I fell for broccoli hard as a teenager, lusting after its crunchy, healthy greenness, which, when I moved out of home to go to uni, probably also had something to do with how easy broccoli was to cook and how dependable it was to find in the supermarket … But something happened along the way, and years later (okay, close to decades later) I notice that broccoli is virtually missing in action on this blog! I’m remedying this right now with a recipe that has made me love broccoli all over again.
In actual fact we eat broccoli a lot in our house. It comes almost every week in the fruit and veggie boxes we get via our local organic co-op. If we have oodles of broccoli on our hands, I have a few go-to dishes that use up a couple of heads or more at a time, and my family loves them (even if I get a bit bored making them). Otherwise we use broccoli by throwing it here and there in dinners, as you do. But because we almost always have broccoli on hand, it gets a little hard to feel really inspired by it. Sorry, broccoli, but you’re generally relegated to midweek dinner motions.
Recently I tried Hetty McKinnon’s salt and pepper broccoli, from issue 1 of her journal Peddler. It was delicious, tumbled with fried spring onions, garlic and chilli, and scattered with a dry spice mix. But I think the key was how the broccoli was cooked, fried in oil without any water. To my mind there are actually a lot of vegetables secretly very happy with this situation. Cauliflower, capsicum … absolutely leaping from your plate after a hot sizzle in a generous amount of oil. Hello, deep frying (or shallow frying), you’re a bit messy and extravagant, but gooood.
The dish here is not deep-fried, but I think delicious for similar reasons. The broccoli is chopped small and fried fast with simple spices and a jumble of coconut at the end. It’s so vibrant and crunchy.
I’ve been making kale and silverbeet mallums (or mallungs) for years now – Sri Lankan stir-fries of finely shredded leaves jumbled with coconut, tinged with turmeric and studded with mustard seeds. You can gobble them just on their own with rice, or pair them with other curries on the side, or grilled or roasted fish/chicken, etc.
Finally I made broccoli mallum, and discovered how brilliant it was. This recipe doesn’t have any onion or garlic, and once you’ve prepped the veggies it’s so simple. In Sri Lanka of course they use fresh coconut, but to be honest I’ve always just used dried shredded coconut and have never been disappointed with the results.
Consider the traditional dried fish element optional, as the dish is still excellent without. (And if you want to try a leafy mallum, then use this recipe for 1 large bunch of kale or silverbeet, finely shredded.)
3 tablespoons oil
15–20 curry leaves (I recommend keeping a stash in the freezer if you don’t have your own plant)
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
a few slices of red or green chilli – optional
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 broccoli heads, quartered lengthways through the stem, then chopped small
1 tablespoon Maldive fish (small flakes of dried fish), or 2 tablespoons Chinese-style dried anchovies (ground) – optional
¾ cup dried shredded coconut (or fresh/frozen coconut if you can)
salt to taste
Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan and add the curry leaves, mustard seeds and chilli (if using). Move the ingredients around in the oil, and once you hear some mustard seeds popping, quickly stir in the turmeric, then add the broccoli and the dried fish (is using). Stir-fry the broccoli over high heat for 2–3 minutes, then add the coconut and continue to stir-fry until the coconut is toasted lightly golden. Remove from the heat and season with salt to taste (how much depending on if you used dried fish or not).