Friday, August 21, 2009

Fast and Hot, the Seeni Sambol Story

Ok, I'm back to sambols again. Seeing as how we're in the final stages of this re-write we're doing and since we're going to Los Angeles on a business trip next week, cooking is down to bare bones quickness. However, since we eat our main meal at mid day which is also in the middle of our working day I still want something, even the tiniest thing on the plate to be special. I do this not only to make us happy with what's on the plate, but also to put us in a good mood for the rest of the writing day, which in crunch times may go till 9:00 p.m.
I dropped by the Farmers Market today and saw amazing red onions, which of course reminded me of one of my favorite, and a big time classic , Seeni Sambol.
This sambol has a Sri Lankan origin, and the basic ingredients involve onions and coconut milk, and of course chilies in varying amounts.
A good Seeni Sambol should be hot, and sweet.
I made some for our 4th of July cook out this last year, and a friend who was attending asked what I was making,one of the things I mentioned was this sambol. he said, "oh, I bought a jar of that the other day"
"What's in it?",I asked. He read his bottled ingredients. I read my homemade. They were the same, as I said a sambol is a sambol is a sambol.
I mentioned that mine was simmering, slow cooking with beautiful fresh organic red onions, curry leaves etc...
"Do you still want to bring your bottle?" I asked.
"What kind of beer do you want?" he replied.
So how do you make this simple and delicious relish. Here's a recipe that I adapted from the book Mangoes and Curry Leaves it always works for me
First of all:

!.) heat 2 Tbs of coconut oil, or vegetable oil in a large pan
2.) When the oil is hot toss in 3 cups of thinly sliced red onions
3.)1/4 cup of minced shallot
4.)2 Tbs minced ginger

Cook this mixture, till the onions are soft and golden, stir it up , don't let it stick to the pan. Keep it moving.After about 10 minutes or so...
Lower the heat.
5.) toss in 8 fresh or frozen curry leaves. (there is no substitute for these..sorry. But, if you get your hands on some, buy a bunch. They freeze extremely well. That way you'll always have some on hand)
6.) Add between 4 and 8 dried red chilies chopped and broken into pieces
If you are new to this Sambol stuff..and you have guests who are not into spicy food...take it easy on the red stuff. Remember you can always hot it up, it's harder to cool down. A full 8 chilies is great provided you have some soothing raita to cut it with..a pleasant warmth is good with 6 chilies. 4 if you just want some tang. Taste and judge..add what you like, this is very flexible.

7.) Add 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
8.) 1/8 tsp ground cardamom
9.) 1/8 tsp of ground cloves
10.) 3/4 of a cup of coconut milk

Bring all of this to a simmer, and let it cook like that for about 30 minutes. Make sure it doesn't stick,, stir it once in a while.

When it's nice and thick and fragrant
take it off the heat. Add sugar and salt to taste. And at least 2 Tbs of fresh lime juice.
About the sugar and salt. hot and sweet is a great combo. When I add 8 chilies to this dish I like to add in about 1/2 tsp of salt,and 1 tsp of sugar...but that's just me. Adjust it as you will. You're cooking of you and your friends, judge what you like.
When it's all mixed together As you like it. Put the mixture in a food processor or blender and mix to a puree.
Put it in a bowl or jar and let it cool. If you seal it tightly it'll stay about 1 ,month in the fridge.
This recipe makes about 1 and 1/2 cups of Sambol.

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