Ben Benton is one of the greatest chefs I know. This is his recipe, and although he is not Keralan, he has a tremendous ability to get under the skin of the cuisine. He taught me that by grilling the cut sides of cabbage a whole new side of its personality is revealed: the layers within become sweet and tender. Then, tossed with lime and coconut, it becomes lively—a great side to eat with a spiced rice dish, or with crab or shrimp.
Serves 4 as a side
1½ cups fresh coconut, or 1/3 cup desiccated
½ a red onion, very finely diced
½-inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 large ripe tomatoes, finely diced
1 teaspoon ground red chile
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/3 teaspoon salt
2 sweetheart, pointed, or Napa cabbages (1¾ pounds in total)
canola or coconut oil
First make the coconut and tomato salad. If you’re using fresh coconut, pop it into a blender to shred it, or grate it with a box grater, and put into a bowl. If you’re using desiccated coconut, pour 2 tablespoons of boiling water over the coconut, leave for a couple of minutes, then fluff up using a fork. Add the red onion, ginger, tomatoes, ground red chile, lime juice, and salt. Mix well and leave to one side.
To cook the cabbages, first quarter them lengthways, then brush each side with oil. Put a large griddle pan or frying pan over medium heat. Wait until the pan is really hot—the cabbage should sizzle when it goes in—then add the wedges. You might need to cook them in batches.
Grill for 10 to 12 minutes, until lightly charred and tender on both sides, turning every couple of minutes. Then throw in the coconut and tomato mixture and gently toss to warm through for a couple of heartbeats.
Serve the cabbage piled on a plate, topped with the warm coconut and tomato mixture.