Lemon Rice / Variety Rice / Kalavai Sadam

A South Indian Rice Variety that is refreshing and tangy, quick to make and ideal for a lunch box option too. (Gluten Free and Vegan)

Lemon Rice / Variety Rice / Kalavai Sadam

Lemon Rice / Variety Rice / Kalavai Sadam

Most of my friends love this rice variety from the South Indian cuisine and I am specifically told to prepare this in case they visit home for lunch etc. These rice varieties or Kalavai sadam as they are called down South are indeed a blessing. Time saving, quick to make and not to mention delicious, refreshing too.

In Olden days, rather still today, many TamBrahms, especially the older generation refuse to eat outside food when travelling etc as its loaded with masalas or garlic, something they totally detest. My Ma, however modern she was, ate everything except garlic as she didn’t prefer the overpowering aroma. These rice varieties were much helpful as all you need to do is cook the rice and then you can add a number of things like coconut to turn it into a coconut rice, lemon to make a lemon rice or some curry leaf powder to turn into a curry leaf rice variety. Very pocket friendly too right? Check the ingredients used and you will know what I mean.

Those days when there were not much dhabas or hotels on the highways etc and long distance journey demanded ladies of the house carry food from home to ensure the family stays fed and they don’t end up spending the much needed money, such quick options were life savers. A bag of potato chips or some papad served along with this kept the kids happy too.

Lemon Rice / Variety Rice / Kalavai Sadam

This is a fairly easy recipe or Lemon Rice to cook but the trick lies in cooking it in the right way. I see most people adding hot rice into the tempering and stirring the rice mixture in a wok or kadhai before adding the lime juice and again stirring it. Another thing is the rice quality used to make this dish. Read the notes below and you will know more about what quality of rice should be preferred over Basmati (a strict no!).

In case you are looking for other similar varieties of kalavai sadam or Variety rice from the South Indian cuisine, check out the recipes of Curd Rice or Thayir sadam and Tomato Rice or Thakkali Sadam on the blog.

In the meanwhile, read the recipe, follow the step by step instructions and make yourself a nice bowl of Lemon Rice and earn compliments from your family that they just taste like the ones you get in South Indian Homes.

PS – The lemons used in the recipe were gifted to me by a foodie friend and they are the seedless variety from her Orchard. Blessed to have such friends who know to gift you the right things with so much of love. Thank You Aakriti!

Recipe for Lemon Rice

(gluten free) (vegan) (vegetarian) 


  1. Cooked Rice – 2 cups
  2. Lemon – 1 large or 2 small nos.
  3. Turmeric Powder – ½ tsp
  4. Chana Dal – 1 tsp
  5. Rai or Mustard Seeds – 1 tsp
  6. Whole Dry Red chillies – few broken into small bits
  7. Chopped green chillies – few (optional)
  8. Salt as per taste
  9. Curry leaves – couple of sprigs
  10. Sesame oil – 1 tblsp

Method –

  1. In case you do not have cooked rice ready, read and follow point No. 2 below.
  2. Wash the rice well under running water for couple of times. Drain the water and then add 2 cups of water for 1 cup of rice and cook it in a pressure cooker for atleast 4 whistles. Let the rice cool slightly and then crumble them with the help of a fork or spoon and keep aside.
  3. If you are using leftover rice, suggest microwaving them for few minutes or steaming them in a pressure cooker for 10 odd minutes so that the rice is soft to eat. Again cool the rice, crumble and keep aside.
  4. Heat a small kadhai or non-stick pan to prepare the tempering. Add oil and once it heats up, add the mustard seeds, allow it to crackle before adding the chana dal, red chillies, curry leaves, chopped green chillies (optional) and turmeric powder.
  5. Once the above ingredients have roasted well, pour them over the cooked rice. Note – Never add rice to the pan while making lemon rice.
  6. Squeeze the lemon juice, add the salt and stir the mixture well until everything incorporates.
  7. Keep this aside for 5 minutes to rest and then give it another quick stir before serving it.

