Lemon Rice Recipe

Lemon Rice on a plate with a spoon

The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 12 mins
Total: 27 mins
Servings: 4 servings
Yield: 3 1/2 cups
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
280 Calories
11g Fat
41g Carbs
5g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 280
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 11g 14%
Saturated Fat 5g 24%
Cholesterol 16mg 5%
Sodium 82mg 4%
Total Carbohydrate 41g 15%
Dietary Fiber 1g 5%
Total Sugars 4g
Protein 5g
Vitamin C 3mg 17%
Calcium 27mg 2%
Iron 2mg 13%
Potassium 157mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Lemon Rice is a staple afternoon preparation across Southern India. Busy cooks love this dish, as it can be made with both freshly-cooked rice as well as leftover rice, and uses classic South Indian kitchen staples such as lemons and curry leaves.

To prepare, cook nuts, fresh ginger, spices, and lemon juice and then toss into cooked basmati rice. Alternatively, if you use a rice cooker you can add the prepared spice mixture into the pot of rice while it cooks. Start the rice cooker with the rice before starting on the spice mix.

While golden raisins and peanuts are traditionally preferred, dried cranberries add lovely specks of red, and the toasted ivory cashew bits make it a festive dish with a hint of sweet. 

Lemon Rice is often served as the next-to-last course (before dessert) at room temperature with a bowl of Greek yogurt and a spoonful of the family’s favorite Indian pickle.

Lemon Rice Recipe Tester Image

"This is a deeply comforting dish uses warming ginger, chilles and mustard seeds. It gets richness from cashews, and brightness from lemon. I used dried cranberries instead of raisins and enjoyed the sweet-tart pops of flavor they added."—Danielle Centoni

A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 2 tablespoons ghee, or unsalted butter

  • 1 tablespoon black mustard seeds

  • 1/4 cup raw unsalted cashew halves, or raw unsalted peanuts

  • 2 small dried red chilies, broken into pieces, optional

  • 10 fresh curry leaves

  • 1-inch fresh ginger, julienned

  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder

  • 2 tablespoons golden raisins, or dried cranberries, rinsed

  • 5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or makrut lime juice

  • Kosher salt, to taste

  • 3 cups cooked room-temperature basmati rice

  • 4 teaspoons lemon zest or makrut lime zest, divided

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Lemon Rice ingredients in bowls

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  2. Heat the ghee in a small, heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat until melted. Add mustard seeds and allow to cook until they begin to pop.

    Ghee and mustard seeds in a pot with a wooden spoon

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  3. Add the nuts and stir until they are golden, about 1 minute.

    Nuts, mustard seeds and ghee in a pot

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  4. Turn the heat down and add the broken dried chilies, if using. Add curry leaves and ginger. Sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.

    Curry leaves and ginger added to the nut mixture to the pot with the wooden spoon

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  5. Add the turmeric and golden raisins and stir quickly to combine (if using dried cranberries, add at step 9). Lower the heat to low.

    Turmeric and golden raisins added to the nut mixture in the pot with the wooden spoon

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  6. Add the lemon or lime juice. This will cause the oil to sputter and bubble; this is normal. Cook on low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture is combined and the flavors develop, 4 to 5 minutes.

    Lemon juice added to the nut mixture in the pot with the wooden spoon

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  7. Add salt to taste and remove from the heat.

    Salt added to the nut mixture in the pot, with the wooden spoon

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  8. Pour this mixture onto the cooked rice.

    Nut mixture and rice in a bowl

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  9. Sprinkle in one half of the lemon or lime zest. If using dried cranberries, add those in now.

    Lemon zest, nut mixture and rice in a bowl

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  10. Using two narrow spatulas or forks, carefully toss the rice until the spice mix is evenly distributed. Sprinkle with the remaining lemon zest just before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

    Lemon Rice in a bowl with two forks

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

Make Ahead

The lemon-spice mixture can be made up to two days ahead of time. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Recipe Variations

  • You can use lime instead of lemon; makrut lime is the best choice, if you can find it.
  • This recipe adapts easily to a rice cooker. Start the rice cooker with the rice before starting on the spice mix. Prepare the spice mix and add it directly into the cooker during the last few minutes before the rice is completely cooked. Stir the rice very gently and allow it to finish cooking.

Storage and Freezing

  • Lemon Rice can freeze safely for two weeks. Pour cooled rice into a freezer bag, squeeze out any air, and seal tightly.
  • Thaw in the fridge for at least 8 hours before reheating.
  • To reheat leftover lemon rice, sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons of water in the container, cover, and microwave for 2 minutes. Stir and microwave for another minute.
  • If reheating on the stovetop, bring 4 tablespoons of water to boil in a nonstick saucepan or skillet. Add the lemon rice, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Let the rice steam until it is warmed through, 4 to 7 minutes.

Is this the same as Greek lemon rice?

This isn’t the same as Greek Rice, as it includes many more spices and flavors.