When my mother was not working, she would make the curry we loved the most: Sri Lankan chicken curry. So every weekend at home, chunks of fresh village chicken cooked in a gravy scented and flavoured with roasted spices, homegrown curry leaves and pandan leaves. My mother thickened it with creamy coconut milk. It smelled of my mother’s love; and we would wait, so eagerly, for lunchtime to pair it with a plate of steaming white rice. Every family in our sunny little island craves this creamy chicken, devouring each morsel with carbs of choice: string hoppers, thin rice noodle mats; hoppers, bowl-shaped pancakes; and kiribath, slender rice cooked with coconut milk. All our family recipes may slightly vary, but this glorious dish pins down the labour and love that goes into every Sri Lankan curry. And it’s also a crowd-favourite at Kolamba, the Sri Lankan restaurant in Soho, London. Kolamba’s lemongrass-scented Sri Lankan chicken feast is also available for delivery throughout the UK.
My mother made her Sri Lankan chicken curry from scratch. This involved picking a full-grown coconut from one of the many palms in our garden. She would break open the nut, and grate the white meat using a hiramanaya; a metal scraper attached to a small wooden bench stool, where she sat, as she scooped out the flesh. She then poured warm water over the grated coconut flesh, kneaded and squeezed it with her bare hands so meticulously, yielding a pure-white milk; creamy, coconutty and subtly sweet. She repeated this process twice for thinner milk and used a mix of this thick and thin milk for all her curries.
While she sat preparing fresh coconut milk, I would pluck rampe (pandan leaves) and karapincha (curry leaves) from our garden. My mother used these herbs and her homemade spices to make the curry we loved the most.
Today whenever I recreate my mother’s chicken curry, I use a pack of store-bought coconut milk; it saves time and it works out to be incredibly flavourful. If you don’t feel like cooking, you can order this wonderful Sri Lankan curry home through Kolamba’s Sri Lankan food delivery in the UK. But if you’ve got time, and feel like channelling your inner island self, here’s a time-tested recipe.
Recipe: Sri Lankan chicken curry at Kolamba, a Sri Lankan restaurant in Soho, London
Ingredients: 3 tbsp coconut oil
1 red onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 inch ginger, minced
2 sprigs curry leaves
1 inch pandan leaf, cut into slices
2 ½ tbsp roasted Sri Lankan curry powder (available in Sri Lankan supermarkets)
1 cinnamon stick
Salt to taste
1 tsp red chilli powder
2 lbs chicken, whole chicken cut into cubes
2 green chilli, cut length-wise, with or without seeds
3 red tomatoes cut into cubes
½ cup coconut milk
½ cup water
- Heat coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, ginger, and saute until onions turn golden.
- Add curry powder, chilli powder, cinnamon, curry leaves, and pandan leaves, and sir well for 2-3 minutes.
- Add chicken, green chilli, salt, tomatoes and mix well. Cook for 10 minutes with the lid off on medium-high heat. Stir frequently.
- Add coconut milk and water and bring the curry to a boil.
- Lower the heat, close the lid and let it simmer for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.
- Turn off the heat and let the chicken cool down slightly. Serve with rice or carbs of your choice.