Pol Sambol

Pol Sambol - spicy coconut chutney

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. Continue reading

Chilli Tofu Paneer

Chilli Tofu-Paneer : Indo-Chinese - The Lotus and the Artichoke vegan cookbook

Chilli Paneer (also known by other creative spellings such as Chili Paneer and Chilly Paneer) is one of the most famous Indo-Chinese dishes in India, along with Veg Manchurian. From street carts, restaurants, and home kitchens across the continent you can find this spicy hybrid dish.

This vegan Chilli Tofu Paneer variation is easily made by substituting tofu for paneer cheese. Batter-frying with cubes before adding to the sauce and veg is a trick which adds more texture and taste to your ‘paneer’. Tofu isn’t quite as easy to find in India as fresh paneer, but while living in Amravati, India, I was able to find tofu. I experimented often in the kitchen making this stellar Indo-Chinese appetizer. Even the neighbors were impressed!

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Sindhi Bhindi Masala

Sindhi Bindi Masala : North Indian - The Lotus and the Artichoke vegan cookbook

During the year that I lived in Amravati, India. I must’ve had 30 or 40 slightly different varieties of Sindhi Bhindi Masala. Usually just referred to as Bhindi (Hindi word for okra), this spicy okra dish is North Indian in origin. The kind I learned to make in Indian kitchens is a typical, traditional Punjabi and Sindhi vegetable dish.

Bhindi Masala is a regular feature at family lunches and dinners, and was in my lunch tiffin more often than not. Every restaurant cook, every mother, every sister, every grandmother, and every hobby-cook son cooks their okra a little different than the next. Sometimes in curry sauce, usually without. Some were still a bit crunchy, some melted in my mouth. Often they were intentionally burnt and bathing in oil, others were so spicy my lips went numb and my nose started to run away. As a guest at homes and in restaurants, I usually ate this with chapati bread — along with everyone else. At home I usually make it with rice. That’s partly because I love rice, and partly because I’m just not really Mr. Chapati Master.

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3 Bean Cajun Chili

American South: 3 Bean Cajun Chili - The Lotus and the Artchoke

 I’ve been making vegetarian chili like this 3 Bean Cajun Chili since my young days of vegetarianism in the early 1990s. Even before that, my mom used to make chili for the family quite often. Especially after I went vegetarian as a teenager, we’d experiment with different variations. Me and my brothers loved it, and still do. I’m sure after I went off to college my Dad and brothers started putting meat back in the chili, but the cool thing is: Almost all of us follow a mostly plant-based diet now. In fact, I just sent this recipe to my dad last month when he asked me for more veggie dinner ideas. Times change!

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