Lemon Rice

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Lemon Rice also known as chitranna or nimmakaya pulihora is a crunchy, flavorful and tangy dish that is easy to make and tastes so good. Lemon juice, fried nuts, aromatic herbs and spices combine perfectly to give this steamed rice an amazing spicy, tangy and nutty flavor. The nuts add a crunch for the perfect rice dish texture. This vegan lemon rice recipe is sure to become one of your favorite rice dishes.

lemon rice served in a white bowl on a white cotton cloth with a side of fried papaddums

About this recipe

This is one of the most popular and commonly made rice recipes from the South Indian cuisine. I have had lemon rice in many restaurants and even in a few South Indian temples.

Easy to make, my lemon rice recipe includes a mixture of fried mustard seeds, urad dal (black gram), chilies (hot green peppers), herbs and spices.

This fried tempering mixture is then poured over steamed rice. Fried peanuts and cashews are added, along with lemon juice, and everything is mixed together.

You can make chitranna with freshly cooked rice or even with leftover rice. The peanuts and cashews add crunch to this tangy and aromatic chitranna recipe.

I prefer to fully cook the rice. You can cook rice grains al dente if you prefer that texture. Apart from Fried Rice, Pulao or Biryani, in all other rice recipes, I prefer to cook rice grains fully.

Step-by-Step Guide

How to make Lemon Rice

Cooking rice

1. First rinse 1 cup heaped rice a couple of times and then soak in enough water for about 20 to 30 minutes.

You can use short grained rice or a long grained rice like basmati. In my step-by-step guide, I have added short grained rice. In the video, basmati rice is used.

soaking rice in water in a steel bowl to make chitranna or lemon rice

2. Then drain all the water from soaked rice. Add rice in a 2-litre or 3-litre pressure cooker. Add ¼ teaspoon salt or add salt as required.

soaked rice added to pressure cooker with salt

3. Add 1.75 to 2 cups water.

water added to rice in the pressure cooker

4. Pressure cook rice for 8 to 10 minutes or for 2 to 3 whistles on a medium to medium-high heat. When the pressure settles down on its own in the cooker, then open the lid.

You can even cook rice in a pan or in the Instant Pot. Follow the steps as listed below:

  • Pan method: Take rice, salt and 2 cups water in a pan. Cover and simmer until all the water has been absorbed and rice grains are tender and fluffy. Check when the rice is simmering and if the water has dried up with rice grains undercooked, add some more hot water and continue to cook.
  • Instant Pot method: Add rice, salt and 1 or 1.25 cups water (depending on rice type and quality) in the steel insert of a 6 quart IP. Pressure cook for 5 minutes on high. Do a quick pressure release after 5 minutes.
cooked rice in the pressure cooker

5. Empty the cooked rice in a bowl or plate and set aside so that it becomes warm or cool at room temperature. You can also fluff the cooked rice and let it cool in the cooker itself.

1 heaped cup of raw rice will yield 3 to 4 cups of cooked rice. However, this can very depending on the type of rice.

cooked rice in a steel bowl set aside to make lemon rice recipe

6. Squeeze juice from 1 lime or 1 small lemon into a small bowl. You will need about 1.5 to 2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice.

If you want a more tangy taste, then you can add more lemon juice. Set aside.

squeezing lemon juice to make lemon rice recipe

Frying nuts

7. Heat 2 tablespoons sesame oil in a pan. Add ¼ cup peanuts. The sesame oil that is added is made from raw sesame seeds and is also known as gingelly oil. It has a totally different flavor and aroma than the south-asian toasted sesame oil.

If you do not have sesame oil, then add sunflower oil, canola oil, avocado oil, peanut oil or grapeseed oil.

