If you think that the spiciest cuisine in the world is in Mexico, you are wrong—you are very, very wrong. It is Sri Lanka, the tiny island at the southern tip of India, that takes the first prize. And when I crave Sri Lankan food, it is not the curries I desire; it is Pol Sambol. Sambols are garnishes, the condiments to the meal. Pol (coconut) sambol is a garnish made with freshly shredded coconut, chopped red onions, a squeeze of lime juice, chilies, and salt, mixed together in perfect harmony. Pol Sambol is the most Sri Lankan of all Sri Lankan dishes. The way we Westerners feel about ketchup, well, pol sambol brings about the very same warm and fuzzy feeling among the Sri Lankan folk. One can get seriously addicted to pol sambol. I am. It is on my list of top ten dishes of all time.
P.S. The key ingredient in Sri Lankan cuisine is fresh coconut, which presents one of the greatest challenges for Westerners making an attempt at Sri Lankan cooking. Coconuts can be tricky to source in western supermarkets. And even when the cook is fortunate enough to get hold of one, the cook faces close to insurmountable obstacles in opening it up. I did, however, come up with a little trick to address the fresh coconut problem, so let’s proceed to the recipe and you will find out… —QueenSashy
Test Kitchen Notes
QueenSashy’s Pol Sambol is a fabulous condiment and a unique garnish; one that I see myself using in the future with a variety of dishes. It is fresh, very aromatic from the curry leaves and has a perfectly balanced flavor. I added some extra hot Indian red chili powder that I had at hand and it made the dish pack quite a punch. The sweetness of the coconut and the tart lime juice calm the spiciness of the dish, making every bite intensely flavorful. —Madhuja
- Serves 4 to 6
unsweetened desiccated coconut
red onion, minced
crushed dried red chiles
curry leaves, crushed
Juice of one lime
1 to 2 teaspoons
- In a small bowl, cover the coconut flakes with the coconut water, and leave for about an hour, until the coconut absorbs all the water.
- Mix the onion, chili powder, dried chiles, and curry leaves, and grind or finely chop in a chopper. (Mortar and pestle can also be used).
- Once the ingredients are crushed and mixed thoroughly, gently squeeze the coconut to release excess water, and add the coconut to the mix.
- Mix well until coconut turns evenly red. (In Sri Lanka, this is often done with fingers).
- Squeeze in the lime juice. Mix well. Serve with curries or rice, or as a condiment to pretty much any dish.