Sri Lankan vegan garlic curry – Eat Well Recipe

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The heady, aromatic flavours of Sri Lanka are celebrated in Sydney chef and restaurateur O Tama Carey’s Lanka Food: Serendipity & Spice. Here we dip into this flavoursome world.

Carey says of this garlic curry: “The first time I ate a garlic curry was at Palmyrah, a restaurant in the Hotel Renuka in Colombo that specialises in traditional Jaffna Tamil food. It’s been around since the 1970s and is one of the places I always go whenever I’m in town.

“A garlic curry is distinctly Sri Lankan and a lot milder than you might think, as the slow cooking in coconut milk tames these pungent cloves. Even so, I wouldn’t suggest you make this to eat on its own; it’s much better enjoyed as part of a larger meal.”


50g ghee
3g curry leaves
6g coriander seeds
6g mustard seeds
180g finely diced brown onion
1 green bird’s eye chilli, finely chopped
To taste salt flakes and freshly ground white pepper
6g white curry powder (see recipe below))
3g chilli powder
3g fenugreek seeds
300g garlic cloves, peeled (from 5–6 heads, preferably with similar-sized cloves; see note)
375ml coconut cream
2 x 5cm pieces pandan leaf


  1. Preheat the oven to 150°C.
  2. Melt the ghee in a medium ovenproof saucepan or flameproof casserole dish over a medium heat, add the curry leaves and coriander and mustard seeds and cook, stirring, for a minute or so until the curry leaves are fried and the spices are aromatic. Add the onion and chilli and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4–6 minutes until the onion begins to soften. Lightly season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add the curry powder, chilli powder and fenugreek, and cook, stirring, for 1–2 minutes until the powder begins to catch on the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add the garlic cloves and stir well to coat, then add the coconut cream, pandan leaf and 125ml water. Bring to the boil, then take off the heat. Cover closely with a cartouche (a piece of baking paper cut to fit) and place in the oven. Bake for 35–40 minutes until the garlic has softened.
  5. Taste and adjust the seasoning. The curry should be thick rather than saucy, with a gentle creaminess to it. The garlic should be soft and yielding with a mellow flavour and only the mildest hint of heat.

– The only drawback with this curry is the labour-intensive task of peeling the garlic cloves. (You can use pre-peeled but generally I find the quality of these isn’t the greatest.) One of the easiest ways is to separate the head into individual cloves and soak them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes before peeling.
– Frozen pandan can be found at Asian grocers

White curry powder
Makes approximately 220g

This simple yet aromatic mix is a good introduction to the world of curries. The spices are untoasted, which makes it quite mild. It is used for white or yellow curries, vegetable curries or anywhere you want spice but no heat. You can also use this fragrant mix to season dishes right at the end, like a tomato salad or perhaps a deep-fried morsel.

6g curry leaves
70g coriander seeds
60g fennel seeds
30g nigella seeds
30g cumin seeds
25g turmeric powder

1. Place the curry leaves in a frying pan over a medium–high heat and cook gently for about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat a little and cook for another 1–2 minutes until they are dry and toasted, but not browned.

2. Allow the leaves to cool completely, then combine them with the remaining spices and grind to a fine powder. Store in an airtight container.

Edited extract from Lanka Food: Serendipity & Spice by O Tama Carey, published by Hardie Grant Books, RRP $60 NZD, available in stores nationally

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