Sri Lankan Beetroot Curry & Kale Mallung

Beetroot curry

Where do I even begin?

I guess I’ll start by saying that I feel like I am waking up from the most spectacular, flavourful, technicolour dream. Sri Lanka deeply touched me, from its incredible landscape, beautiful people and of course, the food. The food! The food.

When I was first invited by Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts to go on a food tour of Sri Lanka, I was a bit uncertain – to be honest, I didn’t know anyone who had visited Sri Lanka before, and I especially had no idea what the cuisine was like. I assumed that it was probably very much like Indian, but what I discovered is that it has its own totally distinctive flavours and cooking techniques.

Sri Lankan people are very passionate about their food and the culture around it. From my perspective, they seemed especially connected to the earth and the bounty that springs year-round from their incredibly fertile land. Many of the world’s spices are grown on the island, so you can imagine how rich and complex their traditional dishes are. Sri Lankan food is also hot. Like, crazy hot. Chilies play a dominant role in everything from curries to relish and are accompany every meal of the day – even breakfast. An interesting way to start your morning, I might add, is being startled awake by an explosive plate of food. And with coconuts quite literally dripping from the trees everywhere you look, the backbone of many Sri Lankan dishes, both savoury and sweet, is coconut water, milk and flesh. Heavenly. And a welcome antidote to all that chile.

beetcurry6

Rice and curry is a Sri Lankan staple, and in fact the word “food” there is synonymous with this combination. Happily for me, there are countless vegetarian and vegan options to choose from. My favourites were jackfruit curry (mindblowing!), cashew curry (yes, a whole pot of cashews cooked in coconut milk), wingbean curry, mung bean curry, eggplant curry, lentil curry, and pumpkin curry. But my favourite curry of all? Beetroot curry. Surprising, eh? The first time I was offered this dish, I kind of thought that it was an accommodating east-west mashup or something, but no! It’s a thing. And a wildly delicious thing at that. I never imagined combining beets and coconut before, but it works incredibly well. The earthiness of the beets contrasts perfectly with the sweetness of the coconut milk, and the beets are neither crunchy or mushy, but a perfectly balanced succulent-tender texture that pairs so well with rice.

beetcurry4

The other major love affair I had in Sri Lanka was with all the little side dishes that come with the curries themselves: sambol and mallung (or mallum). Sambol is like a relish, typically based on freshly shredded coconut (but not always), with a featured vegetable, along with chilies and lime. Pol sambol (coconut sambol) is ubiquitous and served at every meal I can remember. It varies in spiciness from table to table, but more often than not I couldn’t eat more than a couple teaspoons with my curry – which was already insanely hot enough, thank you.

Mallungs are “green dishes” made with cabbage, kale, broccoli, beans or other leafy veg. These are always cooked without any oil, and instead use just the heat of the pan and a little bit of water to steam the vegetable – a groovy technique in my opinion. Spices are used in mallung as well, and vary from recipe to recipe. They can be served warm or at room temperature, almost like a lightly cooked salad.

beetcurry11

Curry leaves are an essential ingredient in Sri Lankan food. Many people are confused by this name because they associate curry with a spice blend, and assume that curry powder must then come from dried and ground curry leaves. In truth the word curry vaguely refers to a dish prepared with spices, but means very little to Indian or South Asians, where “curries” originate.

Curry powder is largely a Western creation, and should in fact be referred to as masala, meaning a spice mix. Most curries in Sri Lanka rely on whole spices, not ground or pre-mixed ones, so that the cook can balance flavours according to his / her tastes.

Anyway, back to the curry leaves. Small, dark green and glossy, they are deeply aromatic with a distinctive savoury-smoky scent that is difficult to describe. And no, they don’t smell like curry powder – we’ve already established that. They can be difficult to find fresh here in Copenhagen (and I would imagine, many places in the world!), but dried ones are available at most ethnic grocers or specialty shops. With about half the pungency of fresh curry leaves, the dried ones are an okay substitute if that’s all you’ve got, but do try and seek out some fresh ones – you’ll never look back! Plus, if you find them fresh, you can easily freeze them until your next curry.

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It was very difficult to decide what kind of Sri Lankan dish I would post first (oh yea, there’s more to come…) but I chose beetroot curry and kale mallung because they are both relatively seasonal here in Denmark, and because I think that both of these recipes take us out of our comfort zone with familiar veggies, and make use of entirely unique cooking techniques. You’ll find both applications totally surprising, I guarantee that, and I hope that they inspire you to make curry out of things you wouldn’t normally, or try an oil-free, steamy stir-fry. Yum town.

