Sri Lankan kaju aluwa is a fragrantly spiced, nutty sweetmeat which is often eaten during Sinhalese New Year celebrations. It’s also known as Sri Lankan cashew slice. Be warned though, one piece is never enough!
For me, one of the great joys of living in Southern Asia was the food – in fact, it’s actually why I decided to make Fort Kochi, in South India, my home for a while. On my way to and from Fort Kochi, I spent enough time in Colombo to fall in love with Sri Lankan food too. Sri Lankan Airlines, by the way, has the best plane food ever!
In addition to all the marvelous savory dishes on offer, both Sri Lanka and South India have a wealth… nay, a veritable treasure trove of sweets and candies, which are usually collectively referred to as mithai.
Sugar and spice, and all things nice!
For around eight millennia, Indus peoples have been refining sugarcane, and adding it to milks, grains, pulses, and spices to make some of perhaps the world’s most inventive confections. In fact, the word sugar is from the Sanskrit word for refined sugarcane, sharkara.
Unrefined sugar, by the way, is khaanda – sounds familiar?! It’s where we get the word candy from.
With such a long history of sugar refining, it’s no wonder then, that Indian peoples – and by obvious extension, Sri Lankan too – have such a diverse tradition of making not only jaw-droppingly delicious confectionary but sweetmeats that are also often decorated with edible precious metals, thus making them beautiful to behold too… and therefore, fitting offerings to the gods.
Sri Lankan kaju aluwa
Some mithai are quite time-consuming to make, and can, as with kalu dodol, require hours upon hours of pot-stirring. Kaju aluwa, however, is actually pretty quick to make, and very easy too.
In fact, in my experience, the most difficult aspect of making aluwa is roasting the rice flour because it’s actually quite easy to burn it if you’re not paying full attention (don’t ask me how I know).
Why roast the rice flour? Simple – it brings out the flavor, giving it an almost nutty taste, which of course, complements the cashews. In addition, because we won’t actually be cooking the aluwa, roasting the rice flour beforehand removes any raw aftertaste.
While you’re roasting your rice flour, make a simple syrup, then add the cashews and spices once it’s ready. All you have to do then is mix in the rice flour to form a stiff dough.
When everything is mixed together, and you have your dough, it’s simply a case of tipping it out onto a suitably-prepped board (raw rice flour is absolutely fine for this), shaping it, and then cutting into your desired shapes (usually squares or diamonds). This is where you’ll need to work quite quickly because the dough firms up as it cools… be prepared to give your arms a good workout!
Actually, y’know what? I lied – the hardest part of making kaju aluwa is waiting until it’s cool enough to eat!
How to make raw rice flour
You will find raw rice flour in practically every Indian and Sri Lankan store but if you can’t find it locally, you can buy it online. Or, you can easily make it by soaking some white rice (not instant or minute rice) for 3 to 6 hours (no more than six). Rinse and drain the rice, then spread out over a clean tea towel to dry out for an hour or so. Place the damp rice, half a cup at a time, into a blender or food processor, and pulse to break up the grains, then blitz until you have flour. Once you have your rice flour, gently dry it out in a large skillet over a medium heat for a few minutes, until all the steam has evaporated. Once cooled, store as you would any other flour. Every cup of raw rice will yield around 1¼ cup of flour.
If you have a high-powered blender that is capable of making nut butters, you can skip the soaking stage, and just grind the raw rice straight out of the packet. You also won’t need to dry it out in a skillet afterward.
Tips for making kaju aluwa
– Don’t try to use a stand mixer – the syrup will crystallize on the bottom of the mixing bowl, and the rice flour will not incorporate.
– Don’t use the smooth rice flour you find in Chinese stores – you want raw rice flour, which is slightly grainy.
– Similarly, don’t use glutinous rice; it’s great for making mochi, and other Chinese and Japanese foods but no good for making kaju aluwa. By the same token, if you’re going to make your own rice flour, don’t use glutinous (sticky) rice.
– Don’t over-boil the syrup; if you do, the sugar will crystallize, and your kaju aluwa will be rock-hard once it’s cooled. It should be semi-soft, and easy to bite into.
– Use approximately half the volume of cashews to syrup.
– Don’t let the kaju aluwa cool before cutting – if you do, it will break; you need to cut it while it’s still warm and at its most pliable.
Kaju Aluwa and Avurudu
Avurudu is the Sinhalese New Year, and is celebrated in Sri Lanka in April (as it is in Thailand, actually). Although aluwa is a traditional avurudu celebration candy, just like kokis, there’s nothing to stop you enjoying it at any other time of year… and you’d be in good company if you do, since many Sri Lankans also enjoy it all year-round!
Whenever you have it, enjoy this kaju aluwa!
Sri Lankan kaju aluwa is a fragrantly spiced, nutty sweetmeat which is often eaten during Sinhalese New Year celebrations. It's also known as Sri Lankan cashew slice.
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup water
- 2¼ cups raw rice flour , divided
- ½ cup chopped cashews
- 1 teaspoon fennel seed , ground
- 4 cardamom pods (seeds only), ground
- Coat a large cutting board with raw rice flour.
- Place the sugar and water into a medium-size pan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low, and gently boil for 5 minutes.
- While the syrup is boiling, place 2 cups of rice flour into a large skillet over a medium-low heat, and gently roast for 5 minutes, keeping the flour moving all the time so it doesn't burn.
- Once the syrup is ready, stir in the chopped cashews and ground spices, and then mix in the roasted rice flour, a little at a time, making sure it's fully incorporated. You will need to work quite fast, as the dough becomes stiff quite quickly
Turn out the dough onto the floured board, and shape into an even ½ inch thick square or rectangle. Smooth some more rice flour over the top.
- Cut into square or diamond shapes, and serve.
- This kaju aluwa will keep in an airtight container for up to a week.