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Sri Lankan Yellow Rice topped with a crispy garnish.

Sri Lankan Yellow Rice

  • Author: Rachel Phipps
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 2
  • Category: Side Dish
  • Cuisine: Sri Lankan
  • Diet: Gluten Free


This traditional recipe for Sri Lankan Yellow Rice is infused with turmeric, cinnamon and cardamom before being finished with coconut milk and a crunchy onion, cashew and sultana topping for a show-stopping rice dish that is sure to steal the show from everything else on the table.



For the Yellow Rice

  • 100g (3.5 oz) white basmati rice
  • large knob unsalted butter or 1 tbsp of ghee
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 3 green cardamom pods
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 5cm (2 inch) piece pandan leaf (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp flaky sea salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tbsp coconut milk

For the Garnish

  • 2 tbsp light oil
  • handful cashew nuts
  • 10 fresh curry leaves (optional)
  • 1/2 small red onion
  • handful dried sultanas (yellow raisins)


  1. Rinse the rice in a sieve under the cold tap until the water comes through it almost clear; it will never be 100% but you’ll know when you’ve washed it enough.
  2. In a small lidded saucepan set over a medium heat, add the butter and ghee. Once it is melted and starting to froth, in the case of the butter, or shimmer, in the case of the ghee, add the cinnamon stick, the cardamom pods, lightly bashed, the cloves and the piece of pandan leaf, if using. Cook for a minute or two, until aromatic.
  3. Stir in the rice along with the salt and the turmeric, stirring until the rice is well coated in the butter mixture.
  4. Add 225ml of cold water (just scant of a cup) and bring the pan to the boil. Allow the rice to boil away until the water has just reached the level of the rice. Then, reduce the heat to low and continue to cook for 8 minutes with the lid on. Remove from the heat and allow to rest, with the lid still on for a further 5 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, make the garnish. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over a medium high heat. Fry the cashews until they’re golden and toasted. Add the fresh curry leaves. They’ll start to sputter and crisp very quickly; almost instantly transfer everything in the pan to a bowl with a slotted spoon.
  6. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion, finely sliced to the remaining oil and cook until soft and golden. Stir in the sultanas, and once these are plump and starting to caramelise so very little, again using the slotted spoon add this mixture to the waiting bowl.
  7. Remove the lid from the rice and remove the aromatics which should have worked their way to the surface. Return the rice pan to a medium heat and carefully fold in the coconut, making sure to not mush up the rice, but to make sure that it is heated through.
  8. Serve in a warmed serving dish scattered with the fried garnish.


I’ve included fresh pandan leaf in the recipe as it gives the rice it’s authentic perfume, but feel free to just leave them out, I’ve made the rice without pandan plenty of times and you will only miss it if you’ve made it both ways – and it is just as delicious. I buy pandan leaves in big packets from Chinatown where it is in demand to flavour Thai desserts, and cut them into small lengths before freezing them and using them straight from the freezer as I would fresh.