Jaffna cuisine is renowned for its use of the fresh seafood readily available along the coast. The region is famous for its crab curries that use some unusual ingredients such as murunga leaves.






Skill level

Average: 3.8 (87 votes)


  • 2 x 1.2 kg live mud crabs
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • ½ cup grated fresh coconut
  • 50 g ghee
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds (see note)
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 red onion, quartered, sliced
  • 10 curry leaves
  • 3 long green chillies, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp Jaffna curry powder (see note)
  • 2 tsp ground chilli
  • ¼ tsp ground turmeric
  • 400 ml coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp seedless tamarind purée (see note)
  • 1 sprig murunga (drumstick), leaves picked (see note)
  • ½ lime, juiced
  • steamed rice (optional), to serve

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Freezing time 2 hours
Drink match 2009 Mantlerhof Gelber 'Muskateller'

To prepare crabs, place them in the freezer for 2 hours to put them into a stupor.

Place each crab on its back with the eyes facing you, then drive a thick skewer or the point of a sharp knife between the eyes and into the centre of the crab. Break off tail flaps on the underside and discard. Carefully pull off back shells and reserve. Cut each crab in half lengthwise, then remove the “dead man’s fingers” (soft gills) and discard. Rinse and discard the stomach sac. Cut each crab half into three. Leave the large claws attached, but crack them with the heel of a knife.

Place cumin seeds and peppercorns in a large frying pan over high heat. Cook for 2 minutes or until toasted. Transfer to a mortar, wipe pan clean with paper towel and return pan to high heat. Add grated coconut and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes or until golden, then add to cumin seed mixture with 1 tbsp water. Grind to a smooth paste with a pestle and set aside. Alternatively, process in a small food processor to a paste.

Heat ghee in a large, heavy-based saucepan over high heat, add mustard seeds and cook for 30 seconds or until seeds pop. Add fennel seeds and cook for a further minute or until fennel seeds start to brown. Add onion, curry leaves and green chilli, and cook for 4 minutes or until onion is browned. Add curry powder, ground chilli and turmeric, and stir to combine. Add crab and reserved crab shells, and cook, stirring constantly so the spices don’t burn, for 3 minutes or until crab starts to change colour.

Combine spiced coconut paste, coconut milk, tamarind purée and 500 ml (2 cups) water in a bowl. Add to crab mixture and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, tossing crab halfway, for 12 minutes or until crab is just cooked. Increase heat to medium, remove lid and simmer for 4 minutes or until liquid is slightly thickened. Season with salt and stir in murunga leaves and lime juice.

Divide crab among bowls and spoon over some curry sauce. Serve with rice, if desired, and remaining curry sauce.


• Look for these products at Sri Lankan and Asian grocers.