Bright yellow lemon rice is a perfect for a picnic or in the lunch box. A bit tangy and spicy , and absolutely delicious. Plain rice becomes a delicious treat just by the addition of a few ingredients. Lemon rice pairs well with many side dishes – spicy fried seafood, chickpea curry, papads, coconut chutney or serve with just a few pickles. Lemon rice and popcorn shrimp is a favorite lay day meal . To tell you the truth I can have this rice all by itself , no sides needed !
I have made lemon rice umpteen times before I fell in love with this version. It happened a few years, back days after I had moved to B’lore suburbs. New house, new surroundings, no transportation and a baby and a toddler in the house. Ah, exciting times ! The change in climate was hard on the kids and they fell ill. So I took my lovely neighbor’s suggestion and ordered dinner from a cateror who was a regular there. My friend placed the order, my grasp of Kannada is not worth mentioning, specifically asking him to deliver early. So we wait , past the kids bedtime. As the kids got cranky I fixed something and sent them to bed. Those days my mantra was to grab any zzz s that I can whenever possible. So I turned off the lights and hit the sack.
As I fall asleep the doorbell rings. There is an old man at the door with a huge container of Chitranna – lemon rice. We look at each other – I am sure he was sizing up the pampered middle class woman who can’t make dinner for her family. He he doesn’t understand a word I say, and all I wanted then was to just get back to sleep. So I take the container from him and he retreats into the darkness even before I can open the purse .
The next morning I came to know that he went and rang my neighbor’s doorbell. Got an earful from them for being late — poor guy was used to delivering for the bachelors in the neighborhood for whom dinner at 10 is considered early ! Annoyed as I was I was pleasantly surprised by the rice . The very best I had.
To cut the story short , I have tried to match the taste – but not quite succeeded. It could very well be that I was very hungry and tired that night. Anyhow this this simple dish brings back memories, of strangers who become part of our lives, cherished friendships and food.
In different regional languages Lemon Rice is called Chitranna, Elumicham sadam, Naranga choru, Nimmakkya Annam and other names that I am not familiar with. All of them literally translates to Lemon Rice 🙂 As you would have guessed by now , it is lemon flavored rice. Typically peanuts are used for crunch and flavor in these dishes. If you are allergic feel free to leave them out or replace with cashew nuts or almonds.
The rice is cooked separately and cooled. Lemon rice is great way to use up the day old rice. Roast the peanuts/cashew nuts in a little oil and set aside. You could dry roast these as well. If using roasted nuts, just warm them through to release the oils and set aside.
Prepare the seasoning. Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil and add the urad dal and mustard seeds. Once the mustard seeds splutter add the chana dal and stir fry till its color changes. Add the green and red chilies and curry leaves. Fry till the aromas fill the air. If you like to add a pinch of asafoetida this is the time to add it. While a south Indian never dreams of making these without the dals and asafoetida, feel free to leave them out, or use a tablespoon of split peas.
Keep the heat on very low. Add the chopped cilantro and spread half the rice on top of the seasonings, sprinkle turmeric and a little salt on top and layer the remaining rice over it. If you are using dried/desiccated coconut mix it in as well. Using a spatula mix everything together.
Once everything is mixed well the rice begins to take on a lovely shade of yellow. Stir a few times if necessary ,to get the rice warmed through. Turn off the heat and sprinkle the lemon juice on top. Mix well taste and adjust salt . Add the roasted peanuts and fresh coconut, if using. Mix and serve !!
Though it needs no accompaniments here are a few ideas to try – Spicy fried fish and Lemon Rice, Kadala Curry or Chickpeas in roasted coconut sauce, or Coconut Chutney.