Pol Sambol is one of those amazing Asian condiments that is easy to make and super satisfying. It adds a spice and heat kick to any dish and is great (and essential) with Sri Lankan curries.
The best Pol Sambol is made with fresh, grated coconut.
In Sri Lanka, fresh coconut halves are shredded with a hand-turned grater. Alternately, the coconut can be cut into chunks and grated with a box grater or hand grater, which takes considerably more time. If you don’t have fresh coconut on hand, any good dried, desiccated, grated coconut works well. Just soak it in hot water and press out the excess moisture after about 10 or 20 minutes before mixing with the spices and other ingredients. The red color is determined by how much paprika, chili powder or red chili flakes are used. Don’t be bashful or you’ll get a bland, pale Sambol! Increase the ground paprika to get more red color in your coconut chutney, if you’re going skipping the heat and don’t want to use chili.
The onion and garlic are not absolutely necessary for Pol Sambol, but the flavor and freshness is more intense. An ayurvedic version of the coconut chutney is made simply by omitting the onion and garlic. Which is how I prepare Pol Sambol about half the time.
I’m not sure when the first time was that I had Pol Sambol…
Maybe on my first trip to South India, or at at Sri Lankan restaurant in Berlin. But I do know that I had it dozens of times in the ten weeks of backpacking and travel in Sri Lanka. Unlike many dishes, it didn’t vary much from place to place, family to family. Traditionally, Pol Sanbol is often made with dried fish, such as Maldive fish flakes – quite common Sri Lanka. Obviously for a vegan version, I skip that.
I make Pol Sambol pretty much every time I make Dal Curry, and other Sri Lanka “Rice and Curry” dishes. But it’s also essential for Hoppers (Idiyappam) – which means this spicy coconut topping is enjoyed any time, with any Sri Lankan meal, whether breakfast, lunch, dinner… or just for a snack!
spicy Sri Lankan coconut chutney
makes about 2 cups / time 10 min +
- 2 cups (180 g) fresh coconut grated
or 1 cup (85 g) dried grated coconut + 1/2 cup (120 ml) warm water
- 1 small red onion finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp black pepper ground
- 1/2–1 tsp chili powder
- 1–2 tsp paprika ground
- 1 tsp sugar (preferably coconut/palm sugar)
- 1–2 Tbs lime juice
- 1/4–1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1 red or green chili finely chopped, for garnish
- If using dried grated coconut, first mix well with water and soak 20 min.
- In a mortar and pestle, grind and pound onion and garlic to a coarse paste. Alternately, mix well in bowl.
- Add grated coconut, black pepper, chili powder, paprika, and sugar. Mix well.
- Add lime juice and salt, adding more as desired to taste.
- Garnish with finely chopped red or green chili.
- Serve with Dal Curry, Hoppers, bread, or snacks.
Extra Heat: Add 1/2–1 tsp red chili flakes along with other spices.