Kankun (sometimes written as Kangkung) is a Sri Lankan leafy vegetable (Ipomoea aquatica). It is also known as water morning glory, marsh glory, swamp cabbage (!) and water spinach. It’s good and is a rich source of vitamins (particularly A, B and C), iron, protein, calcium, amino acids and anti-oxidants.
In Sri Lanka it is often prepared as an aside to rice and curry, a kind of devilled kankun with red chilli flakes and dried fish or prawns. Whilst tasty enough (bar the dried fish which I extract from everything!) I think it is much better prepared with garlic in a stir-fry to eat with grilled fish or meat or even as a substantial dish in itself (triple the ingredients below for that!).
Stir-fried Garlic Kankun Ingredients:
One large bunch of kankun
6 garlic cloves roughly chopped
Pinch of red chilli flakes (just for a hint…remember it’s about the garlic & kankun here)
Slug (about 1 tbsp. soya sauce)
Oil to fry
Pepper to taste
Wash the kankun leaves well and chop roughly. Heat some oil in a wok but do not let it get too hot (burnt garlic is not good). Add garlic and chilli flakes and stir fry for a minute or so. Add the kankun, mix well for 30 seconds. Add soya sauce and pepper, mix and cover wok for 30 seconds. Take off the fire and serve with grilled fish or meat with rice or noodles.
We are in the midst of a mini heatwave in Sri Lanka. Now don’t laugh because you reckon Sri Lanka is around 30 degrees all year around. You are very wrong. Hot days during the monsoon season are hotter than during the dry season…why? I haven’t got clue but anyway it’s hot and I’m craving salad food.
Salade Niçoise has to be one of my favourite salads ever. It is yummy and easy to make in Sri Lanka because the ingredients are all available.
However, when we talk of ingredients for a ‘true’ Salade Niçoise (born in the city of Nice in the South of France) we are entering hot water. What should and shouldn’t be included – I am easy on this. It’s a French dish so stick to French ingredients and those which are fresh and readily available where you are. Are boiled vegetables acceptable – perhaps they weren’t in the original recipe but I like french beans and baby potatoes in the salad; preferably cooked! One thing I feel strongly about is the tuna issue – canned or fresh? I have eaten both and must admit to much preferring the canned tuna here. If I wanted to eat seared tuna steak I would have. It should be (in my opinion) good quality tuna steak (yep the expensive stuff) in OIL, not brine or that cardinal sin – tuna chunks in brine. Oil is important because it flavours the tuna you could even use use it to dress the salad. The rest of the ingredients are cheap so splash out on decent tuna and olives (and anchovies if you use them – I don’t if I have tuna…I do replace the tuna with them sometimes depending on my mood).
2 cans of good quality tuna steak, preferably in olive oil but any oil will do.
250 g small or baby potatoes, peeled, boiled and cut into bite-sized chunks or unpeeled, boiled & halved if baby variety.
250 g french beans, boiled
Some lettuce – the crispier the better in my view, to use as a base, roughly chopped
2 large juicy tomatoes, sliced
1 red onion, sliced
3 nearly hard-boiled eggs, I like the yolk not quite set, quartered
Olives (as many as you want) – Niçoise or kalamata work well. Please no purple, stuffed or marinated crappy ones.
Capers (as many as you want) – optional but choose the little ones if using
Anchovies (optional – use good quality ones if using)
For the dressing:
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (or use a bit from the canned tuna if good quality oil if you like it fishy)
2 tbsp. lemon or lime juice
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, very finely minced
salt and pepper
For the dressing: mix the minced garlic with salt and pound in a pestle and mortar. Add olive oil, lemon juice, pepper and mustard and mix well. Some use fresh herbs such as tarragon , basil or oregano but you can’t get them easily in Sri Lanka so I don’t.
Arrange the lettuce, potatoes and french beans on a plate. Top this with the tomatoes, onion, tuna (broken into chunks), olives, eggs, anchovies (if using) and capers. Drizzle over the dressing.
Cabbage is another vegetable that I think is underrated. Boiled to a pulp it is indeed bland and pretty tasteless but it need not be as the recipe below will show you.
Mallum or mallung is a Sri Lankan staple. The name literally means “mix up” and is usually a combination of shredded greens, onion, chilli, Maldive fish and coconut. I’m not a fan of Maldive fish so opt to leave it out and I find it tastes just as good. Mallums play an important part in nutrition in Sri Lanka because this is how a lot of people get their iron as beef is not commonly eaten amongst rural Buddhist folk. These green concoctions are also rich in vitamins and provides the perfect accompaniment to rice (carbs) and dhal (protein) and other meat, fish or vegetable curries.
