3 Sri Lankan seafood dishes

In his new book, 'My Feast', Peter Kuruvita explores the cuisines of Asian and South Pacific islands. Here he helps you rustle up quick seafood feasts from Sri Lanka

5 mins

1. Jaffna crab curry

Now that the civil war is over in Sri Lanka, the people are returning to claim their ancestral land. On Delf Island, despite the ravages of war, not much has changed and the people continue to celebrate their food traditions. There I found a wonderful lady who taught me how to make the best crab curry on the planet. The time and effort she spent in grinding the coconut was praiseworthy. Her paste was incredibly toasty and rich. If you don't have time to grind the paste by hand, a blender does the job nicely.

Serves: 4-6


2 live mud crabs (about 1.2kg each)
2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 cup freshly grated coconut
1 tsp black peppercorns, ground
1 golf ball-sized piece tamarind pulp
400ml coconut milk
50g ghee
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 red onion, sliced
1 sprig curry leaves, leaves picked
3 small green chillies, finely chopped
1 tbsp Jaffna curry powder
1 tbsp red chilli powder
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
500ml water
1 sprig drumstick leaves
Juice of 1/2 lime
Salt, to taste
Coriander (cilantro) leaves, to garnish


1. Put the crabs in the freezer for 1 hour to immobilise them or in a bucket of iced water for 15 minutes. Pull off the top shells, pull out the spongy grey gills and remove the guts. Chop the crab into 6 pieces and crack the large claws but leave them attached.

2. In a dry frying pan over medium heat, toast the cumin seeds, coconut and pepper until the coconut is golden. Grind to a smooth paste using a large mortar and pestle or in a blender and set aside.

3. Combine the tamarind and coconut milk in a small bowl and mix until it forms a thick paste. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, extracting as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids. Set aside until ready to use.

4. Heat the ghee in a large heavy-based saucepan over high heat, add the mustard seeds and cook until they start to pop, then add the fennel seeds and cook until they are lightly toasted. Add the onion, curry leaves and chilli and cook for a few minutes or until the onion is golden.

5. Add the curry powder, chilli powder and turmeric and mix in. Add the crab and cook for 3 minutes. At this stage you need to stir it a lot so the spices don’t burn. Add the coconut paste, stir and add the water. If the curry is too dry, add more water.

6. Cover and simmer for 12 minutes or until the crab is just cooked through and the sauce has thickened. Add the tamarind liquid, stir through and bring back to the boil.

7. Remove from the heat, stir in the drumstick leaves and lime juice and season with salt. Garnish with the coriander to serve.

2. Squid curry

This is a family favourite and a real southern Sri Lankan dish. Squid is plentiful all over the world and the secret of cooking squid perfectly is not to overcook it. I am happy not to clean the squid completely. Simply remove the head, cut out the beak and remove the innards – the rest is edible. 

Serves: 6

Ingredients: 350g squid, cleaned, heads cut into
1cm (3/8 inch) thick rings and tentacles reserved
3 pieces goroka
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
50g ghee
1/2 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 sprig curry leaves, leaves picked
2 small green chillies, chopped
300ml coconut milk
100ml coconut cream
Juice of 1/2 lime
Salt, to taste


1. Place spices in a bowl and combine well. Heat the ghee in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat, add the onion, garlic, curry leaves and green chilli and cook, stirring regularly, for 4 minutes or until the onion is golden.

2. Increase the heat to high, add the squid and stir for 3 minutes.

3. Add the coconut milk, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes or until the squid is tender. Stir in the coconut cream and lime juice and season with salt. The sauce should be thick and dark.

3. Devilled tuna

This is a delicious Sri Lankan delicacy best eaten with a stiff Scotch or local Arrack, a spirit distilled from coconut juice.

Serves: 2


300g tuna fillet, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp salt
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 sprig curry leaves, leaves picked, plus extra to serve
Juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, quartered
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 leeks, washed and chopped
3 banana capsicum (peppers), chopped
2 long red chillies, finely chopped
2 green chillies, thinly sliced
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Sweet and sour sauce:

60ml (3 tbsp) tomato sauce (ketchup)
60ml (3 tbsp) white vinegar


1. Place the tuna in a bowl with the salt, chilli powder, curry leaves and lime juice. Stir to coat the tuna and set aside to marinate for 10 minutes.

2. To make the sweet and sour sauce, combine all of the ingredients and set aside until ready to use.

3. Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. Once it is hot, add the onion, garlic and leeks and cook until fragrant and the onion is starting to turn translucent. Add the chillies and fry, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes. Add the tuna and toss to coat in the onion mixture.

4. Stir in the sweet and sour sauce, cover and cook for a few minutes or until the tuna is just cooked. Season with salt and pepper.



These recipes have been taken from Peter Kuruvita's new book, My Feast (Hardie Grant books; £25). A tempting collection of dishes from the islands of the South Pacific, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Philippines. Order your copy online now.

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