Sri Lankan food is as deeply regional as Indian cuisine and influenced by its many migrant groups from the Dutch to the Chinese. And with a majority Buddhist population, Sri Lanka is also one of the most vegetarian- and vegan-friendly countries in the world.
“It’s very light and aromatic but not offensive. One of the healthiest meals you could have is Sri Lankan food,” says Sri Lankan native Rishi Naleendra who heads one MICHELIN star Cheek Bistro and fine dining outfit Cloudstreet in Singapore. At his newest venture Kotuwa, the chef plumbs his Sri Lankan heritage to create a menu of short eats (street snacks), devilled dishes (Chinese influenced stir-fries), flavour-packed sambols and a colourful array of curries — many of them vegan and vegetarian.
Here, the chef shares his family recipe for kaju maluwa, a traditional Sri Lankan cashew nut curry that’s often served as a main dish accompanied by white rice. The curry features plump, soaked cashew nuts cooked with coconut milk and spices for a creamy, fragrant gravy perfect for smothering over rice.
Just like peanut butter, some people prefer their cashew curry on the crunchy or creamier side. But regardless, soaking the raw cashews in hot water for sufficient time is a crucial step that leaves the nuts plump and softened to better absorb the gravy and its flavours.
"I haven't seen anything else like it. It is a curry that is unique to Sri Lanka and a dish I grew up eating with my family. Every time I eat it, the flavours remind me of my mum and my time in Sri Lanka," reminisces Naleendra.
Add this to your curry repertoire today.
Sri Lankan Kaju Maluwa (Cashew Curry)
1kg cashew nuts
100g green peas
25g red onion, sliced
3 green chillies, sliced lengthwise
1 pandan leaf
1 lemongrass, bruised
½ tbsp. chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp roasted curry powder
250g coconut cream
Water to cover
Salt to taste
6 dried chillies
30g shallots, sliced
1 pandan leaf, finely shredded
5g curry leaves
Oil for frying
1. Soak the cashew nuts for two hours in hot water.
2. Blanch the green peas in salted boiling water for 30 seconds to a minute. Then refresh in iced water straight away.
3. To make the curry, add all of the ingredients into a pot except for the green peas and the ingredients for tempering. Cover with water and bring the pot to a boil. Turn it down to a simmer and cook for a further 20 to 25 minutes. Set aside.
4. In a frying pan, add a generous amount of oil and add all of the ingredients for tempering. Fry until nicely caramelised.
5. Mix the tempered ingredients with the cashew nut curry and then lastly, add in the green peas.
6. Serve hot with white rice or roti.
RECOMMENDED READING: The First Day We Got Our Stars: Rishi Naleendra