Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

Hidden Kitchens of Sri Lanka

Hidden Kitchens of Sri Lanka

By Bree Hutchins

Published 2013

  • About

Payasam (sago) is an essential sweet dish at any Tamil celebration or festival, including New Year and weddings. It is usually served in small stainless-steel cups, but the traditional way to serve it is on a banana leaf and topped with crushed pappadum. The best payasam I tasted was Mahalukshmi’s; it was wonderfully thick and creamy, infused with cardamom and topped with cashews and raisins.


  • ¾ tablespoon green gram* (dried mung beans)
  • 1 tablespoon ghee, plus 1 tablespoon extra
  • 200 g (7 oz/1 cup) sago (payasam)
  • 30 g (1 oz) dried seviyan vermicelli noodles*
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped raw cashew nuts
  • 1 tablespoon raisins
  • pinch of salt
  • 875 ml (30 fl oz/ cups) coconut milk*
  • 200 g (7 oz) caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) coconut cream*


Dry-roast the green gram in a heavy-based frying pan over medium heat for 4 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool slightly. Using a mortar and pestle (or spice grinder), pound the green gram into a fine powder. Set aside.

Melt the ghee in the frying pan and fry the sago over medium heat for 3 minutes, or until it starts to puff and pop. Add the vermicelli noodles and fry for 1 minute, or until golden brown, stirring continuously so the vermicelli doesn’t burn. Remove and set aside. Fry the cashews and raisins in the extra ghee over low heat for 1-2 minutes until golden, then remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.

Bring 875 ml (30 fl oz/ cups) water to the boil in a large saucepan. Add a pinch of salt, then quickly add the sago and vermicelli and stir well. Simmer for 18 minutes over low-medium heat, stirring regularly, until it thickens and the sago is cooked and turns transparent (stir continuously for the last 5 minutes so the sago doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan). Add a little more water if needed.

Add the coconut milk, bring almost to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 3 minutes, stirring continuously, until the mixture starts to thicken slightly. Stir in the green gram powder and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the sugar, cardamom and coconut cream and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring, until the mixture thickens a little. Stir in the fried cashews and raisins or sprinkle them on top. Serve hot in small cups.