Greek lemon rice

Here is the recipe for the famous Greek rice! Rizi lemonato is the rice that is often served in Greek restaurants, accompanying souvlaki or grilled chicken breast or fried calamari. It is so simple to make, and uses basic ingredients that you likely already have in your pantry and fridge. It is time to make Greek lemon rice!

Traditional Greek rice flavoured with lemon

This authentic recipe for Greek lemon rice (called rizi lemonato in Greek) uses long grain rice, olive oil, onion, bay leaf, fresh parsley and of course lemon juice to create a quick and easy side. It is so good that this rice is sometimes served as the meal itself. Serve it with a dollop of homemade tzatziki and some grilled bread (yes, carbs and more carbs!) and be very happy!

If you are wondering about the other classic Greek rice recipe, you are probably thinking about lapas, a boiled rice porridge that is made when someone has tummy troubles. A great recipe to have on hand!

Traditional Greek rice flavoured with lemon

Why this recipe works

This is a fail-proof way to cook rice. I actually prepare rice the way my parents taught me to, which is to boil it like pasta. This way I don’t have to worry about having the exact amount of water so that the rice can absorb it. Instead I just add plenty of water and then I drain the rice through a fine sieve or colander.

Cooking rice this way is not only easy, but it also helps remove any impurities that may be present in the rice. This is also why I always rinse my rice before cooking it. When I have extra time I actually prefer to soak my rice. I then drain it, and cook it as described in the recipe.

This is an amazing recipe if you are looking for something to eat that is suitable for Orthodox lent, or which is vegan. This rice does not contain any dairy (or eggs or meat) and is therefore suitable for periods during which many Orthodox are fasting. Regardless of any dietary restrictions, this rice is delicious!

Traditional Greek rice flavoured with lemon

Key ingredients

It is super simple to make this Greek lemon rice. You probably already have these ingredients, and if you don’t you can easily pick them up in any grocery store.

Rice – I use long grain white rice for this recipe. The grains have a firm and dry texture which is perfect for this type of side dish. The rice also remains somewhat fluffy after being cooked.

Olive oil – Plenty of Greek olive oil is used to saute the onion and is then also stirred into the rice. The fruity and rich flavour of the olive oil truly enhances the rice.

Onion – Sautéing yellow onion until it is almost caramelized makes it sweet and delicious. The onion gets mixed in with the rice so every bite has that extra bit of flavour.

Lemon – Selecting the best lemons in the grocery store is important. Look for lemons that are firm, unblemished and which don’t have any green spots. They should also be heavier than what you would expect – this is a sign of a juicy lemon.

Parsley – Using fresh flat-leaf parsley in this recipe is an easy way to add freshness and colour to your Greek lemon rice.

Substitutions

You may not have the exact ingredients to make my Greek lemon rice, but you can consider these alternatives.

Rice

You can use a long grain brown rice here in order to make your recipe more nutritious. Brown rice has a great nutty flavour and pairs really well with the lemon. You will have to adjust the cooking time, but the cooking technique will remain the same.

Parsley

Although fresh parsley is preferable, you can also use half the same amount of dry parsley.

How to make

Making Greek lemon rice is super easy, and you will find yourself making it again and again, because it is so good and goes well with so many things!

Preparation

  • Rinse your rice. To rinse your rice, place it in a bowl with cold water and stir it around with your fingers. Drain. Repeat 3 times. If you have time, you can also soak your rice in a bowl of cold water for 30 minutes to several hours before rinsing it.
  • Chop your onion. Peel and chop your onion into small dice. Set aside.
  • Squeeze your lemons. You want to end up with 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice; you will likely need 2 – 3 lemons, depending on the size.

Instructions

Step 1
Place your rice in a large pot. Add the bay leaves and enough water to cover by several inches. Bring to a boil and then reduce to medium heat until the rice is cooked. When the rice is cooked, drain the rice, and discard the bay leaves. If you notice that the liquid has been absorbed, and the rice is still not cooked, add more water (ideally very hot or boiling water).
Alternatively, you can cook your rice according to the directions on the package.

