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Sri Lankan Chicken Curry

This recipe is a real winner.  I first came across Sri Lankan curries in a cookbook I borrowed from a friend (which ended up on my shelf, with his blessing (thank you Dennis!), for about fifteen years) – Charmaine Solomon’s Complete Asian Cookbook – it’s a wonderful book that took me on a gastronomic journey all around Asia and many favourite dishes remain in the family repertoire. 

The only Asian food I had before I came to Australia was ‘English style’ Chinese (in fact, the first restaurant I ever went to was the Chinese at New Cross Gat, London,  in about 1960) – chicken chop suey, fried rice and sweet and sour pork, and my Dad’s curry – which was made with the Sunday leftover roast, gravy powder, apples, sultanas and was flavoured with Keens Curry Powder (just the thought of it makes me shudder – I could never eat more than a mouthful).

The secret to making a good curry – and any Asian food, for that matter – is to use the freshest ingredients you can.  It’s that flavour bursting in the mouth thing – the ‘pow’ of chilli, the ‘zing’ of lemon grass, the ‘tang’ of lime, the ‘smouldering’ flavours of cinnamon and cloves – and that’s without the exotic, steaming fragrances titillating the taste buds before even one spoonful has gone in.

(The photo shows the rhizome of fresh galangal – see galangal paste recipe)

Certainly, in my lifetime, the world has become a global cafe of gastronomic grazing and most of us are now familiar with the cuisines of Japan, Thailand, Indian, China and Vietnam and, if you have lived in Sydney, you can add Indonesian, Nepalese, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, Burmese, Cambodian, Korean, and more.

Turmeric in flower

We are lucky to live in the sub-tropics and be able to grow our own spice gardens with many of the plants used for Asian cooking doubling as beautiful ornamentals e.g. turmeric, curry leaf tree, galangal, coriander, kaffir lime, citrus, lemon grass. garlic chives, banana, chilli, papaya, pineapple etc.

A bunch of bananas growing before my eyes

So, if you really want to make a fabulous curry it’s best to grind the spices as you go.  Sometime ago I invested in s spice grinder (just like a coffee grinder) that I keep just for spices – the difference in flavour is phenomenal.  Some spices I can’t grow, like cumin and cinnamon, so I just buy them in small quantities and grind them as I need them.  The pungency of ground spices is quickly lost during storage – I too have had the tumbling plastic containers and jars of spices, stored in the pantry for goodness how long, that were so stale you could not discern by colour or smell what they were!

Drying turmeric in the sun

1.5kg chicken cut into 12 even pieces
NOTE:  For good flavour it is always to buy chicken with the bone in it and then cut it up.  The same goes for buying ‘free range’ (apart from it being ‘against my religion’ to buy an animal that has been reared in a cage)
2 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
10 curry leaves (fresh or dried)
2 large onion, finely chopped (I do it in the food processor)
4-5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp chilli powder (adjust to your taste)
1 tbsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground fennel seed
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp vinegar
1 can chopped tomatoes, or three fresh ones
6 cardamom pods, bruised
1 stick cinnamon
1 stalk lemon grass, bruised
1 cup coconut cream

1.  Heat ghee/oil and fry fenugreek seeds and curry leaves until they start to ‘pop’.
2.  Add onion, garlic and ginger and fry gently until onion are quite soft and transparent.
3.  Add turmeric, chilli, coriander, cumin, fennel, paprika, salt and vinegar and stir well.
4.  Add tomatoes, whole spices and lemon grass.
5.  Add chicken and stir over medium heat until chicken is thoroughly coated with spices.  Cook, covered, on a low heat for 40-50 minutes.
6.  Add coconut cream, taste and add more salt and squeeze of lemon juice if desired.
8.  Serve with rice and your favourite sambal.

NOTE:  To make this ‘a complete meal’ I often add some vegetables about 15 minutes before it’s finished cooking – this one had potato, carrot and peas.

Galangal in flower