dressed in a colorful sari at a market, who was possibly a spice vendor, eating a bowl of something she describes as “…beautiful and simple and you knew at a glance that it tasted good.” Everything you want to know about this dish is pretty well summed up in that one sentence. And I had to make it.

Since fresh corn was still hanging on for the season, I quickly rounded up the few spices needed to give it a go. Sure enough, it was good. In fact, it was great, and very easy.

Indian Spiced Corn

Spiced Indian Corn

You make a spicy paste, then fry up mustard seeds until the sizzle, add kernels of corn and roasted peanuts, then finish the dish with a flurry of cilantro and sesame seeds. A few squeezes of lime brings the flavors alive, and you’ll be as hooked as I was when you spoon up that first mouthful. (If corn isn’t in season, you can use frozen corn, thawed, or another vegetable that’s available. A few are suggested right before the recipe, below.)

I had dinner with a friend last night who I cooked with at Chez Panisse, and when I told her about this dish – spicy corn, peanuts, chiles, butter, finished with a hit of lime, sesame, and cilantro, her eyes got wider and wider as I described it. I could tell, she was going to make it as soon as I posted it today.

Far & Near is one of those cookbooks that’s so beautiful that you’re almost afraid to use it. But please do. My copy is bookmarked with a few other recipes to try, and once you flip through it, yours will be too.

Spiced Indian Corn

Vaghareli Makai (Spiced Indian Corn)

Adapted from Near & Far by Heidi Swanson For this recipe, you’ll need to clarify some butter, which lends an extra-buttery flavor to the corn. You’ll find instructions here, or head to your local Indian shop for some ghee. Although this recipe is terrific with fresh corn, if it’s not available you can use frozen corn, thawed. Heidi says it’s nice made with asparagus or broccoli, but my bets are that I’ll be making it with cauliflower come winter. The original recipe called for “2 small red chiles” so you can use whatever kind of chile pepper you want, depending on how hot and spicy you like things. I split the difference with a habanero (very hot) and jalapeno (somewhat milder). In the photo in the post, the habanero is the smaller, wrinkled pepper and the jalapeno is the longer one . Toasted cashews would make a good substitute for the peanuts, or for those avoiding nuts, use pumpkin seeds. To make it vegan, Heidi recommends using sunflower oil in place of the butter.
  • 2 small red chiles, stemmed, seeded (if desired), and sliced
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • One 1-inch (3cm) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoon clarified butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons yellow or brown mustard seeds
  • 3 cups (450g about 3 large ears) fresh corn kernels
  • 1/2 cup (60g) roasted peanuts
  • 1 cup (30g) chopped cilantro
  • lemon or lime wedges
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • In a mortar and pestle, or with a mini food processor, grind the chiles, garlic, ginger, turmeric, and salt to a paste.
  • Heat the clarified butter in a wide skillet. Add the mustard seeds and cook, stirring until they pop, which will take a minute or two. Stir in the corn kernels and cook a few minutes, stirring frequently, until they just start to feel tender, which will take a couple of minutes.
  • Stir in the peanuts, half of the cilantro and half of the red chile paste. Cook for another minute then taste. If desired, for additional heat, add more of the chile paste and perhaps a bit of salt. Remove from heat and add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice.
  • Serve the spiced corn over rice, or as a side dish, topped with the remaining cilantro and sesame seeds. (It might be nice to serve some cooling
    raita with it, too.) Have lemon or lime wedges handy for guests to add as they wish. Any leftovers can be reheated in a skillet with a little more clarified butter.


Note: If you have leftover red chile paste, I used mine to make a quick salsa by adding a dab to a small bowl of halved cherry tomatoes, adding a little extra salt, cilantro, oil, and a squeeze of lime juice. It got served atop grilled fish, although would be good with any grilled meat or as lively side dish with something else.

Related Recipes

Fresh Corn Cakes

Corn Soup

Fresh Corn, Tomato, Avocado and Basil Salad

Orange-Glazed Polenta Cake


    • Allyson

    Everything I’ve read about Near and Far is getting me that much more excited for when it finally launches. I can already tell it’s going to be one of my favorite cookbooks this year. This looks like exactly what I want to have for dinner tonight.

    • Bhairav

    David, that looks yum! Vaghareli makai literally means tempered corn in Gujarati, my mother tongue.

    • Andy Capelluto

    The best thing about arm chair traveling to India is you completely avoid the dreaded ‘Delhi Belly’, something I’ve not yet mastered the art of doing during my trips there – as careful as I am :-( ….

    • hannah

    Living in the midwest of the US, one thing you can count on pretty much all summer is amazing fresh corn. I’ve been stocking up every week since June, and I can’t WAIT to make this with my next batch! Bonus points that it comes from one of my bloggers/cookbook authors!

    • Renee

    That looks pretty amazing-just love late summer corn. I have dreams of traveling to India as well, but not sure if I will ever make it there- the flight is just way too long! Looking forward to Near & Far’s release.

