Monday, March 19, 2012


I found this recipe for Sri Lankan aromatic yellow rice in a beautiful web site called  Curry and Comfort.  I was nervous about making it, never having made a dish with the combination of spices listed in the recipe.  I needn't have worried. This is one of the best rice dishes I have ever made or tasted!  Highly recommended! It is truly fragrant, and truly delicious.  The stars of the dish are, I think, the coconut milk and the curry leaves.  These two ingredients are also the stars of Sri Lankan cuisine.  They are used in most dishes and contribute excellent flavors. 
 A curry tree with its beautiful leaves.  The area around these trees must be really fragrant!  Will I ever visit? (picture from Wikipedia)

Curry leaves should not be confused with curry powder.  Curry leaves grow on curry trees and are used as an ingredient in curries.  Their flavor is unique and citrusy, a little bit reminiscent of limes.  Some people say one can substitute bay leaves for them, but I don't think the tastes are even close.  

Curry leaves are usually not sold in supermarkets.  One would have to find an Indian market and buy them there, which is what I did.  I didn't even have to drive into Philadelphia to find my curry leaves.  There is a culturally diverse section in our nearby suburb of Upper Darby.  I knew if I headed there I would be bound to hit pay dirt.  I did!  I found a very nice place called "Indian Super Market and Grocery." It's located on Market Street, near the 69th street terminal, an area close to my heart because that is where I grew up!  (Let me digress for a minute.  Below I have some pictures of this historical area)!

That's a newer pedestrian walkway bridge at 69th street, and behind it is the McClatchy building, built in 1926.  This building is the cornerstone to a large open shopping area, that was built around the same time and was the first of its kind in the US.
Another view of the building, which is a very fine example of art deco architecture.

The 69th street terminal when it was first constructed in 1908.  It was known as the gateway to Philadelphia's western suburbs, which saw a great surge in development after the terminal was built.  Today, most of the facade looks the same, everything else is renovated.  And now, back to the subject at hand....  Sri Lankan rice!

When I was growing up, the Indian supermarket was a bar, and I had never ventured in there.  Now it's a beautiful and busy market that carries all types of groceries and an amazing array of spices.  Lentils?  I am crazy about lentils, and this market had any type and color lentil I wanted.  I spoke with the proprietor for a little while and we discussed the neighborhood and the lovely old buildings in the area.  I will be going back to that market again.  If you don't live near an area where you can find an Indian super market, do an internet search.  I found a nice site with very reasonable prices that will ship spices and curry leaves from Hawaii. I didn't order from there.  I went to dear old 69th street, and found everything I needed! 
2 cups white basmati rice
10 curry leaves
1 cinnamon stick, cut in half
5 cloves
1 onion chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
4 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
3/4 cup of coconut milk
4 or 5 cups low sodium chicken stock (can use water if you need more liquid than this) 

a few cashews and some peas for decoration
some freshly ground black pepper (optional)
Place the rice in a strainer and wash it well.  Allow it to drain for about 20 minutes so that it dries and does not splatter while sauteing. While the rice is draining get the mise en place ready.  Imperative for me, because I don't work with these ingredients every day and I want everything to go smoothly.
Kind of a sloppy picture, but here we have the onions, chicken broth, coconut milk, turmeric, grated ginger, curry leaves, cinnamon sticks, cloves, garlic, ground cardamom... the rice is around there somewhere...

Tear up some of the curry leaves so that they can better perfume the oil while cooking.
In a large pot heat the oil and add the curry leaves, cinnamon stick and cloves. Allow to cook for about a minute until they become fragrant.
Add the onions, ginger and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes. 

Add the rice, turmeric and cardamom.  
Sauté  for about 3-4 minutes until the rice turns opaque in color. Stir continually so that it does not burn but rather has a chance to become toasted.
The rice is toasted, time to add the broth.

Add the chicken broth and coconut milk, bring to a boil and then cover and lower the heat to simmer. 
Cook until the liquid evaporates and the rice is soft.  My liquid evaporated long before the rice was soft so I added more broth and coconut milk. Five cups of broth, as listed in the ingredients, is what I used in total. 
Near the end of cooking I added a few cashews, and later I added just a few peas 
for decoration.

If you make this you may have to adjust the amount of liquid that you use.  It all depends on the rice, I suppose.  Taste it and make sure it's soft.  You don't want a crunchy rice, so if it's still crunchy keep adding liquid.  Also make sure your heat is on medium.  Not too high, not too low.
I seasoned with a little black pepper, but this is optional.

When done, fish out the cinnamon stick pieces, and the cloves if you can find them. Or, you may decide to leave them in and to eat your way around them, because they look kind of pretty and decorative in the rice. 
This rice will serve about six hungry people.  You can serve it just as is, or garnish it further with some cashew nuts, sautéed onions, and peas.   In my case, I chose to serve it with a vegetable and cashew curry.


  1. Very nice dish! I must admit I have never cooked with curry leaves, though I like the flavor they impart to dishes. The resulting plate is very appealing.

  2. Yayyyy!! I am so HAPPY you enjoyed the rice!! I loved that you added cashews and more vegetables too. :) Well done. :)

    PS... seeing the picture of the curry leaves you posted above almost made me drool... I love curry leaves and I would love if I could grow curry plants like that in my back yard. :)

    Another great fragrant plant to use is Pandan leaves. I buy them frozen at my local Asian market and they are fantastic and aromatic too.