Mukunuwenna (Alternanthera triandra Lam) and Dandelion Leaves are the local green leaves commonly used in Mallum. The most famous Green sambol (mallum) is made from fresh Gotukola (Centella Asiatica).
For Western readers – you can substitute spinach, kale or any other spring greens.
However to please everybody today I have selected cabbage which is available everywhere. Any type of cabbage can be prepared in the following way but I have chosen your run-of-the-mill normal cabbage. If you don’t like cabbage – I dare you to try this and see if it will change your mind. It’s super easy and when you have mastered the cabbage mallum you can try it with other greens. This recipe serves six as a side dish to a main meal.
Ingredients for Sri Lankan Cabbage Mallum (or Mallung):
2 tbsp oil (coconut, vegetable or sunflower)
½ tsp black mustard seeds
½ a cabbage, finely shredded
1 onion, finely chopped
1–2 (or 3) green chillies, seeded and chopped
¼ tsp ground turmeric
20g scraped coconut (fresh is best, frozen is ok…if you only manage to get the dry stuff I suggest soaking it in some coconut milk first)
2 limes, juice of 1, plus 1 cut into wedges to serve
curry leaves (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat a frying pan or wok until it smokes. Add the oil, then the mustard seeds. Add the cabbage, onion, chillies and curry leaves if using and stir-fry for about 2 minutes.
Add the turmeric and coconut; stir-fry until the coconut has a dry texture (take care not to burn it). Quickly take off the heat, stir in the lime juice and a little salt and pepper, and serve.
I happily eat this with paratha roti but it is usually served as part of the rice and curry meal as an accompaniment.
In case you hadn’t noticed it’s Rambutan season in Sri Lanka. Stall holders are selling these little bright fruits absolutely everywhere and at frightfully cheap prices too (the cheapest I have seen is 3 rupees for 1 on the Kalu Ganga bridge at Kalutara near the Kalutara Vihara). I’ve been told these ridiculously low prices (last year they were more than double) are due to an abundant harvest this year.
This fruit, whose Malay name means ‘spiny’, is scarlet, maroon or golden-skinned and covered with short, fleshy hairs – not spiky as is commonly thought. Inside there is a translucent, sweet-sour pulp, which like that of its relative, the better-known lychee, covers the single seed. The pulp is sweeter in the better varieties, with those in which it easily peels off the seed being preferred.
So what to do when your house is full of these little gems but you have eaten too many and even the kids are turning their noses up?
Well, you have yourself a rambutan & lime cocktail. It’s easy to make and pretty damn tasty too. The recipe below is for two glasses – it doesn’t take a genius to multiply and make yourself a pitcher or two 😉
Rambutan and Lime Cocktail
2 tsp. finely crushed jaggery (or palm sugar)
4 limes cut into 16 pieces
6-8 fresh rambutans, peeled, seed removed and chopped (canned is possible too)
100ml vodka or Bacardi
½ cup crushed ice
Place crushed jaggery (palm sugar) and limes into a tall glass. Using the end of a rolling pin (or the pestle from a pestle and mortar…whatever you have to hand basically!) and crush until all the juice has been released from the limes.
Add rambutans and continue to crush. Pour into a cocktail shaker along with the vodka and ice. Shake and pour into two tall glasses.
Those of you that regularly read my posts will know that I am a great fan of Aubergines (or Eggplant / Brinjal). Add to that my love of Middle Eastern influences in food (that includes Turkish & Jewish food too) and the following Baba Ghannouj recipe cannot fail to please me every time.
Baba Ghannouj Recipe (serves 4)
This classic Middle Eastern aubergine dip or spread, fragrant with garlic and smoky charred eggplant, is made even creamier with the addition of mayonnaise.
8 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 medium aubergines / brinjals
⅓ cup fresh lemon (or lime) juice
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp. tahini
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. paprika
Sprinkle of chilli powder
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Olive oil to serve
Place garlic cloves and aubergines (brinjals) on a baking sheet lined with tin foil, and grill until tender and charred all over, about 10 minutes for garlic, and about 40 minutes for aubergine (be sure to pierce the aubergine with a fork first to avoid an explosive mess!!). Peel and seed aubergines, and mash flesh with peeled garlic, lemon juice, tahini, mayonnaise, 2 tsp. parsley, the cumin, paprika, and salt and pepper in a bowl; sprinkle with remaining parsley and drizzle with olive oil.
Serve with crispy pitta bread and a fresh salad. Grilled or barbecued meats also go very well with this luscious dip. For you Sri Lankan die-hards out there, roti works well too!
A blog about freelance translation as a digital nomad, travel, food & drink and all things Sri Lankan and Dutch.