Credit: Photographed remotely by Earl Carter

Brussels sprout mallung

O Tama Carey is the owner of Lankan Filling Station. Her first cookbook is Lanka Food. She is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

Credit: Photographed remotely by Earl Carter

If you don’t know what a mallung is then please allow me to introduce you. Also known as mallum, it’s a Sri Lankan side dish that is usually purely vegetarian. Like a salad, which can be anything really, so too is a mallung. And like a refreshing raw salad, it serves the same purpose but more intentionally. Sri Lankan meals tend to be made up of an array of dishes, all together on the table, each element a combination of flavours, colours and textures with the essential idea that a meal should be healthful as well as delicious. The mallung sits within this as a dish with texture, a counterpoint to rich curries and slow-cooked dal. Much Asian food seems to have the consideration of health and balance in a meal in a way that is not so inherent in European cooking.

Mallungs are often made using shredded leafy greens, often bitter and or native varieties, and usually have few ingredients, with fresh grated coconut one of the essentials. The main ingredient is cooked only briefly, sometimes with a little water and generally without any cooking fat, the oils from the coconut being enough. Like a salad though, the variations are endless. There are mallungs made with green papaya or leeks, some are laden with chilli, most have turmeric, and you find others seasoned with Maldive fish. As it happens, I have a cookbook, Lanka Food, that comes out next week, and apart from having recipes for other mallungs, it helps explain and give greater understanding to what Sri Lankan food is.

Unlike traditional mallungs, the recipe here uses ghee to cook with, which is purely a flavour preference of mine as I like the way it tastes in this dish. And here you find the main ingredient is brussels sprouts which is, I know, a divisive vegetable. Rightly so, as badly cooked they end up with a pungent sulphuric smell that tastes just as bad as you would expect, plus they are waterlogged and mushy. Cooked well, though, they are a thing of beauty and I have always been a proponent of them shaved and eaten raw, simply dressed. This is when their sharp mustard flavours, so often found in the brassica family, truly shine. And basically, they are a baby cabbage, so if you like that vegetable then surely you should like this one. Here they are lightly cooked, the sharp flavours and crunch still discernible. The fresh coconut adds softness and sweetness and the Maldive fish a hint of smokiness.

This dish can be made and eaten as is, with enough flavour and interest as a light lunch on its own. Add a poached egg or two to make it more filling, or serve it with a pan-fried piece of fish on top for a simple, healthful dinner. It can be eaten immediately after cooking but is also delicious at room temperature and is even good cold. It could be a good dish for your next autumnal picnic. You could also go a more traditional route and serve it as one dish of many in a Sri Lankan meal. Add a tender pork curry, some gentle dal, maybe another vegetable dish of beetroot rich with ghee and mustard seeds, some sambals and yellow rice fragrant with spices and saffron and you would have a glorious banquet. If this sounds like something you’d like to do, I know of an excellent new cookbook that can help.


Serves 2-4 as part of a meal

Time: 20 minutes preparation + cooking

  • 30g ghee
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp Maldive fish flakes
  • 2 baby green chillies, finely sliced
  • 6 sprigs curry leaves
  • 280g brussels sprouts, finely shaved lengthways on a mandolin
  • salt flakes and black pepper
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 50g grated coconut
  • ½ lime for seasoning
  1. Place a wide-based frypan over a high heat, allow to warm and then add in the ghee, mustard seeds, Maldive fish, chilli and curry leaves.
  2. Cook, stirring as you go, until the mustard seeds start to pop and the curry leaves fry. Add in the brussels sprouts and give everything a good mix. At this stage season heavily with salt and pepper and continue stirring.
  3. After a few minutes, sprinkle over the turmeric, stir to combine and then add the coconut.
  4. Continue cooking and stirring until the sprouts are just starting to give way yet still hold a little crunch (two to three minutes). Remove from the heat, stir through some squeezed lime and have a mouthful. You want to taste the black pepper quite strongly and you also want a sharp kick from the lime.
  5. Place on a shallow dish to serve.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 26, 2022 as "A bit on the side".

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