Sri Lankan Chicken Curry

I find myself comparing Sri Lankan food to Iranian food all the time as I learn to cook the former. It’s so similar and yet entirely different. Chicken curry is typically associated with South Asian cuisine, but Iranians have khoresh-e kari, a Persian curry that is milder than its South Asian counterparts.

I wondered about the origins of that khoresh as I learned to cook this curry. How did curry make its way to Iran? How did it make its way to Sri Lanka? Where did curry originate? Wikipedia says curry was adopted and anglicised from the Tamil word kari meaning “sauce”, which is usually understood to mean vegetables and/or meat cooked with spices with or without a gravy. I’m fascinated by food, migration, and its intersections.

But back to this chicken curry. It’s easy to cook and reheats wonderfully. Served alongside rice and some pickled vegetables or yogurt, it makes a satiating meal.

Sri Lankan chicken curry


3 pounds skinless bone-in chicken thighs
3 tablespoons roasted curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2-inch piece ginger, chopped
1 or 2 sprigs curry leaves
3-inch stalk lemongrass
3 cardamom pods
3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

1. Place chicken in a bowl with curry powder, cayenne powder, and vinegar. Mix well and set aside for at least 2 hours and up to overnight in the refrigerator.

2. In a large pot, heat oil. Add onions, ginger, garlic, curry leaves, lemongrass, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon. Saute until onions are golden brown.

3. Add chicken pieces, stirring occasionally until chicken is browned.

4. Add 1/2 cup water to the bowl that contained the chicken and mix to catch any remaining marinade and add to the pot. Lower heat to medium, cover, and cook for 20 minutes, being careful not to burn the chicken and adding a little more water if necessary.

5. Stir in coconut milk and salt to taste and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.

6. Stir in tomato paste and simmer for 2 minutes.

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