Sambols in the Subcontinent come primarily from Sri Lanka and are not to be confused with the sambals in Indonesian/Malaysian cooking, though they are, presumably, related. A Sri Lankan sambol resembles a Mexican salsa or a jaew from Laos, for it is most often made with uncooked ingredients, such as fresh or dried chiles, shallots, and garlic, that are traditionally ground with a stone mortar and a pestle, then mixed with an acid such as lime juice. The grinding brings out the full flavor of the ingredients and makes for a moist, coarse paste, like a dryish salsa.
In Sri Lanka there are three very common sambols that we think of as the Big Three: coconut sambol (pol sambol), red onion sambol (lunumiris), and hot-sweet sambol (seeni sambol). These end up on the table, either separately or together, with snacks and/or meals, and their individual characters depends upon the cook who makes them.
This coconut sambol has an intense heat, so servings are small—rather like horseradish or hot mustard. It’s traditionally made with grated fresh coconut, which is abundant everywhere on the island. At home we usually use frozen grated coconut, or rehydrated dried coconut, because good-quality fresh coconut can be hard to find. As with all sambols, it’s fun to grind the ingredients by hand if you have a good stone mortar and a pestle, but a food processor also works well and quickly.
If using dried coconut, place it in a small bowl with the water to soak for a few minutes.
If using a flat stone mortar and a pestle, put the coarse salt on the mortar, then grind the red chiles into the salt. Add the peppercorns or ground pepper and grind in, then grind in the garlic. When you have a thick paste, add the shallots and continue to grind until well mixed. Add the coconut and grind it in, then add the lime juice and mix well.
If using a food processor, grind the black peppercorns, if using, in a spice/coffee grinder, then add all the ingredients to the food processor and process to an almost uniform paste.
Serve in a small condiment dish. This sambol will keep for 1 or 2 days if refrigerated.
Serve as a spicy-hot condiment with grilled or roasted meat or with Hoppers.
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