Sri Lankan Coconut Sambol

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A couple months ago, I posted about a Sri Lankan onion sambol recipe. If you recall, a sambol is a typical condiment made with spices and various ingredients. This time, I have a recipe for a very common one: coconut sambol or pol sambol. This one is made from the flesh of a coconut. Growing up, this was one of my favourite kinds of sambol. It’s one that’s eaten with everything, from rice, as a condiment with boiled root veggies (like potatoes, or yams), roti, bread, or most commonly with a steamed noodle dish made of rice flour (called string hoppers — don’t ask me why it’s called that). This used to be a labour-intensive process. My mom never made this often, especially since she would make it if she was making string hoppers; it was definitely a treat when she would. I used to watch her with fascination as she went through the steps of making it. First the coconut is cut in half with a large blunt object (such as the back of a butcher’s knife — in Sri Lanka, the back of a machete is used!), and then a special fitted coconut scraper was used to manually shave the flesh of the coconut. It was this machine that I found intriguing, because it isn’t an appliance you find very often. Nowadays, you can find an electric scraper or buy frozen grated coconut shreds. If you really wanted, you can even make it by using desiccated coconut that has been moistened or soaked! Of course, it’s not as fun as the old method….but hey, everyone is all about saving time these days.

One thing I never liked about the sambol was the addition of Maldive fish. Maldive fish is a type of cured tuna that comes from…well, you guessed it: the Maldives! It is prominently used in Sri Lankan cooking from curries to side dishes, though I think I disliked it mostly because of its hard texture and slightly fishy aftertaste. When I’ve had it in Sri Lanka, however, Maldive fish is actually much softer and adds a perfect saltiness and depth of flavour to a dish. Think of it as the Sri Lankan shrimp paste equivalent that would otherwise be used in Asian cooking. I just think the harder texture that I came across as a child was because of it being imported (so it may not have been totally fresh), and my mom’s laziness for not soaking it ahead of time (sorry, Mom :P). This is an optional component anyway, but if you do find Maldive fish at a South Asian store in your neighbourhood, you should try it in this. And if you’re vegan, you can omit altogether. This is also paleo-friendly!

With that being said — let’s get to the recipe 🙂

Ingredients

  • 1 package of frozen grated  coconut (~2 cups, or alternatively 2 cups of desiccated shredded coconut, moistened with some water)
  • 2-3 chillies, diced
  • 1/2 an onion, diced
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, finely minced/diced
  • 3 tbsp curry leaves, cut in a chiffonade (~15-20 leaves)
  • 2 tablespoons chilli powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon paprika
  • 1/4 cup Maldive fish (optional, omit if vegan)
  • salt, to taste
  • juice of 1 lime

———

If using Maldive fish, let soak for 30-45 minutes until softened.

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In a medium bowl, add the diced chillies, minced garlic, diced onion, curry leaves, and Maldive fish. IMG_1670-2 IMG_1672

Add the shredded coconut as well as the chilli powder, and paprika.

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Using a pestle, crush the ingredients together until the ingredients are well incorporated. Add the salt and the lime juice at the end, and stir. Accompany with some roti or rice! Enjoy 🙂

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