Sri Lankan Yellow Rice (Kaha Bath)

Sri Lankan Saffron Yellow Rice / Kiribath

Picturesque beaches, lively culture, Ceylon tea, precious gems, and exotic cuisine is what comes to mind when you think of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is an island near the tip of India. While small in size, the sum of its beauty and rich heritage is monumental. Sri Lankan cuisine is vivid, intense with flavors, spice, and an artistic flair. This Sri Lankan Yellow Rice, known as Kaha Bath, is inspired by my Buddhist roots in a land of beauty, dance, elegance, and spice.

Let the enchantment begin!

A dear friend from my childhood moved to Abu Dhabi, and has recently been asking for my mother’s Sri Lankan Yellow Rice recipe. My mother is famous for this rice! My friend thinks about it to this day, and this post is dedicated to Rachel with love from one silly soul to another.

We all know how cheeky my mother is, so prying the secret family recipes from her can be no less than a challenge! Thank goodness she is the number one fan of this blog and Rachel!

To begin this recipe we ventured out to a local Asian market with both Bea and Tilly in tow. Sri Lankan Yellow Rice requires specific ingredients such as fresh curry leaves, turmeric, cardamom, cloves, saffron, basmati rice, and coconut milk. Once you touch and smell a uniquely aromatic fresh curry leaf you will immediately be transported to Sri Lanka. So let’s take a breath and dive into this cultural experience nose first!

Basmati Rice

Basmati Rice is slender, fragrant, and long-grained. An important first step of this Sri Lankan Yellow Rice is to completely rinse then dry the rice. When finding the rice you will want to gently move the grains with your fingers and let cold water run through until it goes from a hazy white to clear. Then arrange it up against the sides of the strainer to allow it all to dry evenly and completely. Growing up, a day did not go by where we didn’t start the morning with rice drying in the sink!

Basmati Rice

Coconut Milk

Authentic coconut milk

Meanwhile, you will turn your attention to the Coconut Milk. Coconut milk is creamy, with a thick creme that collects at the top. When removing the contents of a can of coconut milk, use a large bowl that will hold at least 4 cups of liquid. Scrape out all the thick coconut creme and whisk it into the bowl.

Whisk thick coconut milk

Then take your empty can of coconut milk and use it to fill that bowl or large measuring cup up to the 4 cup mark with water. This ensures you get all the remnants from that can!

Coconut milk and water mixture

To this coconut milk and water mixture add your Saffron threads. This gives the Saffron time to soak and begin to dissolve in the mixture.

Soak Saffron in coconut milk

Onions, Spices, & Sri Lankan Scents!

Once all of the prep for the rice and coconut milk is done, you will move on to the next step. On a large cutting board, chop up one medium yellow onion, a bit of ginger, and NINE cloves of garlic. Yes, I gasped too! NINE! So maybe no smooching after a meal of this Sri Lankan Yellow Rice!

For a quick video and tips on the best way to peel ginger, check out Ginger and Blackberry White Wine Sangria!

Chopped ginger and garlic

In a large and deep pan, scoop out some ghee.


My Mom snuck in a lot more ghee into the pan after I measured it out. That lady! Get it sizzling then add your onion.

When the onion gets translucent then it’s time for the garlic, ginger, and spices.

Before adding your whole green cardamom pods, you will want to smash them. So use the side of your knife to push down and “bruise” them. This will open up their fragrance and allow the seeds to permeate the dish.

Ground turmeric is added to this stage as well, and will get the yellow color blooming.

There truly is nothing that compares to the aroma of curry leaves! It is so incredible and exotic. Add in the spices and you’ll feel as if you’re in Sri Lanka!

My mother suggests to keep frying until it smells right. I’ll advise about 10 minutes!

Sauteed Sri Lankan Spices and Curry Leaves

Cooking Your Sri Lankan Yellow Rice

At this time, your nose or the timer says you are ready to add in your dried Basmati rice.

Add dried basmati rice

It is time to give this a thorough mix. Give the rice mixture a moment to toast and let the fragrance blossom.

Basmati Rice with curry leaves and spices

Next, you will pour over the Coconut Milk mixture.

The soaked saffron will continue to dissolve during the cooking process. You will close the lid and allow this rice mixture to come to a boil.

Boil Kiribath

As it bubbles, give it a stir. Then close it up and reduce your heat. This will cook on low until fluffy and done. All of the spices will float to the top and be ready to be plucked off and discarded. Then fluff the yellow rice.

Sri Lankan Yellow Rice Cooked

Often this rice is decorated with boiled eggs, fried and spiced cashew nuts, and raisins. This Sri Lankan Yellow Rice was served each Sunday for the lunch feast at my mother’s home in Ceylon. What a feast they must have had! Now that my number one fan has begun sharing, stay tuned for more secret family Sri Lankan recipes!

Sri Lankan Saffron Yellow Rice / Kiribath

Sri Lankan Yellow Rice (Kaha Bath)


  • 2 cups Basmati Rice, rinsed then dried
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 9 cloves of garlic (approx. 1/4 cup minced)
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • approx. 2 1/2 -3 cups of water
  • 4 saffron threads
  • 2 tablespoons Ghee
  • 10 of each: whole cloves,  fresh curry leaves, green cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric


  • Wash and dry basmati rice
  • In a large bowl, or a measuring cup that goes up to at least 4 cups, pour in and whisk coconut milk. Then use the can to add water until the whole liquid amount reaches 4 cups.
  • Put saffron threads into the coconut milk/water mixture to soak and begin dissolving.
  • Chop up onion. Mince garlic and ginger.
  • In a large and deep saute pan, heat ghee on medium heat.
  • When sizzling, add onions. Cook until transulecent, about 7 minutes.
  • Bruise cardamom pods, as shown in post. Add to onions along with cloves, curry leaves, garlic, ginger, salt, turmeric.
  • Saute until very fragrant, about 10 minutes.
  • Add rice. Stir thoroughly.
  • Pour in saffron and coconut milk mixture.
  • Close lid and wait for it to boil.
  • Then reduce heat to medium low, and give a big stir before closing lid and letting cook for 18-20 minutes. If you like those crispy rice bits that form, then definitely go for the 20 minutes.


    • Traditional Sri Lankan Yellow Rice is adorned with fried cashews, boiled eggs, and golden raisins. Serve with a side of your favorite curry.
    • For extra spice, try adding a whole cinnamon stick with other spices.
    • This dish pairs well with a spicy Syrah wine! Try this pairing guide, Pairing Wine with Indian Cuisine
    • To learn more on Sri Lanka –

Essentials for Sri Lankan Yellow Rice


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Apple Spiced Cupcakes with Maple Cinnamon Frosting