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Appears in

Hidden Kitchens of Sri Lanka

Hidden Kitchens of Sri Lanka

By Bree Hutchins

Published 2013

  • About

Mothagam are delicious, sweet dumplings filled with a mixture of green gram, spices, coconut and jaggery. When I went to a Sri Lankan shop in Sydney and told the Tamil owner I was making mothagam, he chuckled in disbelief. But when I returned and told him they were a success, he announced to all his customers that I could make mothagam and gave me a generous discount.



  • 110 g ( oz/½ cup) green gram* (dried mung beans), soaked in water overnight
  • 120 g ( oz/1 cup) freshly scraped coconut*
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 85 g (3 oz/½ cup) jaggery powder*
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 60 g ( oz) white sugar cubes


  • 250 g (9 oz/1⅔ cups) plain flour
  • 480 g (1 lb 1 oz/4 cups) fine red rice flour*
  • pinch of salt
  • about 750 ml (26 fl oz/3 cups) boiling water
  • tablespoons coconut oil*, plus extra for cooking


To make the filling, drain the soaked green gram, then rinse and drain again. Put the gram in a saucepan with 500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) water and bring to the boil. Cover, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until tender and starting to break up. Drain and set aside.

In a heavy-based frying pan over medium heat, dry-roast the coconut for 7-10 minutes, stirring continuously, until dark golden brown. Remove from the pan. Dry-roast the fennel seeds for 1 minute, then pound into a powder using a mortar and pestle (or spice grinder).

In a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat, melt the jaggery, adding a small amount of water (about tablespoons); continue to stir. When the jaggery has melted, stir in the roasted coconut and boiled green gram, then add the ground fennel, cinnamon and cardamom. Reduce the heat to low and very slowly add the sugar cubes, a couple at a time, stirring them through the mixture with a wooden spoon as they soften. Remove from the heat and set aside.

To prepare the dough, place the plain flour in a bamboo steamer lined with two layers of muslin or a piece of non-stick baking paper. Fill a wok about one-third full with water and bring to the boil. Place the steamer in the wok, ensuring the bottom of the steamer isn’t touching the water, and heat the flour (uncovered) for 4 minutes, or until the flour is warm, stirring occasionally with a fork to break up any lumps. Sift the warm flour into a large mixing bowl. Sift the red rice flour into the same bowl, add a pinch of salt, then mix together.

Using a wooden spoon, gradually stir in the boiling water, using just enough to make a thick, pliable dough. Mix in the coconut oil, then gradually add 80 ml ( fl oz/ cup) cold water; knead with your hands to make a pliable dough. Allow the dough to cool slightly. Take a small handful of dough (about 50 g/ oz) and roll it into a ball the size of a small lime. Repeat with the remaining dough and then loosely cover the balls with plastic wrap so they don’t dry out.

Grease your hands with a little coconut oil. Take a ball of dough and flatten it in the palm of your hand into a disc about 4 mm (1/8 inch) thick. Then, starting in the centre of the disc, use your thumb to press the dough outwards into a cup shape. Place a heaped teaspoon of filling into the centre of the dough cup and press it down with your index finger, then press the edges of the dough cup to thin them. Bring the edges together at the top and pinch to seal, then pull gently to form a small point on top. Repeat with the rest of the mixture, making sure to regrease your hands with coconut oil for each ball.

Steam in batches in a bamboo steamer lined with two layers of muslin, making sure to place them 5-10 mm (¼-½ inch) apart so they don’t stick together. Steam for 10-15 minutes, or until cooked (the outer layer should go shiny when they’re ready). Carefully transfer to a serving dish and serve warm or cold.