As lovers of all things hot and spicy, every south Asian country has their own version of a chili sambal. In Malay cuisine it may be the slightly sweet and spicy deep red sambal chili served with nasi lemak. In Chinese cuisine the tangy and spicy chili that is served with a Hainan chicken rice. In Thai cuisine the tear inducing dips spiked with plenty of bird’s eye chilies. In Indian cuisine the plethora of spicy chutneys and pickles eaten with almost everything.
And for Sri Lankans it is the simple katta sambol that awakens the taste buds and works as a perfect accompaniment to a myriad of favourites – ranging from pol roti to yams to milk rice to pittu to hoppers to anything else in between.
Making a katta sambol requires the minimum number of ingredients but would require either a grinder, blender or a small mortar and pestle. On days that I feel like putting in a bit of elbow grease, I opt to use the mortar and pestle, but on most days I settle for the convenience of a small electric grinder.
- 10 Small red onions or shallots
- 8-10 Dried red chilies (or a mix of red chili flakes)
- 1 Sprig of curry leaves
- A handful of maldive fish flakes (optional)
- Salt and lime to taste
- ¾ Tsp bit of red chili powder
- Add in the dried red chilies, salt and the curry leaves into a grinder and grind until fine.
- Add in the red onions and continue to grind until the onions are well incorporated into the chilies. You may leave it as chunky or as smooth as you wish.
- Next, add in the maldive fish flakes and grind for one final time. This can be makes as a completely vegetarian side dish by omitting the maldive fish, but it is indeed a lovely addition of both flavor and texture.
- Lastly add in salt & a generous squeeze of lime to taste and a bit of red chili powder to brighten up the hue of the katta sambol.
- Though curry leaves are not traditionally added into a katta sambol, I love the deep herby flavour it imparts. You may omit if unavailable
- You may use 2 x medium red onions (Bombay onions) if you are not able to find small red onions, but red onions definitely taste better for katta sambol
- Maldive fish is a smoked, dried and flaked tuna which is produced mostly in the Maldive Islands. It is a very uncommon ingredient which is uniquely and most commonly used in Sri Lankan cuisine. This is almost equivalent to a belachan in Singaporean/ Malaysian cuisine and totally optional – but a lovely addition to many Sri Lankan dishes ranging from sambols to rotis to even curries.
- If you are not able to get your hands on maldive fish flakes, you can also add in a few pieces of pan roasted dry sprats for a similar flavor
- You can also replace the lime with tomatoes for a milder taste but do be warned this will make the katta sambol a tad runny
- Mix in a handful of shredded coconut and a few more ingredients and you are on your way to make a Sri Lankan Pol Sambol too.