    • Molly

    David, your blog is pretty gorgeous too. I’ve traveled to different areas of the world thru your posts, and do a little internal happy dance when a new one shows up in my inbox. :)

    • Sharon

    The book sounds great, got an email from Omnivore last night with a mention. Look forward to trying this with the last of the summer corn. David, a request I hope wouldn’t be a pain: Ginger – the roots vary so much, wonder if you’d consider adding weight to your measurement. Thanks!

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    Molly; Thanks! Happy to take people to other places, from time to time, as well as be led elsewhere, too…

    Renee+Andy: Yes, I know. I would love to go. But the long flight, and picking up some sort of malady (I had that in Mexico once, and it wasn’t fun…) – but someday, when I retire, I’ll have the time to go : )

    Sharon: Cooking in many ways is intuitive. I avoid adding weights to small quantities, which I include with larger ones, based on how small ingredients (under 3 tablespoons) in France are listed in recipes. I try to stick with one standard and use that. For certain ingredients, writing recipes with volume, weight, and quantity – ie: three ears of corn for all ingredients, can make them longer and more off-putting to readers. And I think some cooking can simply be left to intuition, so like the choice of red chiles, I think the ginger amount is pretty flexible. It’s a great recipe – do try it!

    • Adam Garratt

    I remember as a boy visiting my grand parents in Leicester in the late summer. With a few farms near the cottage, scrumping for fresh sweetcorn was a given. (I’m sure the farmer didn’t miss a few, if he did, I’m very very sorry!). I was always eating what I could lay my hands on, a stray branch from a plum tree draping over a neighbours fence, the rhubarb in the allotment behind my fathers house, the stuff my grampy used to grow. Not to mention the cherry trees that used to grow along the side of the school near the grandparents cottage.

    I was – and probably always will be – a scrumper. I just can’t help myself.

    This recipe looks so good I’m going to adapt it myself for the blog tomorrow, I’m pretty sure it will go down a treat with the readers!

    Thanks David, as always.

    P.s appology’s if this reads like a 5 year old has written it, trying to walk/read at the same time as writing this, whilst simultaneously trying to not get run over!

      • Adam Garratt

      Oh and fear not, I will be getting my corn legitimately for this! :)

    • CoffeeGrounded

    Such a beautiful recipe! I’m definitely trying it with fresh corn. Central Market still had it two days ago. I will have to watch the use of the peppers (buggers flair my asthma).

    I had to laugh when you talked about being careful with mucking up your cookbooks. I used to be the same way, but now I look at the splatters and bent pages lovingly knowing that the adventures were traveled numerous times.

    My Indian friend taught me the craft of using massive amounts of ground spices…the first time I witnessed the volume she ground for a ‘simple’ dish, I was astounded! I took her idea and moved it into my pastry baking. I now make a clove bread that is to die for. Copious amounts of honey and clove powder result in a heavenly ‘bite’ … I usually make it for a teatime treat, and of course, at Christmas.

    • Bruce Johnson

    If I had a nickel for every time I heard, “You should go to_________,” I’d have enough money to upgrade on all those flights that I’d be taking, which would make that prolific quantity of air travel a little more tolerable. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate suggestions and people looking out for me, so I don’t miss anything great.

    Around the world airfare discussion

    • Parisbreakfast

    Easy way to go to India is via Copenhagen (we went on Lufthansa).
    Then just do North India or South India…hard to do it all in one trip.
    This dish looks gorgeous but Where to find decent corn in Paris?

    • Harry Saltzman

    I think that the clarified butter in this recipe is a substitute for Ghee, the nutty Indian version of clarified butter. It imparts a unique flavor and is available in Indian spice shops or on line. Many Indian cookbooks have recipes for Ghee. It has a very high smoke point and I use it in cooking many non-Indian dishes, seared scallops for instance.

    • Harry Saltzman

    The above is what happens if you don’t read the entire article. Sorry David.

    • Gavrielle

    Argh, all these delicious summer recipes are killing me! It’s (almost) enough to make me want to move to the Northern Hemisphere. Oh well, not long to go now, official second day of spring today…

    • Kelly Kynion

    This recipe looks great and is perfect timing for upstate NY corn! I just returned from a first trip to north and south India and to be frank, I’m glad I saw it with my own eyes, but I’m not tough enough to do it twice. And I had the flight upgrades! I DO appreciate the memory of a special meal of about 20 different items served on a bright green banana leaf for the festival of Onam in Bangalore last week. The meal looked like an artist’s palette and tasted like heaven. I was impressed that so many people squeeze the preparations for this meal into their regular work week, since it wasn’t an official day off for most people.

    • Vyonne

    David thank you for a vegetarian recipe. I note that once you were vegetarian, but alas, no more. Could you please put some vegetarian recipes in your recipe section as there are so few interesting meals out there for us to try and it may encourage some people not to kill 1751 animals per second in this world for our consumption?

