South Indian Lemon Rice

South Indian Lemon Rice

The Spruce / Preethi Venkatram

Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 5 mins
Total: 10 mins
Servings: 2 servings
Yield: 2 1/2 cups
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
579 Calories
33g Fat
61g Carbs
15g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 2
Amount per serving
Calories 579
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 33g 42%
Saturated Fat 4g 20%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 312mg 14%
Total Carbohydrate 61g 22%
Dietary Fiber 6g 21%
Total Sugars 4g
Protein 15g
Vitamin C 64mg 319%
Calcium 71mg 5%
Iron 4mg 23%
Potassium 518mg 11%
*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 one of the most common dishes from South India, where it also goes by the name chitranna. There are a few variations to making this dish and this is just one of them. This rice is usually eaten alone or with raita, yogurt, chutney, or kosambari (a type of salad). It's not uncommon for people to pack this rice with them while traveling as it transports well.

This dish gains flavor from using whole seeds that you grind yourself in order to release their oils. You might be tempted to skip that step, but it's important. You can easily throw together this rice dish if you are in a hurry, as it can be made with leftover rice. Add some poppadoms on the side for a simple yet tasty meal. You can serve this with curries, fish, and chicken. This rice would also be delicious as a side to add something flavorful alongside a lemon and garlic roasted chicken.


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"This lemon rice is my new favorite rice dish. The lemon juice along with the spices, sesame oil, chili, and peanuts add texture and tangy flavor to the rice. I liked the rice so much that I immediately made another batch (doubled) for visiting family!" —Diana Rattray

Lemon Rice (Chitranna)
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, canola, sunflower, or sesame cooking oil

  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds

  • 3 to 4 curry leaves

  • 2 medium green chiles, slit lengthwise

  • 1 (1-inch) piece ginger, grated

  • 1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts

  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder

  • Juice of 2 medium lemons

  • 2 cups cooked basmati rice, or leftover rice

  • Salt, to taste

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    South Indian lemon rice recipe ingredients

    The Spruce / Preethi Venkatram

  2. In a large, dry skillet or saucepan, gently toast the coriander seeds over medium-low heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Coarsely grind the seeds into a powder. Set aside.

    Spices ground in mortar with pestle

    The Spruce / Preethi Venkatram

  3. Heat the oil in the same pan on medium heat until it shimmers. Add the mustard seeds, curry leaves, and green chiles. Fry the mixture until the splattering stops.

    Fry the spices and peppers in oil

    The Spruce / Preethi Venkatram

  4. Add the ginger and peanuts. Fry the mixture until fragrant, about 1 minute more.

    Add ginger and peanuts to the pan with the spices

    The Spruce / Preethi Venkatram

  5. Stir in the turmeric powder and turn off the burner.

    add turmeric to the spices in the pan

    The Spruce / Preethi Venkatram

  6. Add the lemon juice and mix well.

    Fresh lemon juice added to mixture in pan

    The Spruce / Preethi Venkatram

  7. Add the rice, toasted coriander powder, and salt to taste. Mix thoroughly. Serve and enjoy.

    South Indian Lemon Rice in a pot

    The Spruce / Preethi Venkatram


  • If you don't have a mortar and pestle to grind the coriander, you can use a spice grinder or a clean coffee grinder instead. If you opt for a coffee grinder, make sure it's extremely clean so the flavors of coffee don't transfer to the spices.
  • Lemon rice may be eaten hot or at room temperature. To reheat the rice, transfer it to a saucepan and add a splash of water. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until warmed through. Alternatively, put the rice in a microwave-safe container and cover it with a damp paper towel. Microwave on high power and heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring every 30 to 45 seconds.

Recipe Variations

  • For more heat and a pop of color, add a small hot fresh or dried red pepper to the pan along with the green chili peppers.
  • Garnish the lemon rice with fresh cilantro.
  • Add freshly chopped mint leaves when you add the rice to the pan.
  • Vegetables may be added, such as cooked green peas, mixed vegetables, or chopped wilted spinach.
  • For additional protein, add 6 to 8 paneer cubes along with the rice.

How to Store and Freeze Rice

Store leftover lemon rice in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. You can also store the rice in the freezer in a sealed zip-close freezer bag for up to six months. Simply thaw the rice in the refrigerator or use the microwave. You can reheat it from frozen if you toss it into a curry or other dish with other ingredients as they're cooking.

Is there a substitute for curry leaves?

Curry leaves are herbs found in many South Indian dishes. They have a pungent, lemony flavor. If you can't find fresh or dried curry leaves, there are a few things you can use.

  • Crushed fresh makrut lime leaves or lime zest.
  • Lemon basil leaves.
  • Small bay leaves.

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