My mother prepared chitranna, a South Indian rice recipe from her home state of Karnataka, on certain occasions—for picnics, long car rides, holiday gatherings, and, as I recall, for an International Potluck held by my fourth grade teacher. She referred to it simply as “Yellow Peanut Rice,” and I always looked forward to it even though I didn’t learn its proper name until I was much older. The word chitranna translates to “mixed rice” in Kannada, and there are numerous variations, all relying on different souring agents such as lime, green mango, tamarind, or, in the case of the one I grew up eating most often, lemon.
The bright yellow rice, colored with turmeric, is sautéed in oil that has been seasoned with black mustard seeds, curry leaves, chili, and the umami-rich spice asafetida along with urad dal and chana dal, two lentils that add a nutty taste and crunchy texture. The dish is finally garnished with fried peanuts, grated coconut, cilantro, and a generous amount of lemon juice, resulting in a symphony of savory, sour, sweet, spicy, and herbaceous notes.
You can eat lemon chitranna plain or make a bowl of it by layering on Green Beans Palya, some plain yogurt or a yogurt raita, and achaar (hot Indian pickle).
The recipe is a good lesson in tempering spices and aromatics in hot fat to bring about their full flavor; this seasoned oil, referred to as vagarne in Kannada and other names such as tadke (tadka) or chhaunk throughout Southeast Asia, infuses the whole dish. If you’re using pre-cooked rice, it’s also a meal that comes together quickly.
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Chitra Agrawal is the author of Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn and the founder of Brooklyn Delhi.