Step 2
In a medium size pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onion until translucent, about 5 minutes. Set aside until the rice is ready.

Step 3
Add the cooked rice to the pot containing the olive oil and onion and stir well to combine. Next add the lemon juice, parsley, salt and pepper. Stir well.

How to serve

Greek lemon rice is the perfect side dish to so many Greek meals. I love to serve it with grilled souvlaki and other protein. Here are some of my favourite ways to enjoy this rice.

Traditional Greek rice flavoured with lemon

Chicken souvlaki
Chicken souvlaki, and tzatziki go so well with this rice. Serve a nice maroulosalata as well (Greek lettuce salad) and you have a meal that most people would pay for in a Greek restaurant.

Marinated chicken breasts which make an amazing chicken brochette.

Pork souvlaki
If you prefer to make your souvlaki with pork, try this amazing recipe for pork souvlaki using pork tenderloin. It is lean, but you will be amazed by how tender and delicious it is because of the marinade. Serve it with some homemade pita bread using my recipe, and a Greek village salad as a side. So good!

The best recipe for the most tender and flavourful pork souvlaki.

Chicken fingers
If you prefer not to get grilling, fried chicken tenders are another amazing pairing for this lemon rice. Don’t worry about dried out chicken or non-crispy coating – with this chicken fingers recipe you will have the tastiest chicken tenders ever. A suitable partner for the Greek lemon rice.

Chicken fingers

Frequently asked questions

Why is it important to rinse or soak your rice?

Do not skip this really important step. The reason to rinse (and ideally soak) your rice is two-fold. First, it will remove the excess starch. That is really important for this recipe which does not want the rice to be clumpy and to stick together.

The other really important reason why you want to rinse or soak your rice is because rice often contains impurities, like arsenic! Although not dangerous per se given how much rice a typical person will consume, removing the excess impurities is not a bad idea.

What is the best way to cook rice?

I think that the best way to cook rice is also the easiest. No special appliances required (no rice cooker), and no need to measure out the water to see how much will be required to cook the rice, while also being fully absorbed by the rice. This is why I like to cook my rice like I do pasta – in plenty of water that I then drain off.

Storing and reheating

This rice can keep well in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. For longer storage you can actually freeze it in a freezer safe bag or container.

To reheat, you can either use the microwave or reheat it in the oven. Place rice in an oven-proof container, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and reheat in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes.

Traditional Greek rice flavoured with lemon

Variations

If you want to change up this recipe a little bit, there are several ways you can do so. With a few tweaks you can make the following recipes:

Greek lemon rice soup

This is a big variation to the original recipe, but if you are planning to make Greek lemon rice to be served as a side, then you have almost all the ingredients you need to make Greek lemon rice soup, or avgolemono soup. Additional ingredients that you will need are some eggs, and some chicken. Carrots and celery are optional! Fortunately, here you will find the most amazing avgolemono soup recipe.

Indian lemon rice

If you are looking to incorporate some new flavours into your rice, try preparing an indian lemon rice dish. This tangy and flavourful rice can be made by following my recipe and adding 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds, 1 teaspoon of curry powder, 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon of dry chili flakes and 1/2 cup of chopped up peanuts or cashews. Toast everything together in a skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil until fragrant and then stir this in at the same time that you stir in the lemon juice in the original Greek lemon rice recipe.

Rice is such a staple in Greek cooking, and with good reason. It is affordable, filling and so versatile. If you are looking for more delicious and traditional Greek recipes that star rice, consider making these.

Gemista
This gemista recipe for stuffed vegetables is just amazing. The filling is made with rice, vegetables and lots of fresh herbs. This is a vegetarian (vegan actually) meal that is perfect for Orthodox lent. Everyone who tries it, loves it.

Spanakorizo
Rice and spinach are the two main ingredients in this authentic and traditional Greek spanakorizo recipe. Both are cooked in a tomato base and the end result is rustic goodness.

Rizogalo or rice pudding
Rice is such a staple ingredient in Greek cuisine that it makes sense that it would also star in an authentic Greek dessert. This rizogalo, or rice pudding recipe is probably the simplest you will come across. No fancy or extra ingredients required – this is just plain good!