If you have roasted peanuts ready, then you can give a miss to this step. I sometimes have extra roasted peanuts in the pantry to be had as a snack or to be added in recipes like these.

peanuts added in oil in a pan

8. Fry the peanuts on a low to medium heat until they become golden and crunchy.

frying peanuts in pan

9. Remove and set aside.

fried peanuts in a steel plate to make lemon rice recipe

10. In the same pan add 1 tablespoon cashews.

frying cashews in oil in the pan

11. Fry cashews until they turn golden. Set aside.

frying cashews until golden color in oil in the pan

Making lemon rice

12. Now add 1 tablespoon sesame oil in the same pan. When the oil becomes hot, lower the heat and add 1 teaspoon mustard seeds.

frying mustard seeds in oil in a pan

12. When the mustard seeds begun to crackle, then add 1 teaspoon urad dal (spilt and skinned black gram).

I don’t add chana dal (split and skinned bengal gram) to my lemon rice recipe, but if you want to add these, soak the lentils in hot water for 20 to 30 minutes. Drain the water and then add them to the oil at this step.

Make sure they are pat dried or the extra water or moisture in them will make the oil splutter too much.

urad dal added to pan

13. On a low heat, fry the urad dal till they turn golden.

frying urad dal in the pan

14. Next add 12 to 15 curry leaves, 1 teaspoon chopped green chillies and 2 dry red chilies (preferably seeds removed).

curry leaves, greeen chillies, red chillies added to pan

15. Sauté for some seconds until the red chilies change color.

sauteing tempering mixture in the pan

16. Switch off the heat and add ½ teaspoon turmeric powder and 1 generous pinch asafetida (hing).

spices added to tempering mixture in pan

17. Mix very well.

mixing spices with tempering mixture to make chitranna

18. Now pour this tempering mixture in the cooked rice.

tempering mixture added to cooked rice in the bowl to make chitranna

19. Add the fried peanuts and cashews.

fried peanuts and cashews added to cooked rice in bowl to make lemon rice or chitranna

20. Add lemon juice – about 1.5 to 2 tablespoons.

lemon juice added to cooked rice in bowl to make chitranna

21. Add salt as required.

salt added to cooked rice in bowl

22. Mix very well.

with a steel spoon mixing salt and lemon juice to make chitranna or lemon rice

23. Check the taste and add more lemon juice or salt if you want. Keep the lemon rice or chitranna covered for the flavors to blend for 4 to 5 minutes.

While serving garnish with some chopped coriander leaves (cilantro) if you prefer.

lemon rice or chitranna mixed and ready to be served

24. Serve lemon rice with papaddums or vadams and coconut chutney or just have it plain. You can even pack lemon rice in tiffin or for a travel journey.

bright yellow colored lemon rice or chitranna served in a white bowl on a white cotton cloth with a side of fried papaddums

Serving Suggestions

Serve chitranna with pappadums or with a side vegetable salad or even Coconut Chutney also goes great with this dish.

It can also be made as a tiffin box. As lemon rice can be served at room temperature, it also makes a great picnic lunch item. It’s a light dish and you can have it as a light lunch or breakfast also.

Make ahead and storing

If you have any leftovers then store in the refrigerator for a day. Leftover rice is not good for health – so I suggest to finish the lemon rice in a day. For this reason I also suggest not to make a large batch of lemon rice to freeze or refrigerate.

Tips

Expert Tips

  • Rice: Any non-sticky variety of rice grains can be used in lemon rice recipe. This means you can use short-grained rice or even long grained rice like basmati.
  • Soaking rice: For any rice recipes, I always suggest to soak rice. It helps in cooking rice faster and the rice grains cook beautifully. If you do not soak rice, then increase the cooking time and add a bit more water.
  • Overcooked rice: If in case you overcook rice and they become lumpy, then do not worry. Simply break the lumps when the cooked rice is cooled.
  • Leftover rice: Some hours old or a day old leftover rice works excellently in the recipe. Add about 3 to 4 cups of leftover cooked rice.
  • Spices and lentils: Spices like mustard seeds and either dry red chillies or green chillies are absolutely needed in chitranna recipe. You can still let go of urad dal and asafoetida (hing) if they are not available to you.
  • Herbs: Curry leaves add a unique aroma. If you find it difficult to procure them, then you can skip them. Though I have not added coriander leaves (cilantro), you can add them. About 1 teaspoon of finely chopped ginger also adds a good flavor to the chitranna recipe. 
  • Nuts: Both cashews and peanuts add a lot of texture and crunch in lemon rice. You can also just use one type of nut. Do not use nuts like almonds, pecans, walnuts etc as the authenticity of the recipe will be lost. 
  • Lemons: Use lemons which are ripe and fresh. You can also use limes. 
  • Fats: The fat used to make lemon rice is oil. The oil that is traditionally used is sesame oil made from wood pressed raw sesame seeds. This sesame oil is also called as gingelly oil and is very different from the south-asian toasted sesame oil. Sesame oil adds a great deal of nutty flavor. If you do not have sesame oil, then simply use sunflower oil, peanut oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil or any neutral oil. 
  • Gluten-free version: Skip the asafoetida or use a gluten-free asafoetida in the recipe.

