Varar – Sri Lankan cabbage and leek with coconut

This gorgeous Sri Lankan vegetable side dish is the dish that made me love both leek and cabbage! It magically transforms the everyday common leek and cabbage a real star of a dish. The vegetables are gently stir-fried with onion, chilies and curry leaves, tossed with fresh or desiccated grated coconut, and livened up with a squeeze of lime. Quick to make and utterly delicious! I love it!

Any green veg can be used in this dish (e.g. spring onion, baby leek, other types of cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower), except for spinach and pak choi and other vegetables with high water content. This dish goes really well with fish, or with coconut dal (recipe coming soon) for a vegetarian version.

Even if you can’t find curry leaves, it’s worth giving this dish a go as the flavour combinations are so good. Enjoy!

This my entry for the Eating with the Seasons: January




Varar – Sri Lankan cabbage and

leek with coconut


SOURCEJasmine’s recipe


COOKING TIME: 5 – 10 min

CUISINE: Sri Lankan

SERVES: 3 – 4 as a side dish



a little vegetable oil

1/2 medium to large yellow onion, finely chopped

2 – 3 green chilies (Jasmine uses finger chilies)

a handful of (preferably fresh) curry leaves

a little salt

1 tsp tempering spices (a mixture of brown/black mustard seeds, cumin seeds and fennel seeds – see Sri Lankan spices for recipe)

a pinch of turmeric

2 medium leeks, shredded finely

a handful of desiccated  coconut

fresh lime juice to taste

1/2 medium cabbage, shredded finely



  • Heat the oil in a wok (or frying pan) and add onion, chilies curry leaves and a little salt. Stir and cook until the onion is soft.
  • Now add the tempering spices and turmeric. Stir.
  • Add cabbage and leek and stir for a few minutes, until the cabbage is slightly soft but still crunchy. Do not overcook the vegetables! That’s the secret behind this dish.
  • When the veg is done, add desiccated coconut and stir for a minute or so.
  • Just before serving, add lime juice and some salt if needed. Enjoy!




My other posts on Sri Lankan cooking:

The aroma of curry leaves. Sri Lankan cooking (Introduction)

Sri Lankan spices (including recipes for Sri Lankan garam masala, curry powder and more!)


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  1. That sounds really interested. I can’t imagine the flavour at all, but it definitely sounds like it’s worth a try.


  2. It really is. The flavour is fresh, zingy with lime, gorgeous. Try it, even if it’s without curry leaves. I think it will work as the flavours are brilliant.

    I made it with cauliflower chopped into small pieces (instead of cabbage), too, and that worked really well. Again, the secret is not to overcook the cauliflower.


  3. btw, that was quick! 🙂


  4. Jako je zanimljiv recept, uopće si ne mogu zamislit okus ali rado ću ga isprobati. Naravno bez curry listova. 🙂
    Znači mogu koristit i ono što mi zovemo kokosovo brašno? Ne znam jel bi to bio “desiccated” kokos?


  5. da, mozes. kokosovo brasno je u stvari desiccated coconut.

    super je. meni se jako svidja ovo jelo. probaj pa mi javi.

    napisat cu uskoro jedan recept za jedan curry za koji ti ne triba puno zacina (samo cimet, klincic, kardamom), a fantastican je. kokosovo mlijeko, djumbir, janjetina. zakon! 😀


  6. Sounds wonderful. Very close in flavors to Tamilian food.
    I would eat a shoe with fried onions, chillies and curry leaves : )


  7. hahaha
    It is a wonderful dish, Supriya. 🙂 I adore it.
    Though I might pass on it if it were prepared with a shoe… 😀


  8. Well, I probably would too 🙂


  9. realfoodlover

     /  25 January, 2009

    Ah – the dessicated coconut at the end is genius. And the zingy lime. Recently I have been venturing outside my cooking-comfort zone (thanks to Quick Indian Cooking where we met!) so now feel more familiar with mustard seeds and curry leaves.

    Fennel and cumin seeds have just been added to my shopping list…


  10. Try it and let me know how you get on with it.

    Try roasted fennel, and especially roasted cumin. I love those flavours.
    (I used roasted and ground fennel in a chicken curry – Pepper Chicken – and roasted and ground cumin seeds to perk up potatoes, curries, raitas)


  11. Ana

     /  6 July, 2010

    Its Varai. Means stir fried stuff. We do not use dessicated coconut. Its an adapted version I think. We use fresh – grated coconut. Moreover, before frying onion & etc you have to splutter mustard seeds and fennel seeds. Those two seeds are must for any type of Varai. Cumin seeds can be used but its purely optional. They are used when you fry eggs.

    Varai does not require lime juice or lemon.

    The chilli we use for Varai is dry red chilli. Not the green one.

    When we make Varai we usually don’t add two types of veges. It would be either leek varai or cabbage varai.

    I am not writing this to point out the errors. Just want to share what I know.


    • Hi Ana! Again, thanks for your comments and for sharing your knowledge here.

      Like for the fish curry recipe, I followed my friend Yasmin’s instructions. She was born and brought up in Sri Lanka, but has links to different communities there, and this is her version of the dish. Mind you, she is a very creative cook (and brilliant! :)), so I’m not surprised that the dishes may vary.

      I like the idea of frying eggs with cumin, and will definitely try that. Thanks for the tip!
      I will also try the dishes your way.


  12. Meeya

     /  31 July, 2011

    I was looking for a recipe called mallung and some how came acorss your site. I grew up in Sri Lanka; I remember my mum using a melange of greens for mallung. I tried this recipe for a dinner party and served this to my Sri Lankan friends. It was a hit. It’s simple, yet very flavorful. Thank you!


    • Fantastic, glad your friends and you enjoyed it! Yasmin would be delighted. 🙂
      I often make this dish myself.


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