On vacation this summer, my family and I had the pleasure of eating at Source, a vegetarian restaurant that opened in San Francisco earlier this year. The entire meal was delicious: E had the lasagna, of course, and I had a chickpea-stuffed rice pastry called Borek. But the the stand-out was the special of the day that D ordered, a tasting plate of 6 or 7 different Sri Lankan curries and vegetables. Each sample was just a few bites, and since it was D’s dinner, I didn’t get to taste enough to remember many of the details, except for one simple dish–kale cooked with fresh coconut. Simple but sublime.
I came home determined to recreate the dish. It took me a few weeks, but on Sunday I finally remembered to start defrosting the package of shredded coconut I bought at the Asian market. I did a little research and found that a mixture of greens and coconut cooked in a dry skillet is a traditional Sri Lankan dish called “mallung” or “mallum.” In Sri Lanka, it’s often made with the leaves of plants not found in our American grocery stores, but the internet abounds with recipes using collards and, especially, cabbage (see the links at the end of the recipe).
A great thing about mallung is that the greens are cooked without any oil, so the only fat comes from the coconut. I strongly recommend using fresh or frozen rather than dried coconut (and definitely not sweetened coconut) because the flavor and texture of fresh coconut is so much better. But if dried is all you have, I suggest using about half as much and rehydrating it in a little hot water beforehand; pour off the water and save it to use as needed when cooking the kale.
I hope you’ll like this dish as much as D and I did. Each bite of kale is infused with the taste and aroma of coconut, cumin provides a sultry background note, and fresh lime juice brightens the flavors. We ate it warm from the stove, but it also makes a great cold salad, and it keeps well so that you can enjoy the leftovers for lunch the next day. With 4 grams of fat per serving, mallung is not something I will be eating every day, but served with one of my almost fat-free curries or soups and a whole grain, the percentage of calories from fat for the entire meal falls to below 15%.
Kale Mallung (Sri Lankan Kale and Coconut)
- 1 medium red onion chopped
- 1 to 2 hot chile peppers seeded and chopped
- 12 ounces kale stems removed and leaves thinly sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- generous grating of black pepper
- 1/2 cup shredded coconut fresh or frozen, unsweetened
- 1 to 2 tablespoons lime juice
- salt to taste
- Heat a large, deep, non-stick skillet. Add the onions and peppers, and cook, stirring often, until onions soften and turn pink. Add water by the tablespoon if needed to prevent sticking.
- Add the kale and a splash (about 1/4 cup) of water, along with the cumin and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring every minute or so, until kale is wilted but still bright green, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the coconut and 1 tablespoon lime juice and leave on the heat just long enough to heat through. Check the seasoning and add more lime juice if needed and salt to taste. Serve hot or cold.
If dried coconut is all you have, I suggest using about half as much and rehydrating it in a little hot water beforehand; pour off the water and save it to use as needed when cooking the kale.
More Mallung Recipes
- Cabbage Mallung from Chilli & Chocolate, the blog of a Canadian expat living in Sri Lanka
- Collard Green Mallung from The Spicy Gourmet
- Sri Lankan Kale Mellun from Curry and Comfort
- Bok Choy Mallum from When My Soup Came Alive
- Green Bean Mallum in Staebroek News
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