More South Indian Rice Recipes

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yellow colored lemon rice served in a white bowl on a white cotton cloth

Lemon Rice | Chitranna Recipe

4.7 from 36 votes
Lemon Rice also known as chitranna or nimmakaya pulihora is a crunchy, flavorful and tangy rice dish that is easy to make and tastes so good.
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 5 mins
Total Time 25 mins

Cuisine South Indian
Course: Main Course
Diet: Vegan, Vegetarian
Difficulty Level: Easy

Servings 3
Units

Ingredients

For cooking rice

  • 1 cup rice (heaped) or 3 to 4 cups cooked rice
  • 1.75 to 2 cups water
  • ¼ teaspoon salt or add as required

Other ingredients

  • 1.5 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice or add as required
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon urad dal (spilt and skinned black gram)
  • 2 dry red chilies – preferably seeds removed
  • 1 teaspoon chopped green chilies or 1 to 2 green chillies – chopped
  • 12 to 15 curry leaves
  • 1 generous pinch asafoetida (hing)
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 tablespoon cashews – halved or chopped (optional)
  • ¼ cup peanuts – optional
  • 3 tablespoons sesame oil (gingelly oil) or any neutral oil
  • salt as required

Instructions

Soaking rice

  • Rinse rice grains a couple of times and soak in enough water for 20 to 30 minutes. 
  • Then drain all the water from the soaked rice.

Stove-top pressure cooking

  • Cook rice in a 2-litre or 3-litre pressure cooker with salt and 1.75 to 2 cups water for 2 to 3 whistles or 8 to 10 minutes on medium to medium-high heat. 
  • When the pressure settles down on its own in the cooker, remove the lid. Remove the cooked rice in a plate or in a bowl.
  • 1 heaped cup rice will yield 3 to 4 cups rice. This will depend on the type and quality of rice. 
  • Let the cooked rice become warm or cool at room temperature

Cooking rice a pan or pot

  • Take rice, salt and 2 cups water in a pan. Cover and simmer until all the water has been absorbed and rice grains are tender and fluffy.
  • Do keep a check when rice is simmering and if the water has dried leaving the rice grains undercooked, add some more hot water and continue to cook.
  • Place the cooked rice in a tray or bowl to cool it.

Instant pot method

  • Add rice, salt and 1 or 1.25 cups water (depending on rice type and quality) in the steel insert of a 6 quart IP.
  • Pressure cook for 5 minutes on high. Do a quick pressure release after 5 minutes.
  • Empty the cooked rice in a plate or bowl to cool at room temperature.

Frying nuts

  • In a small frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons sesame oil. First fry the peanuts until crunchy and then set them aside. 
  • In the same oil, then fry cashews until golden. Remove and set aside.
  • Now add 1 tablespoon sesame oil in the same pan. Keep the flame to a low.
  • Add the mustard seeds and let them crackle. Once the mustard seeds begin to crackle, add the urad dal.
  • Fry until the urad dal turns golden. Fry everything on a low flame, so that the lentils do not burn.
  • Then add the red chilies, green chilies (chopped) and curry leaves. Sauté for a few seconds until the red chilies change color. 
  • Switch off the heat and add the asafoetida and turmeric powder. Mix very well

Making lemon rice

  • Immediately pour this tempering mixture on cooked and cooled rice. Add the fried peanuts and cashews, lemon juice, salt. Mix very well.
  • Keep the bowl or pan covered for the flavors to blend for 4 to 5 minutes.
  • Then serve the lemon rice.
  • While serving you can choose to garnish chitranna with some chopped coriander leaves (cilantro).

