Genius Recipes

A Lemony-Perfect Pot of Rice

Michael W. Twitty's secrets to maximum flavor—and the roots of a Southern staple.

April  7, 2021

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Founding Editor and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.


If you struggle to make the rice that you want—the proud, resolute grains, the bright flavors that carry them from side to plate-center—you are not alone. And I know who can help.

Culinary historian Michael W. Twitty has just written the literal book on rice—titled, simply, Rice—with richly flavored, repeatable recipes for everything from Hoppin’ John (and its lesser-known cousin Limpin’ Susan) to rice waffles and his grandmother Hazel’s Country Captain.

Highly repeatable. Photo by Julia Gartland. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis.

He also tells the stories of where these rice dishes find their roots, and, notably, of the impact African cooks and farmers from the aptly named "Rice Coast" of West Africa have had in the centuries following their enslavement in the United States. Twitty’s grandmother’s red rice (sometimes misnamed Spanish rice), uncoincidentally, has much in common with the jollof rice of his distant ancestors in Sierra Leone.

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Top Comment:
“Kristen, This Meyer Lemon Rice dish sounds amazing. I LOVE rice & eat it almost every day. Also nice to see you talk with your featured guest; Michael Twitty. I enjoyed every second of this video. Great camera work, great editing, great sound, great all-around tone & demeanor. Hats-off to you and your "crew".”
— Margie W.
Comment

In a similar way, this week’s Genius Recipe stems from a sweeping category of Southern rice dishes called pilaus or perloos—“seasoned rice cooked in stock, often with other ingredients,” as Twitty describes them. But this one isn’t canon: It came from playing with the Meyer lemons he loves and the herbs shooting up in his garden. “That’s just me messing around in the kitchen—that’s just me being silly,” he told me as we chatted for this week’s episode of The Genius Recipe Tapes podcast. “I would love to be able to say ‘Yes, it’s from the lemon people of the lemon island and their lemon ways, their lemon heads,’ but that’s not where that’s going.”

But Twitty’s recipe builds on pilaus past, and has come out brightly flavored and perfectly cooked in every pot I’ve made, single and double batches alike. He starts by rinsing the rice a few times, as so many cultures do, so that the grains shed any loose starches brushed off in transit. Then he adds them to an already-simmering base of stock, lemon juice, fresh herbs, and salt. “It’s about making that rice ready to just be a sponge for the flavor,” he told me. At the end, a little butter, lemon zest, and chopped parsley gloss it up, and every grain is plumped with flavor, yet wholly distinct.

Then he pairs it with a sleeper-hit topping: candied garlic—which requires no candy thermometers, and is as simple as simmering the crushed cloves in a lightly sweetened stock, then crisping in olive oil. It will remind you of the melting, savory swell of roasted garlic, but with bronzed, sticky-crisp edges. You will want more.

Altogether, this rice sits cozily next to fish, chicken, chickpeas, or roasted vegetables, but doesn’t demand all that much of them. They don’t need to bring fireworks of flavor: The lemon rice—or lemon perloo, if you like—has done all of that for them.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Shay Taylor
    Shay Taylor
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    Leslie
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    Terri Creamer
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."

18 Comments

Shay T. April 9, 2021
This reminds me of lemon rice - a traditional dish from Southern India. I love the idea of the garlic, and think that I might throw some cashews in with the garlic in the olive oil. Instead of parsley, I would use cilantro when pairing it with other Indian dishes. Thanks for the recipe and the ideas!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. April 10, 2021
Thank you for reminding me of the lemon rice at one of my favorite local restaurants in Brooklyn, Dosa Royale—I miss it so much!
 
Lisadesigned April 8, 2021
At a restaurant once, the chef told my husband and I to always soak the rice for as long as we can prior to cooking. Then rinse it several times before putting into the pan. When I'm making rice, I set a hand strainer on top of a bowl, fill it with water & the rice and then let the rice sit while I do all the other prep, including putting the stock for the rice on the stove top to come to a boil. Once everything is done and the stock is boiling I rinse the rice and then add it to the pan. Every single pot comes out perfect since starting this practice.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. April 10, 2021
What a great system!
 
Leslie April 8, 2021
Any reason this wouldn't work just as well with quinoa?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. April 10, 2021
It a might take a little experimentation and following the liquid ratio on the quinoa package, and sounds delicious.
 
Michelle A. April 8, 2021
I always cook rice in a rice cooker - but I make something similar to this.
I cook garlic and a shallot on the stove stop in a mix of broth, 1/2 each lemon, lime and orange juice for 10-15 mins. Then lift the garlic and shallot out and add the liquid and rice to the rice cooker. While that’s cooking I crisp the shallot and garlic up in olive or avocado oil and set that aside and then use the fragrant oil to prepare the veggies and the fish or chicken.
I love the idea of adding the zest to the cooked rice and candied garlic, so will be trying that next time.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. April 10, 2021
Love the sound of your version, too.
 
Terri C. April 7, 2021
My mother’s family taught me the art of making “red rice” and “perloo rice”. It’s so nice to see these recipes passed on to generations and other cultures learning how these dishes sustained our ancestors.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. April 10, 2021
I think you'd love Michael's book—it's full of stories and recipes like this.
 
Margie W. April 7, 2021
Kristen,
This Meyer Lemon Rice dish sounds amazing. I LOVE rice & eat it almost every day. Also nice to see you talk with your featured guest; Michael Twitty.
I enjoyed every second of this video. Great camera work, great editing, great sound, great all-around tone & demeanor. Hats-off to you and your "crew".
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. April 10, 2021
Thanks so much!
 
dapfel April 7, 2021
I'm always so happy when you have a new video, but I missed seeing your sweet daughter this time. About the long grain rice - is jasmine considered a long grain rice? I have Meyer lemons galore, and my home grown garlic, so I'm really looking forward to trying this recipe.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. April 10, 2021
Hope you love it, dapfel.
 
Elizabeth H. April 7, 2021
I love your videos! I’ve tried countless recipes you’ve featured and I can’t wait to try this one! May I ask where you got that rounded, slotted spatula though? It’s so cute!
 
Kristin S. April 7, 2021
I’d also love to know where that spatula is from — it’s gorgeous!
 
Mary K. April 8, 2021
It is called a "Kitchamajig" and is a vintage American multipurpose kitchen tool. "Kitchamajig" is actually engraved on the spatula. I believe it was made by Ecko. The older ones have wooden handles, like this one Kristin is using. (You can see the original paint has largely peeled away from hers.) Sometimes you can find vintage ones on eBay or Etsy.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. April 10, 2021
Mary, thank you—I never knew the name!