Yemista
A classic recipe for Greek spanakorizo, a spinach and rice dish served in a tomato base.
The classic Greek rice pudding, made with a few simple ingredients for maximum flavour and creaminess.

Serving size

This recipe will serve 4 people as generous side or even as a light meal all on its own.

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Traditional Greek rice flavoured with lemon
Traditional Greek rice flavoured with lemon

Greek Lemon Rice

Traditional Greek rice flavoured with lemon
4.67 from 6 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Greek
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 people
Calories: 410kcal
Author: Helen Bitzas

Equipment

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups uncooked long grain rice
  • 2 or 3 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium size yellow onion
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice 2 - 3 lemons
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Instructions

  • Rinse the rice. Place it in a bowl with cold water and stir it around with your fingers. Drain. Repeat 3 times. Finish by rinsing it with cold water. If you have time you can even soak the rice for 30 minutes to several hours before rinsing it.
    1 ½ cups uncooked long grain rice
  • Place your rice in a large pot. Add the bay leaves and enough water to cover by several inches. Bring to a boil and then reduce to medium heat until the rice is cooked. When the rice is cooked, drain the rice, and discard the bay leaves. If you notice that the liquid has been absorbed, and the rice is still not cooked, add more water (ideally very hot or boiling water).
    Alternatively, you can cook your rice according to the directions on the package.
    2 or 3 bay leaves
  • While your rice is cooking, finely chop your onion.
    1 medium size yellow onion
  • In a medium size pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onion until translucent, about 5 minutes. Set aside until the rice is ready.
    1/4 cup olive oil
  • Add the cooked rice to the pot containing the olive oil and onion and stir well to combine. Next add the lemon juice, parsley, salt and pepper. Stir well.
    1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • Serve and enjoy!

Nutrition

Calories: 410kcal | Carbohydrates: 63g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 11g | Sodium: 597mg | Potassium: 166mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 344IU | Vitamin C: 14mg | Calcium: 35mg | Iron: 1mg

Thanks for sharing!

4 Comments

  1. Lou Morucci says:

    Hi guys, I followed all instructions, expecting a delightful dish of rice to have with a nice piece of grouper tonight. initially I questioned the amount of water to rice equation for this dish. I normally do 1 cup of rice to 1 1/2 cups of water..this dish for 1.1/8 cups of rice on the site read 8 cups of water for the 1 1/8 of rice. I used 6 cups instead and much to my dismay, it was the mushiest rice I’ve every made. I will let it sleep for an hour or 3 to give it a chance to revive, but am a little disappointed in my results…I did use the serving slider for a 3 person meal. I’m not upset, your meals are always so spot on ,,,just saying.3 stars

    1. miakouppa says:

      Hi Lou! Thanks for your feedback, and we would understand you being upset! Mushy rice is not good rice! We suspect that it was overcooked – cooking rice in plenty of water (like you do pasta) is a method we have been using for years. A bit unorthodox perhaps, but not that uncommon. Still, because of the excess water you can easily over cook it giving you a mushy result. Next time you can certainly cook the rice they way that you normally do, and then follow through with the rest of the steps. In the meanwhile, with this batch, let us know how it works out to let it sit for a bit. xoxo Helen & Billie

      1. Lou Morucci says:

        Hey guys, as a bit of feedback to your and my initial statement…What can I say….(my bad)…I just redid this dish, probably closer to your recipe..meh. It is delicious and I will be using it as part of my sea bass dinner, tonight. To paraphrase ZORBA..What am I not a man? and do not men make mistakes? Think he was taking about marriage..hey, with me it was a cooking mistake..Thanks for understanding…Lou M.5 stars

      2. miakouppa says:

        Lou, you are a trooper! Thanks so much for letting us know, and for giving this recipe another chance! We appreciate you being here with us and for taking the time to comment. Our mother always says “If you don’t mess up, you don’t learn”…this saying sounds much better in Greek, and it rhymes! xoxo Helen & Billie

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