    • Andie

    I read this this morning and had to make it for dinner tonight. Absolutely delicious. Hit of the table. Will remake again and again.

      • Andie

      Forgot to say we have amazing organic ghee here at our local farmers market. Using it makes the prep a bit easier.

    • Jessica Hasler

    Good afternoon

    Thank you for the beautiful pictorial
    representations of your recipes and
    informative dialogue.

    Re Vaghareil Makai – what id Cilantro
    I don’t think we get that here in the
    N.east of Scotland-nor Indian Deli’s!

    Also 30g?(1-cup) Cilantro in recipe?

    Thank you!

    Jessica H

      • Jessica Hasler

      every thing is lovely!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, it calls for 1 cup (30g) chopped fresh cilantro, also called coriander in other parts of the world. Half is added to the corn, and the rest is a garnish. If you can’t get cilantro, some parsley could be a substitute.

    • Suzann

    101 cookbooks was the first blog I started following. I have everyone of Heidi’s books and cook from them often. I learned of you from her site.i never miss a post from either of you. Please keep the recipes coming. My taste buds thank you.

    • Mary Frances

    The corn looks so fresh and flavorful! Perfect recipe to munch on something the last few days of Summer.

    • Pallika

    I love your blog. I’m not a regular blogger, but recently wrote a general post about Indian cooking for my non-Indian friends that I thought you might find interesting.

    • Virginia Hamilton

    David, I always enjoy your posts. I had been teetering on the edge about buying Heidi’s cookbook, because I have so many cookbooks already (and have bought several other of your recommendations), however, your post has pushed me over the edge, and I will purchase. I will also make this recipe because we still have fresh corn here in Texas and I have some in the house right now. Thank you.

    • Frances

    Thought of you at the market this morning, snapped up six ears of corn for 2 euros. And I have to admit I ate all four servings myself, with a couple of boiled eggs. Thanks for a delicious lunch!!

    • Hélène

    David, I just wanted to finally express what I tell myself each time I read one of your posts – I just love the way you introduce recipes, and put context around them. I keep coming back just as much for the entertaining in-depth analyses of many parisian/french quirks (being myself French, and having lived in Paris for a few years before moving to Belgium, I enjoy seeing them from another perspective!) than for the recipes (which are great, btw). I just wanted to thank you for the time and dedication you put in this website, which has led me to many laughs, many great restaurants and even more tasty dishes.

    • BananaBirkLarsen

    You’ve done it again, Mr. Lebovitz. I just made this for dinner and it’s absolutely wonderful. The sqeeze of lime pushes it over the edge. With some lamb samosas and rice… a great summer meal. Thanks for the recipe!

    • Annabel Smyth

    Just made this for dinner to top a simple lentil curry – it was lovely! We have leftovers of both it and the lentils, not sure what I’ll do with them, but expect incorporate them into a vegetable stew of some kind.

    • Robin

    Thank you David…..this was hands down one of the BEST corn dishes I gave ever tasted. I had to stop myself from over eating this dish. I don’t think I will ever look at corn quite the same again. I love your cookbook too.

    • Alexa

    I made it this weekend with some beautiful corn from my local farmers’ market in (Park Slope) Brooklyn: Yum—and thank you!

    • Jana

    This is absolutely fantastic. The ghee really lets you get the heat needed to caramelize the corn quickly. Thanks again for a fabulous recipe.

    • Pamela

    Finally got around to making this recipe today. I have made a lot of Indian food over the years, so I knew what to expect for the most part. It was delicious! I used yellow mustard seed, since I normally would have used black but wanted to see what the favor would be. Now know black mustard seed would be the better choice for me. Love it’s deeper toasty taste. I did go back after tasting and add a little more of the chili paste but not much. Squeeze of lemon topped it off. Enjoyed this healthy fresh recipe.

    • Jaimie

    So simple with ingredients I usually have on hand and so flavorful. I used green jalapeños but followed the recipe otherwise. Thank you for sharing.

    • Heather

    Made for a gathering, everyone loved it. My peppers didn’t have much heat, next time I’d like to try with a bit more bite. But it went over marvelously!

    • Nancy

    So delicious! I’ve made it twice now. First following the recipe. The next time I used zucchini and olive oil and green jalapeños. Both versions were great. Thank you for a wonderful recipe that I plan to make many more times with different vegetables. It’s a magical combination.

    • charlotte

    I couldn’t wait to try this recipe. I didn’t have peanuts, so I used peanut butter and cut down on the butter. It was absolutely delicious. I lived in India and this was “spot on”! The next time I try this, which will be soon; I will use the cashews.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      That’s a great idea using peanut butter – glad it worked out!

    • Catherine

    Made this spicy corn dish on Wednesday night. We ate as much of it as we could then and finished the rest off tonight. Absolutely delicious thank you.


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