There is so much complexity and diversity to Sri Lankan food and I am forever inspired. I cannot wait to go back to this enchanted island to explore, and eat, once again.

Beetroot curry

 

A huge thanks to Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts  and Sri Lankan Airlines for making this incredible trip possible!

 

68 comments

  1. Elizabeth

    Oh wow, Sarah. I made this for the second time in two weeks tonight; it’s really something special. I am really impressed by and love the range of your recipes, and how sophisticated the flavors are. Thank you for posting recipes here. I always look forward to your next blog post!

  2. Ilanna

    Yum, this was incredibly delicious! Such a surprising combination of flavors. I used the beet leaves instead of kale for the greens, and added the stems to cook with the matchstick-ed roots. So good! Thanks!

  3. Kat

    Thank you so much for this great recipe!
    Do you have any recommendations on how to do the mallung with broccoli or another leafy green vegetable instead of kale? Unfortunately, kale season is over now… would still love to do the mallung though, it sounds delicious.

  4. Susan

    I am so glad you posted the beetroot curry. We just got back off a long cruise which stopped at two ports in Sri Lanka. When we were in Colombo, we took a class called Cooking By Color, taught by a wonderful lady named Mohara Dole. One of the dishes we made was beetroot curry, and it was the nicest way to eat beets that my husband and I have encountered. I am also sold on Sri Lankan food and will look forward to anything you post from that cuisine. If you ever have a chance to take Mohara’s class, I highly recommend it.

  5. Amanda

    I just made this and it turned out great! I subbed some things just due to poor planning (ground cinnamon instead of stick, bay leaves instead of curry leaves, and a jalapeno instead of green chiles).

    The heat/spice level was just perfect and went well with the earthiness of the beets. I liked everything mixed together in the bowl so that the flavors could really come together.

    Thanks for sharing!

  6. Tiana Gammie

    these look so delicious!!! i love sri lankan food. has to be my favourite cuisine. cant wait to make them!

  7. Sonja B

    this is on my list to try this week – have all the ingredients. I have always wanted to visit Sri Lanka and your post has just made me want to go even more. Please post more about this beautiful spot and more recipes for sure… Love your blog so much. It is one of my top five and if I had to really put them in order yours would probably get top spot. I have learned a lot reading the comments here as well. Keep up the fabulous work.

  8. Shyna Rehnok

    Ohh wow!!!

    Beetroot curry is one of my most favorite dish, I am really glad to have its recipe, I will defiantly try to cook this.

    Thanks for such a great post. 🙂

  9. Mona

    This was so incredibly delicious, the best meal I have cooked and eaten in a while! I have never been to this part of the world but cooking something exotic like this curry is like traveling without leaving the house (though I’d much rather experience the foreign cultures myself …) I was struggling finding curry leaves. For some random reason all three spice shops in my town had run out of it and had been still waiting for the next delivery. One “spice salesperson” recommended to me then to use bay leaves instead since I really didn’t want to wait. It worked out great! I don’t know what difference it made, since I haven’t tried the original recipe, but meanwhile I will keep cooking the curry with the same amount of dried bay leaves. Thanks Sarah for your amazing recipes (they really always turn out great!) and your lovely cookbook. So nice to have the seasonal chapters. That way, I always know what to try next.

    • Sonja B

      Hey Mona…
      I have used curry leaves and they are totally different than bay leaves. Curry leaves are softer and smaller and have a completely different taste. I am lucky that in my area there is an Indian chain shop that sells them fresh so I can buy a bunch and freeze them.

  10. Katie

    First of all, I’d like to say that I just cooked this curry and I really loved it. I’ve been a long time reader of you blog and frequently cook your recipes and I always really enjoy them.

    But, I am posting because I want to reiterate what Nina said. I work for a human rights charity in the UK, and we work with survivors of torture. By far the most prominent group of people that make up our client group are Sri Lankan Tamils. I would urge you to look into the issues that Nina highlighted. I’m not pushing you to think one way or the other, but I feel that you must be unaware of this situation or you wouldn’t have posted this article without any reference to it, or indeed have travelled to Sri Lanka on such a trip.

