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GUEST FEATURE — Auntie Soosan's Sri Lankan Chicken Kari

Updated: Jan 1, 2021

Every culinarily active brown mama has their own chicken kari. In fact, there is no definitive "chicken curry" recipe out there; the spice mixes vary from family to family and from region to region. While that is fantastic for the diversity of the dish and for chicken kari consumers, it becomes a bit of a problem when you run into an absolutely amazing chicken kari that deserves to be cooked and eaten over and over again.

This is further complicated by the fact that all brown mamas worth their salt (hah!) season their food "by feeling" rather than by measuring. They learn to cook by learning to build flavor palates rather than by memorizing recipes. It's what makes their food so good: they don't allow themselves to be constrained by measurements, instead they refine till it tastes right. My quest is to get a recipe with measurements that will get as close as possible to the original thing... though, of course, nothing will ever be as good as when the mamas cook it. I'm happy with the closest approximation I can get.

My favorite chicken kari in the world is cooked by a brown mama in Ithaca, Auntie Soosan. I have literally crossed oceans in pursuit of this stuff and I know I'm not the only one. Its's amazing with rice and a fresh salad on the side.


This recipe is for two to three people, so I am using six chicken drumsticks.


•chili powder


•canola oil


•cumin powder

•coriander powder

•green finger chili

•cinnamon stick

red onion


cardamom pods

•ginger & garlic


sour cream

Clean the chicken and put it into a large bowl. Add 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, a big pinch of salt, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 1 tablespoon cumin powder and 1 tablespoon of coriander powder. Add a bit of water, enough to create a marinade, then set aside for at least an hour.

Dice a red onion and a green finger chili. Add them to a pot with 2 tablespoons of canola oil (or any flavorless oil). Fry the onions and chili on medium-low heat; you want them to be translucent and not take too much color. While that fries, toss in a small cinnamon stick and four cardamom pods. Let all those flavors mix together and then add 2 tablespoons of crushed garlic and 2 tablespoons of crushed ginger.

Stir in 1 teaspoon of paprika and a small bunch of chopped cilantro (10g), then add the chicken and masala. Add enough water to prevent the chicken from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Leave the heat on medium low and cover. Let the chicken cook and the spices deepen in flavor. Add more water if the kari starts to dry out; make sure there is a good amount of sauce. After 15-20 minutes, taste for salt and make sure the chicken is cooked.

Time to stir in the secret ingredient: 1 tablespoon of sour cream. The cream will thicken the kari and add a richness. Cook the cream in the kari for about five minutes uncovered before serving.

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