The Ultimate Guide to Sri Lankan Curry: Spices, Techniques, and Recipes

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Sri Lankan curry being served at Lanzarote Island. Image taken by Arushi Sana

Sri Lankan curry is a rich and complex blend of spices, aromatics, and flavors that reflect the island’s history and cultural influences. Here’s your ultimate guide to Sri Lankan curry, including the essential spices, techniques, and recipes.

Essential Spices

Sri Lankan curry is defined by its bold and aromatic spices. Here are the essential spices you’ll need to create an authentic Sri Lankan curry:

  • Cinnamon: Cinnamon is a crucial ingredient in Sri Lankan curry, adding warmth and sweetness to the dish. Look for Ceylon cinnamon, which is milder and sweeter than the cassia cinnamon commonly found in the US.
  • Cardamom: Cardamom is a key ingredient in Sri Lankan curry, adding a sweet, floral note to the dish. Use whole pods or ground cardamom to flavor your curry.
  • Cloves: Cloves are a warm and aromatic spice that adds depth and complexity to Sri Lankan curry. Use whole cloves or ground cloves to flavor your dish.
  • Cumin: Cumin is a versatile spice that adds earthiness and depth to Sri Lankan curry. Use whole seeds or ground cumin to flavor your dish.
  • Coriander: Coriander adds a citrusy, slightly sweet flavor to Sri Lankan curry. Use whole seeds or ground coriander to flavor your dish.
  • Fennel: Fennel seeds are often used in Sri Lankan curry, adding a subtle licorice flavor and aroma.
  • Mustard seeds: Mustard seeds are a popular ingredient in Sri Lankan curry, adding a pungent, slightly bitter flavor to the dish.
  • Turmeric: Turmeric is a bright yellow spice that adds color and a subtle, earthy flavor to Sri Lankan curry.
  • Curry leaves: Curry leaves are a key ingredient in Sri Lankan curry, adding a unique, slightly bitter flavor and aroma to the dish.

Essential Techniques

To create an authentic Sri Lankan curry, it’s important to use traditional techniques that bring out the full flavor of the spices and aromatics. Here are some essential techniques to keep in mind:

  • Roasting: Many Sri Lankan curry recipes call for roasting spices before adding them to the dish. This helps to release the oils and flavors of the spices, making them more aromatic and flavorful.
  • Tempering: Tempering is a technique used to infuse oil or ghee with spices and aromatics, which are then added to the dish at the end of cooking. This adds an extra layer of flavor and aroma to the curry.
  • Grinding: Grinding whole spices before using them in your curry can help to release their full flavor and aroma. Use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to grind your spices just before using them.
  • Coconut: Coconut milk and grated coconut are common ingredients in Sri Lankan curry, adding creaminess and sweetness to the dish.

Essential Recipes

Here are two essential Sri Lankan curry recipes to try at home:

Chicken Curry

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, minced
  • 2 green chilies, sliced
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup coconut milk

Instructions:

  • Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the garlic, ginger, and green chilies, and sauté for another minute.
  • Add the chicken and stir to coat with the onion mixture.
  • Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, and salt, and stir to combine.
  • Add the coconut milk and stir to combine.
  • Bring the curry to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened, about 30 minutes.
  • Serve the chicken curry over rice.

Eggplant Curry

Ingredients:

  • 1 large eggplant, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, minced
  • 2 green chilies, sliced
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • Juice of 1 lime

Instructions:

  • Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the garlic, ginger, and green chilies, and sauté for another minute.
  • Add the eggplant and stir to coat with the onion mixture.
  • Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, and salt, and stir to combine.
  • Add the coconut milk and stir to combine.
  • Bring the curry to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is tender and the sauce has thickened, about 30 minutes.
  • Stir in the lime juice and serve the eggplant curry over rice.

Enjoy these delicious Sri Lankan curry recipes, and experiment with different combinations of spices and aromatics to create your own unique variations!

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