Keralan Lemon Rice

Lemon Rice from Kerala, India

The travel brochures in Kerala refer to their State as “God’s own Country” and I have to agree. Bordered on one side by the Malabar Coast, there are many spots along that stretch of sea to while away the hours, Varkala being the most famous. The breeze blows gently from the Arabian sea, the people are friendly, it is the home of Ayurvedic medicine, the food is sensational and the fertile jungle, reaching up into the tea gardens at Munnar, provide the world with the spices we love- cardamom, vanilla, black pepper, along with other goods such as coffee, tea, cashews, rubber and coconut. Like most folk who visit that State in India, we arranged to spend two days travelling on a rice barge through the backwaters,  a ‘network of  interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets, a labyrinthine system formed by more than 900 km of waterways.’ Kettuvallums, old restored rice barges, are houseboats which travel very slowly around the tranquil backwaters near Alleppey (Alappuzha), passing colourful villages, fertile agricultural scenery and larger lakes. It is easy enough to organise your trip once you are in Alappuzha. There are many agencies around the town or be guided by the recommendation of your guest house owner.

Life on board a rice barge, Keral India
Life on board a rice barge, Kerala, India
A lone fisherman, backwaters, Kerala.

Our houseboat tour for two included all meals, a comfortable bedroom with en suite, two living areas, one with a dining table, the other, a deck with two comfortable cane chairs to watch the world go by. You may need to do some serious exercise after the trip as the meals are generous. We enjoyed a mostly vegetarian diet with the occasional fish when available. The meals included rice, chappatis or puri, four curries and raita, and fried river fish. The cook, a young man trained to work in hotel restaurants, would negotiate a fish purchase along the way by popping into backwater village markets for fresh supplies. On one occasion, he came back with some huge fresh water marron, which he cleaned and then rubbed with a wet masala mix to marinate for some hours before frying. I loved watching him prepare our meals.

Our unch
A seriously good lunch on board a houseboat in Kerala.

Lemon rice appears on the menu often in Kerala. It makes a perfect side dish to fried fish or an egg curry. It is  also a very soothing dish: there are never any leftovers.

Lemon rice
Lemon rice

Lemon Rice

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons blanched cashews, coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons channa dal
  • 3 cups (330g ) cooked rice
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves
  • 2 teaspoons or more of lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat, then add the mustard and cumin seeds. When they start to splutter, add the cashews and channa dal, and stir over heat to roast. When the nuts begin to colour, add the hot rice, ginger, turmeric, salt and freshly chopped coriander. Stir thoroughly to combine.

Sprinkle with the lemon juice and asafoetida to serve.

Notes.  The success of this dish relies very much on all the little crunchy bits which are roasted at the beginning. If you don’t have channa dal, use masoor or mung dal instead. Broken raw cashews are often found in Middle Eastern stores. Use long grain or medium grain rice, not basmati.

Recipe adapted from Tasting India, Christine Manfield, 2011

Cooking class in Varkala, Kerala, INda. Mr T and I made the food and then we had to eat it!!!
A cooking class in Varkala, Kerala, India. Lemon rice towards the back, two paratha, one vegetable curry, one spicy fish, pakoras, banana pancake.  Mr T and I made the food and then we had to eat it all!!!

24 thoughts on “Keralan Lemon Rice”

  1. Off to the Middle Eastern Market right now – then back to attempt this dish. Have been trying to get a traditional recipe for years. Thank you!


  2. Just read your comment above–I wondered about the curry leaves garnishing the rice in the photo. I have a curry bush and welcome any chance to use the leaves. I so wish I didn’t have so many food issues so that trips to places like this were more a reality for me. But lemon rice I can manage! Thanks Francesca, will definitely try this one.


  3. You are lucky to have a curry leaf bush. I love them and stick them in all sorts of things. The lemon rice dish doesn’t have any garlic or onion, and I think you should be OK with the ginger. A lot of very purist Hindu recipes substitute asafoetida in place of onions and garlic. Kerala, specialising in aruyvedic treatments and diets may be the place for you. Getting around India can be extremely slow and frustrating but then, once you allow yourself to go with the great human flow, it is very rewarding.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I am aware a lot of Hindu recipes don’t use ‘root vegetables’, among them onion and garlic. I have asafoetida and have used it but not for a while so I may need a new batch. I have even ordered the Hindu alternative on International flights, however, they seem to only have one meal as I got the exact same meal three times in a row, breakfast, lunch and dinner! So now I just take my chances and pick around the things I can’t eat 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Kerala and Goa are high on my bucket list. I didn’t know about these rice barges so this has just piqued my interest even more. The rice looks right up my alley with lots of little crunchy bits and pieces to add interest.


  5. Hi Francesca, this rice look amazing! Love a good rice dish to accompany some great Indian dish. This rice dish would be a great addition to the giveaway I’m running at the moment – sharing your favourite rice recipe to be in the winning of a $50 Kitchen Warehouse voucher. All you need to do is add this link here –
    Hope to see you there xx
    PS I’ve pinned this for later reference for the next time I cook up some Indian 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

Now over to you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.