    As I was cooking this meal this evening, I was thinking about how difficult it must be for the Tamil people that we work with to get hold of any food that resembles what they eat back home, and it made me really sad that I was able to cook this meal and they are trying to exist on £35 a week and have no hope of cooking a delicious meal like this. Like Nina I have really mixed emotions right now.

    I hope that you are able to respond to these comments and start a dialogue about this. There is such an easy exchange of global food cultures these days that we sometimes forget what a typical home cooked meal might mean to someone. I sincerely hope you can find time to discuss this on your blog.

    Best wishes.

    • Sarah Britton

      Hi Katie,

      Thanks for the comment and sorry its taken me so long to respond.

      I really appreciate your perspective and shedding light on the situation in Sri Lanka.

      I was invited to attend a culinary tour hosted by Cinnamon Hotels since I am food blogger, and my goal was to focus on what we can learn from the rich culinary traditions, instead of focusing on the conflicts and hardship that the people of Sri Lanka have experienced. I am by no means ignoring these issues or undermining them, just writing about my area of expertise since that is the focus of My New Roots.

      I really appreciate you reading the blog, and hope you understand my perspective.

      In light,
      Sarah B

    • Nina

      Thanks, Katie. If you see this, any chance you could get in touch with me and let me know about the charity you work for? I’d be interested in supporting the work in some way. My email address is blog.ninas@gmail.com .

  11. The Curry Diva (Heather Jansz)

    I enjoyed reading your post on Sri Lanka – I was born and raised in Sri Lanka formally known as Ceylon so I am a Portuguese/Dutch burgher gal raised in Sri Lanka
    I have since been the 1st person to bring this cuisine to the Midwest !! with the only Sri Lankan Restaurant in the Mid west which started in 1976 – (no longer in business) I now run a business called “The Curry Diva” still serving all the old time and new time favorites of my country !!
    I do catering and a pop up diner every wed and sat of the week giving people their much needed fix and I cook everything through Ayurveda and roast and grind the spices just right to make sure that the oils are released just right so that the body will be nourished and the soul fed!! ( I travel all over to do this!!! While I have cooked for very famous people I stay humble with giving my version of “like water for chocolate” with everything I touch and activating all the senses in one meal. I am a believer of taking care of your soul while it is still here with us!!! Please let me know when you are visiting the twin cities and I would want you to come over and taste the flavors that will nourish the body and feed the soul – I am hoping that this will be the best way to reach you !!
    Once I really enjoyed the read of your blog !! Thank you !! Heather Jansz
    Looking forward to it !!!

  12. Imogen & Thomas

    Dear Sarah,
    Your recipe is a real hit! We enjoyed it VERY MUCH. We got all the ingredients (except of the black mustards seeds, we got the yellow ones, but it tasted really delicious and exotic).
    We also love your book, we cooked many of the recipes already and they all are satisfying, elegant and tasty. Thank you so much for all these inspiring dishes!

  13. Amy | Lemon and Coconut

    Wow that looks so good, and it’s so interesting to learn about new food cultures. I saw your photos on instagram and just felt your excitement when you were there so vividly. I am totally mad on coconuts and yet only really use processed coconut not ‘real’. I can just start to imagine how wonderful it would be to cook in a land of coconuts… throw in a few lemon and lime trees and I’d be in foodie heaven 🙂

  14. Judith

    Oh my! This meal was a huge hit with my husband. I could not believe that I found fresh curry leaves in my local Co-op grocery store here in Calgary! It took me an hour and a half to make all three parts of the meal but it was worth every bit of chopping and stirring.

    I think my eyes rolled up into the back of my head at the first mouthful of beet curry! I was too afraid to try the little green Thai chilies and made it with jalapeno instead. Next time I’ll try the ones you recommend. Thanks for your amazing recipes! Nom!

  15. Ella

    Just made this and WOW. Flavors combinations I’ve never tasted before. This was so good. I can’t wait to make this for a group of people! Thanks!

  16. Torsten Fleischer

    AMAZING! Was für beeindruckende Bilder. Was für tolle Fotos vom Rezept. Das sieht so lecker aus, dass ich es gern gleich essen möchte. Und die Zutaten sind so gesund. Danke für das tolle Rezept und den schön zu lesenden Beitrag.
    Greetings from Berlin.

