Lemon Rice made in Indian style

Lemon Rice Recipe

By Swasthi on November 4, 2022, Comments, Jump to Recipe

Lemon Rice recipe under 10 mins!! Yes, making this amazingly delicious & refreshing Lemon Rice is very fast if you have some precooked rice. It uses only pantry staples yet will surprise you with great authentic Indian flavors. This much popular Indian Rice Recipe is made with cooked rice, tempering whole spices, curry leaves and peanuts. It is also known as Chitranna in Kannada and Nimmakaya Pulihora in Telugu. In this post I share making lemon rice in 2 ways – the traditional stovetop method and instant pot method (one pot).


Lemon Rice made in Indian Style

About Lemon Rice

Lemon Rice is a staple in many South Indian homes. It is made by mixing precooked short grain rice with a tempering of mustard seeds, chana dal, green chilies, dried red chilies, fresh ginger and curry leaves. It is a comfort food for many and is most commonly eaten for a meal.

Lemon Rice has a delicate flavor of fresh lemon juice and a nutty aroma of the tempered ingredients like lentils, peanuts, spices and herbs.

If you are a newbie & love to cook for yourself then this is one of the best South Indian recipes to begin with. All you need is to cook the rice and make the tempering. Mix both of them with some freshly squeezed lemon juice. In no time you will get to enjoy a bowl of fresh home-cooked food.

You don’t need anything on the side with this lemon rice since it tastes good on its own. However many people love it with Curd (Indian yogurt), PickleChutney, salad or kosambari. During festivals & occasions we serve it with some fried snacks like Masala vada, papad or Pakora.

Back home in India, lemon rice is one of the most common travel foods. Many people pack it for road or train journeys as the dish keeps good for long hours due to the addition of turmeric.

Many people make lemon rice with leftover rice but I always use fresh cooked rice. You can make it either ways you prefer. I have also included the instructions to cook rice perfectly for this recipe. So the 10 mins I said earlier is only for the tempering.

Sometimes I make this as a one pot dish in my Instant pot. Though it doesn’t taste the same I still make it on occasions. I have given the recipe details in the recipe card below.

How to Make Lemon Rice (Stepwise photos)

Preparation

Firstly we need perfectly cooked grainy rice for this recipe. You can use any kind of Non-sticky rice that’s available to you. Or in fact you can use even precooked rice. That’s what many people do.

1. Wash and soak 1½ cups rice in a bowl for at least 15 mins. If you do not have time you can just skip the soaking and cook the rice directly. If cooking in a pot, on a low flame cover & cook rice with 1:2 ratio (rice:water). or To cook in pressure cooker, pour 1 cup water to the cooker and place a trivet. Keep the rice & water bowl in it and cook for 2 to 3 whistles. If cooking directly in the cooker, cook for 1 whistle.

cooking rice to make lemon rice

2. Cook the rice to grainy and not mushy. Cool it completely & then fluff up the grains.

cooled cooked rice in cooker

Make Tempering

3. Heat half tablespoon oil in a pan. On a medium heat, roast 4 tablespoons peanuts until crunchy and deep golden. Remove them to a plate. You can also do this in an air fryer by following my pro tips below.

roasting peanuts in a pan

4. Next pour another 1½ tablespoons oil to the same pan. Add ¾ teaspoon mustard, 1 teaspoon urad dal and 1½ teaspoon chana dal. Fry them until lightly golden on a medium flame.

adding tempering ingredients to pan

5. Add 1 sprig  curry leaves, ½ tablespoon chopped ginger, 2 slit or chopped green chilies and 2 red chilies (optional). Fry them for about 30 seconds until you smell the ginger and curry leaves nice.

adding curry leaves ginger and chilies

6. Then add a pinch of hing, ¼ to ½ teaspoon turmeric & ½ teaspoon salt (assuming you did not add salt while cooking rice).

adding salt turmeric to make lemon rice

7. Stir quickly and pour 2 to 3 tbsps water.

pouring water to the tempering

8. Quickly the water will evaporate and the mixture turns aromatic. The chana dal and urad dal will soften slightly yet will keep the crunch. If you want them very soft then add 2 to 3 tbsps more water and cook further until all the water evaporates & the lentils soften a bit. Turn off the stove.

