Sri Lankan Chicken Curry

When I was in graduate school a colleague of mine from Sri Lanka would occasionally invite me and some other students over for dinner. I will never forget the wonderful flavors of the Sri Lankan curries that Anne Marie made for us.


This recipe for Sri Lankan Chicken Curry reminds me so much of those wonderful meals. It’s a bit time consuming because you need to grind spices to make an authentic roasted curry powder, but it’s well worth it. And, a batch lasts for a long time so you can make multiple meals with the powder once you make it. You can also order roasted curry powder on Amazon.


  • 2 – 3 Tbsp coconut oil
  • ½ onion yellow or red, diced or sliced.
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled & minced
  • 1 inch ginger, minced
  • 6 – 7 curry leaves or 2 bay leaves
  • 2 ½ Tbsp roasted Sri Lankan curry powder (see ingredients & method below) You can also purchase roasted curry powder on Amazon.
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ½ tsp. salt plus more to taste
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tbsp paprika not smoked or sweet paprika
  • 1 ½ lbs. Boneless & skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 serrano peppers, stemmed & minced
  • 1 cup diced or pureed canned tomato
  • 2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup coconut milk
  • ½ cup water


  1. Add the coconut oil to a large saucepan and heat the oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, ginger to the heated oil and cook until softened, 3-4 minutes.
  2. Add the curry powder, cayenne pepper, paprika, cinnamon, curry leaves and mix to combine. Cook for a few minutes until the spices become fragrant.
  3. Add the chicken, serrano peppers, salt, tomatoes, brown sugar, and mix to coat the chicken well. Cook for 10 minutes with the lid off, on medium-low heat. Stir frequently to make sure the chicken or the spices don’t burn.
  4. Add the coconut milk, water, & vinegar, and bring the curry to a boil. If you want less gravy, add less liquid, more if you want more gravy.
  5. Lower the heat, and let the curry simmer with the lid closed, for 15 – 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt to taste. The chicken should be completely cooked by this point. Taste the curry and season to taste if needed. If the sauce is too thin, continue cooking with the lid off until it thickens some. 

Serve with warm naan and basmati rice. 

Sri Lankan Roasted Curry Powder


  • 4 Tbsp coriander seeds
  • 3 Tbsp cumin seeds
  • 2 Tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1 Tbsp black mustard seeds
  • 2 Tbsp basmati rice
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom 
  • 2 tsp. heaped whole cloves 
  • 1 tsp. heaped fennel seeds


  1. Place the basmati rice in a dry non-stick pan. Heat over medium heat until the rice starts to turn light brown.
  2. Add the rest of the spices except for the ground cardamom to the rice and pan roast for a further 3 – 5 minutes until the spices start to brown, toast, and become aromatic.
  3. Keep moving the pan and/or stirring to prevent the spices from burning. Also adjust the cook times according to your stove and pan, to avoid burning the spices or your curry powder will be bitter.
  4. Remove from the heat and let the spices cool down.
  5. Once the spices cool down, add the cardamom powder and use a spice grinder (or a mortar and pestle) to grind the spice mix into a powder in batches and mix well. Store in an airtight container. I store my roasted curry powder in a glass jar. 
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