Serving suggestions

  • Serve lemon rice with pappadums or with a side vegetable salad or even coconut chutney also goes great with this dish.
  • It can also be packed in the tiffin box. As lemon rice can be served at room temperature, it also makes a great picnic lunch item. It’s a light dish and you can have it as a light lunch or breakfast too.

Storing

  • Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for a day. Leftover rice is not good for health, so I suggest to finish the lemon rice in a day.

Video

Notes

  • Rice: Any non-sticky variety of rice can be added. If in case you overcook the rice and they become lumpy, then do not worry. Simply break the lumps when the rice grains are cooled. Leftover rice works excellently in the recipe. Add about 3 to 4 cups of leftover cooked rice.
  • Spices and lentils: Spices like mustard seeds and either dry red chillies or green chillies are essential. You can still let go of urad dal and asafoetida (hing) if they are not available to you. About 1 teaspoon of finely chopped ginger also add a good flavor to the chitranna recipe. 
  • Herbs: Curry leaves add a unique aroma. If you find it difficult to procure them, then you can skip them. You can also add coriander leaves (cilantro). 
  • Nuts: Both cashews and peanuts add a lot of texture and crunch in lemon rice. You can also just use one type of nut. Do not use nuts like almonds, pistachios, pecans, walnuts etc as the authenticity of the recipe will be lost. 
  • Lemons: Use lemons or limes which are ripe and fresh.
  • Oil: The oil that is traditionally used in sesame oil made from wood pressed raw sesame seeds. This sesame oil, also known as gingelly oil is very different from the south-asian toasted sesame oil. If you do not have sesame oil, then simply use sunflower oil, peanut oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil or any neutral oil. 
  • Gluten-free version: To make a gluten-free lemon rice simply skip the asafetida or use a gluten-free asafetida.

Nutrition Info Approximate values

Nutrition Facts
Lemon Rice | Chitranna Recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories 458 Calories from Fat 198
% Daily Value*
Fat 22g34%
Saturated Fat 3g19%
Sodium 445mg19%
Potassium 183mg5%
Carbohydrates 56g19%
Fiber 3g13%
Sugar 1g1%
Protein 9g18%
Vitamin A 239IU5%
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) 1mg67%
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) 1mg59%
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) 49mg245%
Vitamin B6 1mg50%
Vitamin C 85mg103%
Vitamin E 1mg7%
Vitamin K 3µg3%
Calcium 47mg5%
Vitamin B9 (Folate) 507µg127%
Iron 2mg11%
Magnesium 52mg13%
Phosphorus 146mg15%
Zinc 1mg7%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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This lemon rice recipe post from the archives (August 2013) has been republished and updated on 18 December 2020 with a video and my expert tips.

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Dassana Amit

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Welcome to Dassana's Veg Recipes. I share vegetarian recipes from India & around the World. Having been cooking for decades and with a professional background in cooking & baking, I help you to make your cooking journey easier with my tried and tested recipes showcased with step by step photos & plenty of tips & suggestions.

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97 Comments

  1. Made the lemon rice following your recipe this afternoon and it turned out amazingly delicious. Thanks you!!!5 stars

  2. Hi.. your website is a boon to a “barely in the kitchen before marriage” person like me! I cook from your website everyday!

    I had a question, I have a little girl whose online classes and homework takes up my evening time, if I prepare the entire rice and mixture and keep it ready for later.. like post 2 hours to eat… should I add the lemon in at the time of preparing or should I heat the rice and add lemon prior to serving?

    1. Thank you Anu. Add lemon prior to serving as the freshness of the lemon juice is what makes up this dish.

  3. Your recipe of tomato rice was awesome.last night,I made it.it was so delicious.thanku for it

  4. I’m trying your lemon rice recipe for the first time. Hope my family members also enjoy this new style of cooking lemon rice. I always warm lemon juice and mix it with peanut masala. I also do as Ashwini has written in the post. Thanks.

    1. thanks bhanulatha. i hope your family liked the lemon rice recipe. warming lemon juice makes it mellow and the sharpness is reduced. actually it is a personal preference. if one likes a less sharp taste and flavor of lemon juice, then it can be warmed before adding.

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