tempering ready to mix with rice

9. Remove from the stove and add cooled cooked rice. (OR Alternately you can also add the tempering to the bowl of cooled rice). Squeeze lemon juice all over and give a good stir.

adding cooled rice and lemon juice to the pan

10. Taste the lemon rice. Add more salt and lemon juice if required. Lastly garnish with crunchy roasted peanuts.

mixing rice with tempering

Serve lemon rice with plain yogurt, papad or with pickle.

Lemon Rice Recipe made with precooked rice, spices and herbs

More rice recipes on the blog,
Tomato rice
Fried rice
Jeera rice
Coconut rice
Tomato bath
Pudina rice

Ingredients & substitutions

Tempering ingredients: The addition of fresh ginger, curry leaves & green chilies totally elevate the flavor of the lemon rice. These are the 3 ingredients that are key to making the dish. However if curry leaves are not available in your part of the world just skip them & use some coriander leaves – cilantro.

Nuts: Traditionally peanuts are used to add crunch to the dish. If you do not have them just replace with some cashew nuts.

Cooking oil: Lemon rice can be made with any cooking oil like peanut oil, sesame oil or sunflower oil. I like to add a dash of extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil towards the end. Olive oil doesn’t really go well in Indian foods but lemon rice is an exception.

Lemons: To make a good refreshing lemon rice always use fresh lemons. I personally like the large variety of lemons as they are really flavorful. You can also use limes.

Rice: Most commonly short grain rice is used to make this recipe. But any kind of rice just goes well. The rice has to be less starchy as the cooked grains have to be separate & grainy without being sticky or mushy. You can also use precooked rice for this recipe.

Lentils: Urad dal and chana dal are used in lemon rice as they add crunch and aroma to the dish. However you may skip them if you don’t prefer the crunchy lentils.

Pro Tips

Roast peanuts in air fryer: You can also air fry the peanuts instead of doing it on the stove top. Spread peanuts in a air fryer basket. Air fry at 165 C or 330 F for 5 mins, stirring every 2 mins so they get roasted evenly. Later cool them and rub gently to remove the skin. Shake off the basket in the kitchen sink.

Green Chilies: If you have young kids at home, skip the green chilies and make the tempering with red chilies as they are lesser in heat or skip the chili totally. Fry the green chilies separately in the same pan later after the tempering. Serve them along with the lemon rice.

Lemon Juice over hot rice: Avoid adding lemon juice to the hot rice or to the hot tempering as it alters the flavor completely. Also some amount of nutrients in the lemon juice are diminished.

Soften Lentils: To soften lentils (dal), I pour some water to the tempering. This instantly softens them yet keeping them slightly crunchy. If you fry the dal longer on a low heat, they turn rock hard and need more water. So you can add anywhere from 2 to 4 tbsps water or as needed. 

Alternately you can soak the chana dal and urad dal in little hot water for 15 mins. But if you fry them on a low heat, they will still turn rock hard.

Variations

Karnataka style chitranna has some chopped onions sautéed in the pan along with tempering ingredients. A handful of coriander leaves are added towards the end. Also many people use only urad dal for this version. Again every home follows their own recipe.

Sometimes I make lemon mint rice where some chopped mint leaves are added. You can find the recipe here on my pudina rice post.