Recipe Notes –

  • I have used Ponni Raw Rice to make this Lemon rice. It is a South Indian brand of rice that has small grains. It is available in all major grocery stores. However, if you don’t find the same, you may opt for sona masuri, kolam varities of rice.
  • Would strongly recommend not using any flavoured rice like Basmati etc as it takes away the very essence of the lemon added in the rice.
  • I have used sesame oil in cooking the rice dish as it lends a lovely aroma. We South Indians rely on this for our daily cooking too besides just drizzling them for dosas or idlis and the gunpowder. You can use a vegetable or sunflower oil instead, if you cannot find sesame oil. Would recommend not using olive oil though.
  • You can add cashews and groundnuts too while roasting the chana dal etc during the tempering process, especially when making for kids.
  • An excellent travel food option, doesn’t go bad for a couple of days (depends on climate conditions). In earlier days, this was the first option by South Indians who didn’t like eating outside food during journey in train etc.
  • This is meal in itself and doesn’t need any accompaniment. Some curd on the side and potato chips or papads are excellent way to consume this rice.
  • This is also a type of prasad generally offered in South Indian temples. Usually they add roasted peanuts too which taste amazing.

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Vidya Narayan

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Vidya Narayan

Hi Everyone, I am Vidya Narayan & Welcome to my blog MasalaChilli. Born in a Traditional Palakkad Iyer (South Indian) Family with strong value systems to an exceptionally strong and independent Single Mom, spent most of my childhood studying well (as most Iyer girls do).

This Post Has 30 Comments

  1. Aanchal Kapoor

    Lemonrice always turns out so good, I love the crunch cashewnuts add to it!

  2. Aanchal Kapoor

    Somehow, the one given as prasad in temples always tastes better?

  3. InspiresN

    So well presented Vidya, lemon rice always tastes awesome , my version has a little ginger in it as well, looks great!

    1. Vidya Narayan

      Oh Ginger sounds really tasty. Should try it sometime. Thank you for your kind words.

      1. InspiresN

        You are welcome my friend, I got that tip from a friend from Chennai, am sure you will like it as well.

  4. Vanitha Bhat

    Wow Vidya!! You have made this lemon rice look so gorgeous! We love lemon rice a lot and your pics are nudging me to make these soon 🙂

    1. Vidya Narayan

      HaHa.. Make them soon then! Thank you so much dear for all the kind words!

  5. Megala

    Beautiful rice ! I have never seen seedless lemon and it is really nice to use them !!

    1. Vidya Narayan

      I had neither seen them as well. The skin was very thin and had too much of pulp with juice, no seeds. Thank you so much.

  6. ammu163

    I have never seen a more brighter and tastier looking Lemon Rice!Will surely try out ur recipe sweetheart..:)

    1. Vidya Narayan

      Thanks a ton my dear for all the kind words of appreciation. Means a lot.

  7. Green Del(h)i

    I can already smell the aromas from this beautiful rice dish! 🙂

    1. Vidya Narayan

      thanks so much! Wish there was a virtual way of tasting too .. ha ha .. u never know someday!!

      1. Green Del(h)i

        That would be a wonderful invention! 🙂 Thanks for the great recipe!

  8. The lemon rice looks delicious. Adding fresh curry leaves to any tempering smells heavenly. I can understand how this would be a good dish to have when travelling. It’s a light dish which would be easy to digest.

    1. Vidya Narayan

      Absolutely true. Thank you for stopping by and pouring your comments.

  9. Shobha Keshwani

    Whenever I have left over rice this is the dish that comes to my mind. Simple, tangy and tasty.

  10. Priya Satheesh

    Wow… Seedless lemon! Thats really interesting and I have never seen such type of lemons.. so nice of your friend. This one is my most favourite variety rice and always reminds me of school days lunch box..

    1. Vidya Narayan

      Absolutely kind of her, Blogging and FB has given me so much, new friends, one of them being you! Lemon Rice is every South Indians love, mine included.. Thank you so much.

  11. Sjannette

    I can’t access the types of rice you suggest. Can I use a medium grain rice as a substitute?

    1. Vidya Narayan

      Yes Medium Grain rice would be fine. Thank you

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