  17. Rebecca

    I made this dish tonight and it was AMAZING. I’m truly impressed. Both the mallung and the curry were delicious but I think the curry was my favourite. Such a great combination of sour, sweet and salty flavours. The only change I made was that I used spinach in the mallung instead of kale, and next time I will let it wilt longer.
    Thanks, Sarah! 🙂

  18. Nina Olsson

    I love to find inspiration like this in a blog post! An insight into cooking from other corners of the world. I’d like to try Mallung, the idea of a steamed salad, and all those cocos curries mus be delicious too. Thanks for inspiring

  19. Susi Gabrielli

    Ah! I recently spent a month in Sri Lanka away from my home in Australia, and it was the most incredible month of my life. I spent 10 days staying with a local Sri Lankan family in their home in Kegalle, and ate the most delicious food. I also stayed at a variety of the cinnamon hotels, but honestly, without a doubt the best food that I had in my entire month in Sri Lanka was the food that the family cooked for me! So authentic, so flavoursome, and delicious! My favourite meal I had in Sri Lanka was the jackfruit curry (amazing!!!!). However, at Cinnamon Bey in Beruwela I tried a pulled jackfruit burger and it was the most delicious vege burger I have ever eaten! SO I’d love for you to try and challenge yourself to make one and come up with an amazing recipe for me to then use haha!

  20. Jessica Moore

    I enjoyed reading about Sri Lanka, wonderful photos it makes me want to go– now!
    I used to have a spice/international grocery store– and one day an Indian woman came in looking for curry leaves– she told my partner that she used for their aroma. He said “just for the smell” and she said “(not just) FOR THE SMELL”

  21. Emma

    We made the kale mallung on Friday and it was delicious! We wanted to make the beetroot curry too but all the shops near us had run out of beetroot – disappointing! The food in Sri Lanka was the best I’ve ever had on my travels, just amazing.

  22. Bhartisehgal

    Recently I Visited Sri Lanka.. Its a Awesome Place..Sri Lankan food is also hot.Too Chilly but really tasty and delightful. Thanks for Sharing Recipe of Sri Lankan Beetroot Curry with Kale Mallung. As i Had tried this cuisine in Sri lanka in my afternoon Meal and its so tasty. But dont know the recipe.. But now i can try in India to prepare something like this. Thanks .

  23. Sachi

    Greetings ! I am Sri Lankan so this post made me smile so much ! Beautiful words , gorgeous photos. I am in NJ at the moment but back home , beetroot curry, gotukola (Spade leaf?) mallum , and spicy fish curry with white rice was such a favorite of mine. 🙂

  24. Maya Robinson

    Hi Sarah, made this curry last night and am so happy to say to everyone that it is absolutely delicious! Got the thumbs up from all of my friends and husband. I love coconut so it was always going to be a win-win for me but the flavours were out of this world! Can’t wait to see what’s coming next xxx

  25. Amber

    I LOVE trying recipes from other parts of the world-especially when they’re plant-based! I also LOVE that your recipes call for ingredients I already have (well, all but the curry leaves…) hanging around. I never hesitate to make anything you post because they all turn out fantastically tasty. I can’t wait to try it! Thank you!

  26. Tiffany

    Read this, and then immediately went out and bought the ingredients to make it – including FRESH curry leaves! Thankfully I live in NYC, so a quick Yelp search brought me to a wonderful indian grocery store that had every spice, tea, etc. one could ever need. Making it tomorrow evening for dinner, can’t WAIT!

  27. Elisa

    I can’t believe that this is actually a thing… beetroot curry. I love beetroot, just had a huge salad with it yesterday (shredded beetroot with shredded apple and lambs lettuce).
    One of my colleagues has been to Sri Lanka just two month ago, she was really nlown away by how many different kinds of bananas they hav 😀

  28. Pauline Buttigieg

    I heard about your great cooking book from my son who lives in Canada he sent me your recipe about the curry and beetroot .I would very much like to receive your recipes
    I do love curries but have never used beetroot with it But now I will try
    Thanks for the recipes
    Pauline

  29. Katie | Whole Nourishment

    Oh I love a good beetroot curry! So I’m excited to try your version. I’m so happy you’re sharing your impressions with us from Sri Lanka and giving us a taste of their cuisine. I couldn’t imagine a life without curries and authentic ones at that. Such soul food. 🙂

  30. Veera R.

    Beetroot with coconut is a great flavour combination. Add some cacao and it’s heavenly. 🙂
    I wouldn’t have thought to put beets in a curry. I can’t wait to try this, and what I great timing as beets are my ingredient of the month. 🙂

  31. Pascale

    I’m absolutely sure this recipe will be as delicious as your previous one, the soup, which was wonderful and disappeared oh so fast !