Related Recipes

Recipe Card

lemon rice recipe

Lemon Rice Recipe (Chitranna)

Traditional South Indian quick lemon rice also known as chitranna or nimmakaya pulihora is a popular dish made for a meal. To make this, precooked rice is tempered with spices, dal, curry leaves and nuts. Lastly it is mixed with fresh lemon juice to impart a refreshing and delicious flavor. Recipe with instructions for stovetop & Instant pot.
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For best results follow the step-by-step photos above the recipe card

Prep Time2 minutes
Cook Time25 minutes
Total Time27 minutes
Servings3
AuthorSwasthi

Ingredients (US cup = 240ml )

  • cups rice uncooked (or 4 cups cooked rice)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice or lime juice as needed (1 medium lemon)
  • ½ teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)
  • 2 tablespoon oil
  • ¾ teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 4 tablespoon peanuts or cashews
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon turmeric powder (haldi)
  • 2 green chili slit (refer notes if making for kids)
  • 1 sprig curry leaves (kadi patta)
  • 1 ½ teaspoon chana dal (bengal gram) (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon urad dal (skinned black gram) (Optional)
  • 1 pinch hing (asafoetida) (optional)

optional ingredients

  • ½ tbsp ginger finely chopped
  • 2 dried red chilies broken

Instructions

Preparation

  • Wash rice a few times and drain the water completely.
  • On a low flame cover and cook it in a large pot with 3 cups water.
  • The rice must be cooked fully but grainy and not mushy. OR You can also cook it in a pressure cooker by placing the rice bowl in the cooker. Cook for 2 to 3 whistles.
  • Fluff up the rice gently with a fork and cool completely. This helps to keep the rice grainy & firm.

How to Make Lemon Rice

  • Heat a pan with ½ tbsp oil on a medium. 
  • Add peanuts or cashews and fry until golden and crunchy. Remove them to a plate.
  • Pour another 1½ tbsp of oil and add mustard, urad dal & chana dal. Fry on a medium flame until the dals turn golden & aromatic.
  • Next add ginger, green chilis, red chilies(optional) and curry leaves. Fry them until the leaves turn crisp for about 30 seconds. Do not fry for too long, ginger will turn bitter.
  • Then add hing, turmeric and salt. Immediately pour 2 to 3 tbsps water and stir.
  • Quickly water will evaporate and turn the dal softer yet keeping them slightly crunchy. Turn off the stove and remove from the heat.
  • Transfer this to the cooled rice. (or Alternately add the cooled rice to the pan). Ensure the rice is cooled completely then squeeze the lemon juice and give a good mix.
  • Taste the lemon rice. If needed sprinkle more salt and add more lemon juice. Garnish with roasted peanuts or cashews. Serve lemon rice with plain yogurt, papad or pickle.

Instant Pot Lemon Rice

  • Rinse 1 ½ cups basmati rice at least thrice. Drain and set this aside.
  • Press the saute button. When it displays hot, pour 2 tbsps oil to the inner pot of the instant pot.
  • Then add in 3 to 4 tbsps peanuts or cashews. Fry them until golden and aromatic. Remove and set aside for garnish.
  • Add 1½ tsp chana dal, 1 tsp urad dal, ¾ tsp mustard seeds, 1 to 2 slit green chilies, 1 sprig curry leaves. Fry them until lightly golden.
  • Next add ginger, a pinch of hing & ¼ tsp turmeric. Give a good stir.
  • Pour 1¾ cups water and add salt. Press CANCEL button. Deglaze by scrubbing the bottom of the pot with the spatula to avoid burn notice.
  • Add rice and mix well. Taste the water & add more salt if needed.
  • Secure the lid of the IP with the steam release handle set to sealing position. Press the PRESSURE COOK button and set the timer to 5 mins.
  • When the Lemon rice is done, the IP beeps. Wait for the pressure to release naturally for 5 to 7 minutes. Then with the help of a spoon release the pressure manually, by moving the steam release handle from sealing to venting.
  • Open the lid and remove the inner pot & set aside.
  • When the temperature comes down a bit, squeeze in the lemon juice and gently stir it. If needed add more lemon juice and salt.
  • Garnish lemon rice with roasted peanuts and serve with yogurt.

Notes

  1. If you have young kids at home, you can skip adding green chilies to the tempering. Fry them separately later in the same pan. 
  2. To soften the dal, I pour some water to the tempering. This instantly softens them yet keeping them slightly crunchy. If you fry the dal longer on a low heat, then they turn rock hard and need more water. So you can add anywhere from 2 to 4 tbsps water as needed. 
  3. Alternately you can soak the chana dal and urad dal in little hot water for 15 mins. But if you fry them on a low heat, they will still turn rock hard.
  4. Do not add lemon juice to hot rice, it alters the flavor completely.
  5. Ensure the rice is cooled completely before you mix the tempering. Mixing hot rice often makes it mushy.

