When life gives you lemons, make Lemon Rice
I love lemon rice. I loved it at first bite.
I uttered a loud “MmmM” shattering a serene pooja session. It was my first pooja experience and my first encounter with lemon rice. It was rather embarrassing, after all, it was not a food tasting session. My initial encounters with lemon rice were always after poojas and they left a deep longing for this food time and again.
Please don’t take this the wrong way, when I holidayed in London, I found that the lemon rice at Veeraswamy (a renowned Indian restaurant at Regent Street, established since 1929) didn’t quite hit the spot for me. Somehow, it didn’t have the deep earthy flavours like the lemon rice served after poojas I’ve been to. So just like how many of my culinary adventures start, I took matters into my own hands. I shall learn how to cook lemon rice as my homage to Malaysian pooja lemon rice!
yeahhhh that's right... don't mess!
More than a year ago, I posted two photos of my first few attempts at lemon rice. They were alright but lacked most of the earthy flavours I craved. After some tinkering, I found out what ingredients were missing. I can literally tell you what you may skip, and what you must not. Are you ready?
First, the recipe for 2 pax:
Dhal - 2tbsp
Peanuts - 3tbsp
Mustard seeds - 1 ½ tsp
Curry leaves - 2 sprigs
Green chilies - 2 pcs (I like it spicy, but you can adjust)
Ginger paste - ¼ tsp
Coriander powder - generous ½ tsp
Cumin powder - 1/6tsp
Turmeric powder - 2 generous pinches (approx 1/7 tsp)
Onion powder - ¾ tsp
Garlic powder - ¼ tsp
Lemon juice - ½ tsp (2 short squeezes)
Sea salt to taste
I know this is a bit odd.
First, cook the dhal in a pressure cooker, with 4 cups of water with a little bit of sea salt for about 1 whistle (or 10 minutes).
Then, add rice in the dhal water and cook it again.
(I found that the dhal I fried in my initial attempts were a little hard and probably needed more oil to soften. Because I wanted to reduce the usage of oil, I’ve devised this very odd method of pressure cooking the dhal before cooking it again with rice. Manjula’s Kitchen soaks her dhal before frying, but there’s a high chance of oil sputtering from excess water, so I avoided her method).
In a separate pot, add 2 tbsp of vegetable oil. When it heats up, add peanuts. (You can add cashew nuts too. It adds nuttiness and sweetness to the dish.)
Most recipes call for mustard seeds to be put in first. But because I am using a ceramic cooker, I find that the mustard seeds overheat too fast and taste burnt if I crackle them from the beginning.
I love the taste of curry leaves, so I add them after the peanuts. Because I want the dish to be earthy and aromatic, the peanuts need to go in first to flavour the oil for about a minute, followed by curry leaves for another minute. Only then, add in the mustard seeds.
(I apologize for the lack of pictures here for every step because at this point, we are working with very quick succession here).
Now you need to work quickly after the mustard seeds go in. After a split second the seeds sputter, add in ginger paste.
Allow the heat to work through the ginger paste to release the aroma from the ginger, and then add green chilies.
Turn the heat up.
Add the gang of powders - onion, garlic, turmeric, coriander and cumin powder into the pot. Add water to dilute the mix.
At this moment, take your time, let the concoction simmer over two minutes. Add some sea salt (or regular salt) and taste it. You can breathe easier here.
Now, add hing. Never, ever skip hing (asafoetida). Stir it in and simmer for about 30-40 seconds.
Add the lemon juice now, little by little. Add more if you like it extra tangy.
You’re nearly there. Add the cooked rice and dhal into the pot. Stir well.
As you are stirring the sauce into rice, drizzle little bit of sesame oil (maybe about 1 tsp) into the mix. This is one of the secret ingredients for an earthy lemon rice.
Finally serve with some sides.
Smile, laugh and share this meal with your loved ones. :)
This is a throwback picture of me serving it with vegetables and eggs. I love the mini thali because it is customizable for meat-eaters or vegetarians.
Never skip any of the ingredients except if you must, you can remove onion & garlic powder (if you are a strict vegetarian), green chilies (if you don’t like spicy food) and ironically, you can skip the lemon juice. The rich yellow colour comes from turmeric anyway, not from the lemon juice.
From most of my recipe research online, I have not come across anyone recommending to put in cumin and coriander powder. It’s probably unconventional, but I think that they are integral in giving the dish a nice curried taste.
The most important factor in this dish is the balance between ginger paste, turmeric powder and hing. To me, these three ingredients form the foundation of this dish. They are not the front runners - that place belongs to nuts, curry leaves and sesame oil. No, the combination of ginger paste, turmeric powder and hing enhance the aroma of nuts, seeds and oils. Without this alliance, the dish will be flat. They work so well together and are one of my favourite combinations.
I shall write more about my thali project in my next post, and hopefully elaborate more of my favourite spice and aromatics combinations. Til then. Hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do!