I've had South Indian lemon rice several times and always wondered how it was made. Naively, I thought the rich yellow hue of the rice came from the abundance of lemon in the dish. In fact it's because of turmeric. I finally learned the recipe from my husband Lulu's aunt, Sara. We get along great; we're the same age and Sara is so much fun to be around.
The preparation requires 3 steps. First, making lemon rice is a great way to use leftover cooked basmati rice. Separate and massage the grains of rice and season them with turmeric, lemon and red chili powder. Then comes the baghar (which translates to "tempering," which involves frying chana dal (dried chickpeas), red dried chiles, mustard seeds, curry leaves, onions and cashew nuts. Lastly, the yellow rice is added, then flavored with a generous amount of ghee (clarified butter). A last drizzling of lemon juice provides a touch of tanginess to fragrant, spicy rice. Our family loves it!
For extra richness, you could sprinkle a bit of coconut powder at the end or serve the rice with coconut chutney and raita (Indian yogurt sauce).
Servings: 6 servings
5 cups steamed basmati rice, preferably chilled
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1½ lemons, zested and juiced
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
¼ teaspoon paprika (or red chili powder)
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 tablespoon chana dal (or urad dal if you don't have any)
3 red dried chiles, torn in half
¼ cup fresh curry leaves, torn in half
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)
¼ cup cashew nuts, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, finely chopped
In a mixing bowl, combine the chilled basmati rice, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, lemon zest, turmeric, paprika, red chili powder and salt.
In a pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add garlic and ginger. Cook until fragrant, then add the onions. Cook for 4-5 minutes until lightly golden, then transfer to the rice.
Add the remaining oil to the pan. Once the oil is hot, add the whole dried red chiles, chana dal, the mustard seeds and curry leaves. Once the oill starts splattering, add the cashew nuts and cilantro. Add the rice. Let it cook for about 2 minutes, scraping with a spatula any grains of rice that may be stuck on the pan. Drizzle with the remaining lemon juice. Toss well. Finish the dish with a few mounds of ghee. Mix well.
You could add coconut powder (if using). Check seasoning and add more salt, if necessary.
You could use freshly steamed rice but using good "dry" leftover bamasti rice with prevent the dish from turning all mushy. Your best bet is to chill the rice overnight.
You can find most of the ingredients listed in any Indian grocery stores.
Coating each grain of rice in fat prevents them from sticking to one another.
Once the rice grains are popping, drizzle in the remaining lemon juice.
For a vegan version, simply omit the ghee from the recipe.