Alternative quantities provided in the recipe card are for 1x only, original recipe.

For best results follow my detailed step-by-step photo instructions and tips above the recipe card.

Video

NUTRITION INFO (estimation only)

Nutrition Facts
Lemon Rice Recipe (Chitranna)
Amount Per Serving
Calories 516 Calories from Fat 144
% Daily Value*
Fat 16g25%
Saturated Fat 1g6%
Sodium 409mg18%
Potassium 249mg7%
Carbohydrates 79g26%
Fiber 3g13%
Protein 11g22%
Vitamin A 25IU1%
Vitamin C 21mg25%
Calcium 40mg4%
Iron 1.7mg9%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Tried this recipe?Mention @SwasthisRecipes or tag #swasthisrecipes!

© Swasthi’s Recipes

This post was first published in June 2015. Updated & republished in November 2022.

Lemon Rice Recipe

About Swasthi

I’m Swasthi Shreekanth, the recipe developer, food photographer & food writer behind Swasthi’s Recipes. My aim is to help you cook great Indian food with my time-tested recipes. After 2 decades of experience in practical Indian cooking I started this blog to help people cook better & more often at home. Whether you are a novice or an experienced cook I am sure Swasthi’s Recipes will assist you to enhance your cooking skills.

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Recipe Rating




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5 stars
Swasthi, I have cooked this recipe twice in past two weeks. Your sense of flavour balance always ring true. Our family thanks you!

5 stars
Dear Swasthi, in addition to your coconut rice (see comments there), I also cooked your lemon rice on the weekend. It is the 2nd recipe and the one I will put in the recipe book as a ‘keeper’. I think I have about 20 of your recipes in that book now. I have been trying your recipes for nearly 5 years. A big fan of yours as you may remember. You have such a wonderful skill in balancing ingredients. Thanks you so much. Keep up this wonderful stream of recipes. Warm regards, Sandy 🙂

The recipe is very good. I have been trying some of your recipes and they all have happened to be delicious. Thank you.

5 stars
A savior recipe while i was cooking for my MIL ☺️

5 stars
It is very nice
Please keep the recipe of veg biryani

Can this lemon rice be premade and frozen? Making ahead for guests while I will be gone. Thank you!

The lemon has to be put in cooled rice. Why so? Do we reheat before serving then?

5 stars
I love this recipe though remain confused by the dal. Should they be pre-cooked? Crispy fried from a pack? Thank you!

5 stars
Absolutely delicious! Thanks Swasthi – every recipe of yours is fool proof!

Can you please suggest other “travel food” ideas such as this? I’d like to take some for my toddler and myself in future. Thanks so much again!

5 stars
Where was add lemon juice?

5 stars
Really delicious. My sister loved it
Thank you ma’am.
Keep going!

Hi, I would like to know with what curry should this Lemon Rice is served ??

5 stars
Amazing recipe with perfect instructions

5 stars
My favorite blog for South Indian recipes. Thank you. I make this lemon rice very often. Wanted to know if I can use citron in this recipe. Any advice?

5 stars
Excellent recipe. Came out nice.
Will defintly try other recipe of yours. Regards

5 stars
Hi Swasthi
I follow your recipes for couple of year now. Love the simplicity of your cooking. Going to try this tonight.
Is it cast iron pan that you are using? Can you please share the brand.
Thank you
Sobhana

5 stars
I love all your recipes – the food turns out delicious!! Thank you!???

5 stars
I tried it today. It turns out perfect. Eveyone loves it. Thanks for this awesome recipe.

5 stars
Hehehe

Nothing important. Just wanted to point out that you forgot to tell us to add back Cashew and Peanuts ?.

Can Onions be added too? I’ve seen people using onions too.

5 stars
Hi, is toor dal interchangeable with chana dal in this recipe?