The Problem of The Lemon Rice

I wish I had the time to write this post in the style of a Sherlock Holmes mystery but the best I can do is a Sherlockian title . . . one day I’ll return to previous posts, tighten the recipes, and do things like rewrite in the style of Sherlock Holmes. Have I told you about my plans to write a cookbook that’s also a mystery novel? Another time. Let’s not dwell on the problems of mystery writing via recipes right now, let’s dwell instead on the problem of lemon rice. 

Getting the flavor of lemon to stick appropriately to rice is not as straightforward as it might seem. Okay, you can make a bowl of rice and squeeze a lemon over it, which surely has its advantages – like if a piece of fish is going to follow the lemon squeeze – but to my taste it doesn’t make the lemon flavor deep enough. I want a more integrated dish. And as discussed in the last blog post, I’m taken with the book Seductions of Rice. The recipes don’t come from that book, but the incentive to play around with rice does.  

First a classic – Ottolenghi’s Curry Leaf & Lemon Rice – scroll past the duck in the link to see the recipe. The summary version is that you simmer lemon peel, curry leaves, cloves and cinnamon in water then use that to cook the rice in the oven, and when it’s done you add butter and lemon juice. When I make this recipe I brown the butter and add a tablespoon of shichimi togarashi (Japanese chili blend, it’s good in pretty much anything involving rice, if you eat rice you should have a packet of this stuff close at hand). I’m going to call this method the water infused with lemon + lemon at end method.

  Cooking rice in lemon juice - not a good strategy. In my defense, I didn't expect it to be. I was trying to go all Food Lab and try different concentrations of lemon in water to measure the effect on texture. Summarized results: bleccccchhh

Cooking rice in lemon juice – not a good strategy. In my defense, I didn’t expect it to be. I was trying to go all Food Lab and try different concentrations of lemon in water to measure the effect on texture. Summarized results: bleccccchhh

Next, the lemon dressing method. This I picked up from Martha Stewart – I don’t remember the particulars, I just remember she made a salad dressing for her rice. I don’t believe it was lemon but it makes sense here because the lemon juice gets suspended in the oil and the oil coats the rice. It’s what I used for the Greek rice with nettles, lemon, and spinach. Here’s the strategy:

2 cups white rice (basmati would be good), rinsed

2 generous Tb of dried nettles (they’re in the spice section of Hunger Mountain Coop as a medicinal)

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

10 oz. of spinach


Juice of one lemon

Good pinch of sugar

1/4 cup of olive oil


Mix 2 cups of rice, 4 cups of water, nettles, salt, and pepper in a large pot. Simmer uncovered until the rising bubbles are the size of dragon eyes (what size is that? I’m not sure but since this method is also called fish eyes, they must be the size of fish eyes – presumably more flounder than shark). Cover and let sit 20 minutes.

While the rice sits, saute the spinach with a generous pinch of salt until well wilted. If you really, really love lemon you could add lemon juice to the spinach at this stage, in addition to the dressing.

Put the lemon vinaigrette* ingredients into a covered glass jar and shake vigorously until emulsified. Pour over rice and spinach, fluffing rice with a fork. Adjust salt and pepper levels as desired. 

*Just to prevent salad disappointments, if you want to make a vinaigrette that holds the emulsion, best to also add an emulsifier like mustard or a splash of cream. . . both of which would taste good here on the rice too.  

If you want to play with more medicinal herbs and rice, try rose hips. You’ll want about a half cup of them, dried (again, available in the bulk herb section). Soak them in water to rehydrate – about 30 minutes. Strain and keep the water to use when cooking rice. Then simmer the rose hips in about 4 Tb butter with a pinch of salt and some orange zest. Cook up the rice as described above, using the rose hip water plus whatever more you need to get the ratios correct. Mix in the rose hips at the end. 

 Rose hip rice - standing in for barberry rice during Persia week.

Rose hip rice – standing in for barberry rice during Persia week.

Now that makes two versions of lemon rice 1. cooking rice with lemon zest and adding juice at the end and 2. lemon vinaigrette. Here is the exciting (depending on your definition of “exciting”) third way learned from Dubai paper clippings during our Keralan Indian week: cooking chick pea flour with lemon juice. The flour absorbs the lemon flavor then clings to the rice. Brilliant. My version is below. The original was by Sanjeev Kapoor for the Gulf News. I’m using the same technique, but different ingredients. This makes a large quantity of rice (10 – 12 servings), you can easily halve the recipe. 

3 cups white rice (jasmine or basmati)

4 Tb neutral vegetable oil (ie canola)

2 Tb gram flour / chick pea flour

2 Tb urad dal flour (in a pinch you could use 2 more Tb of gram flour)

2 tsp mustard seeds 

2 tsp chili powder

1 tsp black salt (can use regular salt, it tastes different but still tastes good)

2 lemons, zest (grated) and juice

Wash rice thoroughly. Soak in plenty of water for 30 minutes. Drain. Bring large pot of salted water to a boil, cook rice (as if it were pasta) until just short of being done (start checking after 3 minutes). Drain.

Add oil to a large skillet with straight sides (one that can hold the quantity of rice). When it is hot, add mustard seeds – cook 30 seconds until fragrant. Add chili powder and flours. Toast the flours, stirring constantly to prevent burning. They will be fragrant as they toast. Add 5 Tb lemon juice, mix in well. Add the rice and zest of the two lemons. Toss until well coated, sprinkle in black salt. 

There you have it – lemon rice three ways. 

 Lemon rice with chickpea flour coating

Lemon rice with chickpea flour coating

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