  32. Ingrid - Let's talk evergreen

    Hi Sarah,

    It is great to hear about your wonderful trip. I recognize a lot of things you say about the food. We LOVED the pol sambol as well! We had it with every meal. And all the fresh fruit in the morning was always so lovely too. This beetroot curry we didn’t come across but it sounds like such a good option. I wrote a blogpost about SL too last year, about my visit to coconut farmers during our trip with fairtrade netherlands. http://www.letstalkevergreen.com/eat/2015/4/9/the-life-of-a-coconut-farmer-in-sri-lanka-wattalapan (maybe it’s fun to read it).

    Have a nice weekend! Lots of love, Ingrid

  33. Ruthy

    OMG… no words! I made this tonight – how could I not after reading your post that got me salivating and knowing that I had a couple beets on hand waiting to be transformed into an exciting meal?!? It was honestly beyond delicious 🙂 Served it on coconut brown rice and made a few tweaks because I didn’t have curry leaves or kale (used the beet greens instead), but WOW – thanks Sarah!! xo

  34. Perry

    “…I kind of thought that it was an accommodating east-west mashup or something, but no! It’s a thing.”

    I had the same thought just two nights ago when I decided to add some diced beets to my curry fried rice. I thought I was being creative by adding beets to the mix of vegetables, but I guess there’s nothing new under the sun. In that dish I scrambled eggs over the curry-coated veggies and then added the pre-cooked rice. It was delicious so I intend on using beets more often in curry dishes, even if it wasn’t “a thing”. Glad to have your recipes for guidance. Thanks

  35. Nina

    I have really mixed feelings about this post. One side of my family is Sri Lankan, and it’s fun to see you enjoying and sharing the delicious food (by the way, perhaps you’re more familiar with north Indian cuisines – the food in Kerala and Tamil Nadu has a lot more in common with Sri Lankan cooking; and also if you can find a curry plant it will grow quite happily indoors and provide a supply of fresh leaves!). But we are Tamils, and I can’t help but feel that you’ve perhaps been unwittingly recruited to help the Sri Lankan govt/tourist industry gloss over the ongoing human rights abuses suffered by the Tamil population of Sri Lanka. It’s totally understandable that you wouldn’t know much about this (I know very little myself) because it’s not widely reported on and the Sri Lankan govt works hard to keep it that way. My worry is that invitations like the one you received are part of that cover-up. These articles might be of interest, particularly in light of your observation about people’s connection to the land: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/may/28/sri-lanka-army-land-grabs-tamil-displacement-report-oakland-institute
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-10-10/sri-lankan-tamils-struggling-to-rebuild-in-post-war-jaffna/6843180

    • Sarah Britton

      Hi Nina,

      Thanks for bringing this up. It’s hard for me to judge if there are any political intentions behind a food tour like the one I attended. Cinnamon Hotels, as far as I’m aware, was interested in promoting the culinary experiences they provide in Sri Lanka, and for those reasons they offered me to come.

      I appreciate you linking to these articles and shedding light on this subject for us all.

      All my best,
      Sarah B

  36. Saskia

    Sounds like such a cool journey!
    I recently discovered Beet Root Curry in Anna Jones’ cookbook and it’s quite similar to yours. My first reaction must have been quite like yours: Beetroot? In India? It’s authentic though, and delicious.
    Looking forward to your next recipes!

    • Sarah Britton

      Hi Marieke,

      My trip was actually part of a larger event surrounding Marco Pierre White’s visit to Sri Lanka through Cinnamon Hotels. I am not sure if they offer such packages to the general public but you should definitely ask! We had some wonderful hands-on cooking classes with chefs and locals, which made the trip as inspiring and educational as it was. Drop them a line…I’m sure they would be happy to discuss 🙂

      Enjoy the curry!
      Sarah B

  37. Supal {chevrons & éclairs}

    Oh this looks so, so incredible! When I was in grade school I went to Southern India for some classical dance training. The chef at the dance school was Sri Lankan. I didn’t particularly enjoy the south Indian cuisine that always served (I’m North Indian, but born and raised in America). He instead would make beetroot curry for me and also added some carrots to the mix. It was delicious as he served it with coconut rice! Definitely saving this recipe and going to make it. Thank you for sharing <3

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