Pol Sambol. These two words will always tingle the taste buds of any Sri Lankan, living anywhere in the world, at any time of the day. In my heart, this is a side dish that exactly defines what Sri Lanka is all about.
It has a medley of different flavors coming together harmoniously to create a flavor bomb that’ll lift up any simple meal into something gloriously Sri Lankan, uniquely delicious – just like my childhood filled with memories of neighbors of different races and religions living harmoniously, creating beautiful memories which I hold very dear to my heart even to this very day. I am probably being sappy as Sri Lanka is celebrating her 69th National Day today and I am somewhat yearning for my roots from miles away. But sappy or not, pol sambol truly is a delicious sidekick that is loved by many.
For those unfamiliar with what pol sambol is, it is a Sri Lankan version of a relish. This can be paired perfectly with bread, rotis, rice, string hoppers (idiappam), appam and even boiled yams. Traditionally and very simply, pol sambol is be made by pounding fresh shredded coconut with dried red chilies, onions, green chilies and seasoning with a bit of salt and lime for taste. But just like each Sri Lankan family has their own version of a chicken curry, I have perfected my version of a pol sambol with the addition of a few more aromatics.
This could be kept purely vegetarian but like most Sri Lankans, I add a handful of maldive fish to make this extra special.
- A cup of shredded coconut
- 1 Medium chopped onion
- 2 Garlic cloves
- 1/4″ Piece of ginger
- 2-3 Dried red chilies (soaked in warm water)
- 4-5 Curry leaves
- 1 Small tomato
- Handful of maldive fish
- Tsp of red chili powder
- Salt & lime to taste
- Ground all the aromatics (onions, garlic, ginger, curry leaves, tomato and the soaked dry chili) with a bit of salt using a motar & pestle or a grinder. Tip: When hand pounding the aromatics, it helps to add a pinch of salt to work the mixture into a paste. The friction from the salt grains will help everything to come together more easily.
- Slowly incorporate the shredded coconut into the mixture along with the maldive fish and continue to pound. Tip: If you are living in a country where you can’t find fresh shredded coconut, a pretty obvious substitution would be to use desiccated coconut by soaking it in a Tbsp or so of diluted coconut cream to make it moist.
- Lastly, season with a generous squeeze of lime juice and a bit of chili powder or paprika to make it vibrantly orange.
And making a coconut sambol IS that simple!