South Indian zesty lemon rice or quinoa

lemon rice
Lemon rice is a classic South Indian style preparation. It is a tangy stir fry rice flavoured by the elaborate tempering of the good old turmeric and big squeezes of the lime. It is one of the common ones spotted on festival days as a kalanda saadam. Lemon rice is more so reputed in railway travels were “saadam kattu” works as Hygenic affordable meals on the go. Call it elumachai saadam, chithranna or naranga pothichooru, they all come down to this soul-satisfying rice mix.

Memories that come with the lemon rice.

The memories of the lemon rice in the lunch box at school with Kathrikai podi varuval and a bit more of ammas Citron lemon pickle. This is the box that gets eaten right at the morning break than at lunchtime. There was always sharing and every day of the week someone in the classroom did have one of these boxes. This was also the start of some great friendships. 
This 10-minute recipe was also the one that I learnt from my mother at first even before I knew how to cook rice properly. Now ding it time and again, I love it on the busy days, days when I have leftover cooked grain to finish or pre-prep the meal boxes for the morning run. Here is that recipe and below are the variations that I try. 


South Indian zesty Lemon Rice

The traditional lemon rice recipe is the best in the lunchbox, railway meals or on a picnic day. Learn this traditional kalanda saadam recipe and variations using quinoa, cauliflower rice or macaroni today and create your own new styles.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Course Main Dish, Traditional
Cuisine Autumn, gluten free, Indian, One pot, South indian, Summer, Vegan, Vegetarian
Servings 4 people.


to cook rice

  • 1 cup Raw rice (You can use any short to medium grain non glutinious rice)
  • 2.5 cups drinking water
  • 1 pinch salt

for the tempering

  • 2 tbsp cooking oil ( my personal preference is coconut oil)
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp Urad Dal
  • 1-2 small Green chillies slit lengthwise
  • 10-12 curry leaves
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ginger root grated
  • 2-3 tbsp peanuts
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder ( or 1 tsp grated fresh turmeric)
  • 1 pinch Asafoetida

For garnish

  • 4-6 tbsp Lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp corinader leaves chopped


To cook the rice

  • Wash and soak the rice for 10 minutes
  • Cook the rice in instapot or pressure cooker to a fluffy yet grains sperate consistency. You can cook the same in a saucepan as well, then you will need a bit more water.
  • Set the rice aside to cool for a while.
  • Fluff with a fork when cook.

To prepare the tempering

  • Heat a wok and add the oil.
  • As the oil warms up add the mustard seeds and urad Dal
  • when the mustard spleuuers, add the green chillies, curry leaves, ginger, asafoetida, and peanuts and saute well. If using fresh turmeric add it at this stage
  • Saute well till the peanuts are crispy.
  • Add the turmeric powder and remove from heat

to complete the recipe

  • Add the cooked, cooled, fluffed rice and mix well
  • Add the lemon juice, salt if needed and the chopped coriander and mix till the grains of rice are well coated with the tempering and the lemon.
  • Serve the rice warm.
    lemon rice


Leftover rice works well too. Warm the leftover rice and start from the tempering to proceed to this recipe.
Keyword lemon, Lunch recipes, rice salad recipes
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Quinoa lemon rice.

Varieties are unlimited with flavoured rice.

The ease of making the recipe with leftover rice and the flavours as you open lunchbox just makes all that morning craziness settle. However, you can swap the rice with steamed cauliflower rice, gluten free buckwheat, millets or quinoa for a healthier swap.

For kids- try this lemon macaroni version. In this version, the macaroni pasta replaces the rice. It was a huge hit with the kids from time and gain and their friends when paired with the carrot salad and sago crackers. Similarly, I absolutely adore this combo version too as we split in opposite directions as a family when it comes to lemon rice as we have a few not so fond of it. The resultant recipe was a combination of pulao and lemon rice which truly satisfies both aspects of the combination. –Peas and lemon rice pulao. There are a few more recipes similar to this that are perfect in the lunch box or as flavoured rice for the burrito roll from the South Indian Gallery. Try this raw mango version using quinoa and rice as the grain mix- Mavinkayi chitranna.

