Indian Dishes

Simple South Indian Lemon Rice Recipe

I love the food of Southern India and lemon rice is one of my most favorites. It’s tangy, spicy and incredibly easy to make. Found both in homes and on the menus of fancy restaurants, lemon rice is simple food that can also be quite impressive.

This quick and easy lemon rice recipe can be made using both fresh or leftover rice. Leftover day-old rice is my preference. Using leftover rice not only helps cut down on food wastage (can you believe Americans waste 35 million tons of food every year?! ) but it also ensures that your rice grains remain separate and don’t get mushy.


I love this dish so much that I usually throw a few extra cups of rice in the rice cooker just to ensure there is plenty of rice left over, giving me the excuse I need to enjoy this for lunch the next day. {My son loves rice but doesn’t really love lemon rice. He’ll eat it if I make it but I think the tanginess of the lemon is a flavor his tongue hasn’t quite developed a taste for. I have no doubt that’ll change.} easy south indian lemon rice recipe using leftover rice

Although this dish is really simple to make and takes very minimal time, if you’re new to Indian cooking it might seem a bit overwhelming.

Curry leaves. Dals. Asafoetida.

I understand that these are not things most people have stocked in their kitchen, although I hope to help change that (even a little!) eventually. These ingredients are readily available at any Indian market and can be found in a lot of Asian markets, too. I also recommend checking the bulk bins at your local grocery store or co-op. They sometimes stock spices and dals (lentils), allowing you to buy smaller quantities at a time.

lemon rice ingredients: curry leaves, mustard seeds, urad dal, roasted chana dal
From top to bottom: roasted chana dal, black mustard seeds, urad dal, curry leaves

I’ve linked to some of the more uncommon ingredients in the recipe below. Simply click the link and be taken to Amazon for more info.

Some recipes for lemon rice call for using a proper tadka, or tempering the spices and then adding to the rice afterwards. I sometimes do it this way, but more often than not I just do everything in one pan–adding the rice at the end.

cooking lemon rice tadka of curry leaves, mustard seeds, urad dal

Before adding the rice to the pan, it’s important to break it up a bit. I usually use my rice paddle and sort of stab it around in the bowl.  It’s okay to have a few small clumps of rice, but you don’t want to add large hunks of rice to the pan.

When adding the rice, I don’t just dump the bowl into the pan. I use my hands and sort of sprinkle the rice over the lemon juice-masala mixture. This helps ensure the rice is well separated and no large clumps were missed. I want every grain to soak up as much flavor as possible.

lemon rice side dish recipe

Lemon rice can be served on its own or alongside other dishes. I like to serve it with dry veg dishes like green beans poriyal or potato subzi.  Even though it’s definitely not a traditional pairing, my favorite way to eat lemon rice is as a side dish to tandoori chicken. It’s also an amazing accompaniment to piping hot vadas and fresh, homemade coconut chutney. {I hope to get those recipes up here soon! }

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Simple South Indian Lemon Rice

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Simple, tangy and delicious, this easy South Indian Lemon Rice recipe is a fantastic way to liven up and enjoy leftover rice.

  • 2 tbsp. oil (I use sunflower oil)
  • 1 tsp. black mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp. urad dal
  • 1 tbsp. roasted chana dal
  • 1 or more slit green chilies, depending on heat preferences (I use at least 3)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/4 cup nuts (cashews or peanuts), broken in pieces
  • 1 dry red chili (broken up into pieces)
  • 20 curry leaves
  • 5 dashes asafoetida (“hing,” can exclude if you don’t have)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. ginger paste (substitute approx. 1″ fresh ginger)
  • 1/2 c. lemon juice (approx. 2 lemons)
  • Appox. 4 cups cooked, day-old rice
  • salt, as required
  • Heat oil in a large, shallow pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds, urad dal and chana dal. Once the mustard seeds begin to pop and the urad dal begins to turn a bit brown (but not too brown), add the slit green chilies, turmeric powder, nuts, dry red chili and curry leaves. Let this cook for about 30 seconds, stir often.
  • Next add the asafoetida (if using) and the ginger paste. The ginger paste will splutter so it’s a good idea to step back and maybe even use a cover as you stir until it stops. Stir and cook for another minute or so, until the ginger no longer smells raw.
  • Add the lemon juice and stir everything together.  Let the mixture cook for about 30 seconds or so and then begin adding the rice.  Crumble the rice into the pan using your hands, breaking up any chucks of stuck-together rice. Stir well to ensure everything is coated. Taste to check to seasoning, add salt as necessary. If you like your rice a bit more tangy you can also add additional lemon juice. Cook until the liquid from the lemon juice has been soaked up by the rice. The rice grains should be separate and not mushy. Cover and let the flavors mingle for a few minutes.
  • Enjoy!
  • Authentically speaking, lemon rice is pretty spicy. The heat can be toned down to suit your preference, as can the tanginess. As written, my recipe could probably be considered “medium” heat so be sure to take that into consideration.
  • Lemon rice can be served on its own or alongside other dishes. I like to serve it with dry veg dishes like green beans poriyal or potato subzi. It’s also an amazing accompaniment to piping hot vadas and fresh, homemade coconut chutney.
  • asafoetida may be omitted, but I really recommend using for its unique flavor.
  • Leftover, day-old rice is the best but this can also be made with fresh rice. Ensure it is completely cooled before using to avoid the dish becoming mushy or gummy.

As always, if you make the recipe, I’d love to hear what you think! Let me know in the comments below.

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