Rice is a daily meal foundation for many Indians and the variations are endlessly comforting. Eaten as a side dish, or as a main like biryani or pulao, vegetarian, but also a perfect meat masala partner, this rice is exciting. Lemon rice is a South Indian dish and one of my favorites. I love the ease of it too: make rice in whatever way you prefer, cool by spreading it out on a tray, (even better, make the day before), temper spices in ghee or oil, add rice and lemon, gently warm-up and you’re done!
Lemon rice is especially popular in the state of Karnataka where many dishes there include split black lentils (urad dal), and split chickpeas (chana dal). If you prefer a simpler, more streamlined dish, just leave them out, though they do add nice toasty notes and a little more texture.
Some variations on lemon rice are additions of green mango, grated coconut, turmeric, and fried onions. Some recipes call for dried chilis and some for fresh green chilis, or some for both. Make this dish your own, and have fun playing with your favorite flavorings and condiments.
See the Notes below before you cook.
Indian Lemon Rice (Chitranna)
- 3 cups cooked basmati rice
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon ghee ~ Or oil of your choice; recipe!
- 2 tablespoons cashews, or peanuts
- 1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seeds ~ Brown if you have them
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon split black lentils ~ Optional, (urad dal)
- 1 teaspoon split chickpeas ~ Optional, (chana dal)
- 1/4 teaspoon Kashmiri ground chili
~ Or a big pinch of cayenne; more to your taste
- 10 fresh curry leaves ~ Optional, About
- 1 fresh small green chili
~ 1 tsp finely minced, or more to your taste. Substitutions.
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro ~ Chopped for garnishing, if you haven't used curry leaves
- Gather your ingredients.
- If you are using freshly made rice, spread out on a tray or large dish to dry it out a bit. This will help keep grains separate.
- In a small bowl stir together lemon juice, salt and turmeric.
- Heat ghee or oil in a large sauce pan (kadhai/dutch oven) over medium-high heat and toast the nuts you are using, until they turn a slightly darker shade of brown. Set aside.
- In the same pan, add mustard seeds until they crackle.
- Add the cumin seeds and let toast for a few seconds.
- If using the black lentils and chickpeas, add to the pan and sauté until golden brown.
- Add curry leaves, if using, green chilies, ground chili, and ground coriander. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes until fragrant.
- Add rice and lemon juice mixture, toss gently so you don’t break the rice, and warm just until heated through. Remove from heat and let rice sit for 5 minutes so the flavors can permeate the rice. Don’t cook any longer than necessary, or your rice will get mushy.
- Taste for salt, acid, red chili, and adjust seasonings to your taste.
- Garnish: With reserved nuts. If you did not use curry leaves, you can sprinkle with chopped cilantro.
- Prep time assumes you’ve already made your rice.
- Traditional recipes often call for black lentils (urad dal) and split chickpeas (chana dal).
- I often double this recipe when entertaining, so I am sure to have enough left over for the next day.
- Curry leaves are one of my favorite herbs, but if you can’t find them, garnish your Indian lemon rice with cilantro at the end.