Contributing to the recipe

This recipe is the first one that my mind raced to as soon as Aruna mentioned Ginger and turmeric as secret ingredients. We have partnered up to work together for the Shhh cooking secretly cooking Challenge( a blogger collaboration). The group features recipes from a region as explored by the blogger. We work in pairs creating recipes based on a couple of secret ingredients picked by our blogger buddy for the month. This season we are working on recipes from Tamil Nadu. Aruna blogs at Vasus veg kitchen where she creates some mouth-watering Indian treats. It is always been so exciting to be in the group and come up with something new. This time it was comforting as Tamilnadu is home cuisine.

Get your rice fill on festival days

Go on, fill up your lunch box with the zesty lemon rice and get set go this week. The lemon rice stays good for about a week in the refrigerator as a meal prep too. 
On a separate note, Lemon rice is one of the no onion no garlic, favourite ” variety rice” for ramanavami, Navratri, Aadi 18, or on the Deepavali menu. So, save this recipe when you are celebrating it is an absolute blessing to have some go-to recipes. 
Share with us the joy of your lunch boxes by tagging us @mildlyindian when you make these recipes. Share our recipes with friends and family. We ill love to hear your and their feedback. If you have a recipe you would like us to try, leave it in the comments. Stay on with us for more and subscribe to our mailing list. Keep visiting and stay in touch.
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Rafeeda - The Big Sweet Tooth
4 years ago

I have always wanted to make lemon rice but somehow since we aren’t fans of its tangy flavor, I am always varied on how it will be accepted. I totally love how your dish looks, that light yellow color is super tempting…

Jayashree T.Rao
4 years ago

I often end up making this dish, it is tasty and easy to make. On other days, I do add onion to it. Nice click Seema.

The Girl Next Door
4 years ago

I absolutely adore lemon rice! It often finds pride of place on our dining table, as everyone in the family loves it. 🙂

You’re so right – this is such an easy thing to make, yet so delicious. Perfect for family gatherings or outings.

4 years ago

It’s a favourite at our place after Chinese fried rice.. beautiful yellow color of rice with crunchy peanuts. Looks so flavourful!!

Poonam Bachhav
4 years ago

I just adore this tangy spicy lemon rice. You have presented it so beautifully Seema !

Sujata Shukla
4 years ago

Such a flavourful and refreshing looking dish! And easy to make too! The peanuts are certainly the ‘icing on this cake’! Such fine grains of rice, it looks almost like lemon sevai, another dish that I love.

4 years ago

Lemon rice looks very colorful and tasty, the way you presented it is very inviting . One of our family favorite dish which we prepare it regularly for almost every festivals.

Mayuri Patel
4 years ago

I’m a huge fan of lemon rice ever since a neighbor of mine shared it with me. Its such a refreshing and filling rice dish. I actually enjoy it on its yogurt or chutney required.Love your presentation.

4 years ago

I love lemon rice but have never added ginger to it. Will try your version once, as ginger do even helps in digestion. The lemon rice looks delicious

Priya Vj
4 years ago

One of my favorite flavored rice varieties. At times I do add some capsicum to this lemon rice. Gives a nice flavor to the rice

priya satheesh
4 years ago

Oh wow.. I am a big fan of lemon rice! Perfectly made and ever green lunch box dish 🙂

4 years ago

I call lemon rice as “yellow rice” at home, coz personally, I love the lemon rice to have huge favours of green chilli and turmeric along with deep fried curry leaves than the lemon juice 🙂 addition of ginger is totally new to me.. must try it sometime with that combo..

4 years ago

I personally love lemon rice and yours look amazing. With some vadagam I can have this whole day.

Sujata Roy
4 years ago

Lemon rice looks so tempting. Its one of my most favorite rice dishes. Loved your well explained recipe.

4 years ago

Lemon rice is my go to recipe for a lazy sunday dinner..this with some thair pachadi would be heavenly

4 years ago

Lemon rice is such comfort food and we always make them when we travel or lunch boxed. It looks so delicious.

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