Saturday, 3 August 2013

Sri Lankan Red Prawn Curry

I wanted prawns and I wanted curry but I wanted something different from those I’ve tried before (namely my own, and Laotian). Sri Lanka, being an island has a lot of seafood on its menus and I have very happy memories of an amazing few weeks spent there many years ago. The food was fantastic. 

So Sri Lankan prawn curry it was to be: I looked at lots and lots of recipes online and many referred to a using a curry powder. Readymade or not I presumed this referred to a Sri Lankan blend and was lucky enough to find a couple of masala recipes I could incorporate (including a recipe by Rick Stein albeit for a turkey curry!).

What all the curry recipes had in common was fenugreek, coconut milk and curry leaves - what differed was the use of “curry powder” or not, ditto lemongrass. I chose to make a curry powder, based on the couple of recipes I found online and also to add lemongrass. What I couldn’t add, which appeared to be mentioned in recipes I found written by first, second or third generation Sri Lankans, was pandan leaf.

A fair few recipes on blogs referred to Charmaine Solomon who is an Aussie cook it seems (and has a massive book on Asian cooking, with a large Sri Lankan section so I may be trying to track that down - but then I’ve also wanted Serendip for some time...), others to Madhur, many more their grandmothers.. this is inspired by them all.

By the way, “isso” is prawn I believe and I think “rathu” is red so the Sri Lankan name for this is, I believe, “Rathu Isso Curry”. 

Roasted Sri Lankan curry powder
Will make more than required but the remaining curry powder can be stored in a screw-top jar for up to three months and used in other recipes.

½ tbsp uncooked rice
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1½ inch piece cinnamon stick
¾ tsp fenugreek seeds
½ tsp black peppercorns
½ tsp black mustard seeds
½ tsp turmeric powder
¼ tsp cardamom seeds (from around 5 pods)
1½ dried red Kashmiri chillies

Heat a heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat, add the uncooked rice and cook for 2-3 minutes, shaking the pan regularly, until the rice is toasted and pale golden-brown. 

Transfer the toasted rice to a spice grinder and leave to cool.

Repeat the dry-frying process with the spices and then the chillies, tipping them all into a bowl and setting aside to cool.

When all the toasted spices, rice and chillies have cooled, grind them to a fine powder (in batches if necessary) in the spice grinder.

Sri Lankan Red Prawn Curry
serves 2

1 tbsp groundnut oil
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
½ tsp mustard seeds 
1 tsp ground cumin 
1½ cm piece of cinnamon stick
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
small knob of ginger, finely chopped
1 tbsp Sri Lankan curry powder
1½ tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
½ tsp turmeric
1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer leaves and top third removed, cut in half and bruised
2-4 birdseye chillies, left whole but slit halfway up
10 curry leaves
1 scant tsp tamarind paste
200ml coconut milk
200-250g prawns
salt to taste
½ a lime, juiced
chopped coriander to garnish

Heat the oil in a medium heavy-based sauté or frying pan over a medium heat and add the mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and cinnamon stick. When the mustard seeds start to pop, add the onions and continue to fry until the onion is softened & starting to turn golden brown at the edges.

Add the garlic & ginger and continue to cook and stir for another 2-3 minutes before adding the curry & chilli powders, turmeric, black pepper, lemon grass, curry leaves and the birdseye chillies.

Stir well and add 125ml water, cover with a lid and leave on a very low simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Mix in the tamarind paste and the coconut milk and continue to simmer on a low heat for another 10 mins.

Add the prawns and a little salt to taste (be careful though as some fresh prawns can naturally already be quite salty) and cook for about 5 minutes more until the prawns have turned pink and are cooked through. 

Turn off the heat as soon as the prawns are cooked. Stir through the lime juice and serve over plain basmati rice with some sprinkled chopped coriander.


  1. This looks just like my Grandmother used to make when we visited Sri Lanka. You went to a lot of effort, but I think that as with most Asian cooking, the result is worth it.

    The Serendip book is very good.

    This post has made me hungry!

  2. Ah, thank you for your very kind comment! And yes, you're right, I think with Asian cooking the effort is always more than rewarded.

    You've also convinced me to finally get Serendip - I've wanted to buy it for ages :-)