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Sri Lankan Seeni Sambol

Sri Lankan Seeni Sambol
Cooking Method
Courses , ,
Difficulty Beginner
Prep Time: 15 min Cook Time: 40 min Total Time: 55 mins
Servings 8

Seeni Sambol is a sweet, tangy, and spicy caramelized onion relish served with many Sri Lankan dishes. It's Jammy in texture and has a perfect balance of sweet and savory. A must-try for sure!!

  • 20 grams seedless tamarind
  • 3 tablespoons warm water
  • 1 kilogram Onions* (1kg = a little over 2 pounds = about 5 yellow onions)
  • 1/4 cup Coconut Oil (or any neutral oil)
  • 6 pieces of cinnamon (3 inch long each)
  • 10 Cardamom pods
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 large sprigs of curry leaves
  • 1 small pandan leaf broken into pieces
  • 1 tablespoon chili flakes
  • 1/2 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Salt (adjust to your taste)
  • 1 tablespoon Sugar (adjust to your taste)
  1. Add tamarind and warm water into a small bowl. Set it aside to soak.

  2. Thinly slice onions. Add them to a large mixing bowl. Add chili flakes, chili powder, and turmeric powder to the bowl. Mix well with onions.

  3. Squeeze tamarind in warm water using your fingers to make it a thick saucy pulp. Discard any seeds and skin.

  4. Heat a large saute pan or a wok and add oil to it. When the oil starts to heat up, add cinnamon sticks, cardamom, and cloves. Let them heat in oil for a few seconds. Then add curry leaves and pandan leaves. (Be careful. Curry leaves and pandan leaves splatter in oil. You can close the pan with a lid for a few seconds for this)

  5. Add onions and saute until onions become wilted. Then add salt, mix, and cook until there's no moisture left in the pan. Mix from time to time to avoid the bottom layer of onions from burning.

  6. Add tamarind pulp. Mix well with onions. Cook on medium-low heat, uncovered until onions are jammy in texture and some onion slices are caramelized.

  7. Add sugar. Start with a little bit and increase until the onions are not sour in taste. Sourness should be balanced with sweetness. If the Seeni sambol is too sour, add more sugar. If it's too sweet, add a little bit of tamarind. Also adjust salt if needed.

  8. Saute and cook until the onions are darker in color and jammy in texture. You can stop the cooking process at any point you like. More moisture you remove from the onions more time it'd last without going bad.

  9. Let the Seeni Sambol cool completely before storing it. Check the description for serving ideas.

  • Maldive fish chips or as we call "Umbalakada" is another common ingredient that some people use when making Seeni Sambol. I leave it out here as I wanted to make this vegan-friendly. If you have it on hand, you can use it to add some umaminess to the dish.
  • I use yellow onions. They turn sweet and jammy when they are cooked. You can use any large onions you like.
Keywords: Sri Lankan Seeni Sambol, Sri Lankan new year food, Spicy caramelized onion, Seeni Sambola recipe, Sri Lankan condiments, Vegan relish, Onion recipes, Slow cooked onions, Fried onions, Onion chutney