This Sri Lankan White Coconut Sambol aka Kochchi Sambol (කොච්චි සම්බෝල) is an absolute flavor bomb. It’s spicy, citrusy, umami, and tastes really fresh. The aroma of hot chili peppers and curry leaves makes it very appetizing.
If you’re familiar with Sri Lankan food, you most definitely are familiar with Coconut Sambol. That’s every Sri Lankan’s comfort food. We have it from breakfast to lunch to dinner. Pair it with rice, bread, coconut roti, noodles, you name it.
The most common version of Sri Lankan coconut sambol is Orange in color. You get the color from chili powder, chili flakes, or red chilies. Now this is the White version of that same coconut sambol. The only difference is we skip adding dried chilies or red chilies. Instead, we add some fresh chilies. Ideally, a spicier aromatic green chili variety. Such as green habaneros which I’m using here in my recipe.
For me, this one is spicier, stronger in aroma, and has a distinct chili flavor than the more common coconut sambol. If you love spicy food, you’re absolutely going to love this!!
The basic version of the white coconut sambol only needs very few ingredients. Grated coconut, green chilies (preferably an aromatic variety), onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and lime. With these few, you can actually make a good coconut sambol.
But curry leaves and Maldive fish chips add so much flavor and aroma. These two definitely elevate the dish to the next level. My mom would even refuse to make coconut sambol without Maldive fish chips.
If you have a way to make freshly grated coconut, that’s the best coconut you can use in this recipe. It’s creamier, fresher tasting, and moist. The next best option is to use frozen grated coconut. These come in a flattened block. Can be found in almost all Indian stores and in Southeast Asian stores. If you can’t find both, get some unsweetened desiccated coconut and rehydrate them with some warmed coconut milk.
If you use frozen coconut, thaw it in the microwave for about a minute or less. Do not microwave coconut until they become steaming hot. This alters the taste of the coconut. If the coconut is warm or hot, wait until it comes to room temp before you use it in the recipe.
I always go for a spicy chili variety with a pleasing aroma for this coconut sambol recipe. The aroma makes it feel more appetizing. But you can use any kind of fresh chili for this. Even the ripe red ones work too but it’ll add a red hue to the sambol. My usuals are habaneros, scotch bonnet, or Thai bird-eye chilies as they are easier for me to find in the US.
Traditionally we use Asian shallots. Which are similar to pearl onions in size but stronger in flavor. As a substitute, you can use pearl onions, chopped American shallots, or chopped red onions. Asian shallots or pearl onions don’t need to be cut. Add them just before you add coconut to the mortar and pestle, and pound them until they become a paste of large pieces.
If you’re a garlic fan, like me, you might feel like adding more than one clove. But please don’t do that in this recipe. Since coconut has a very subtle flavor you don’t want garlic to overpower that. You just want a slightly pungent flavor that complements the other flavors. If you don’t like garlic, you can skip it.
Maldive fish chips:
Adds umami flavor to the coconut sambol. A very common ingredient in Sri Lankan cooking but hard to find in many other countries. I usually bring them when I visit SL or buy from online Sri Lankan grocery stores or from Amazon. If you don’t have it, don’t worry you can still make a good coconut sambol.
Optional ingredient but adds a very nice pleasing aroma to the sambol. You can find this ingredient in many Indian grocery stores as well as in some Southeast Asian stores.
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Don’t have a mortar and pestle?
Do not worry, you can use a food processor to get the job done. Or chop everything very finely and mix everything with your fingers. Make sure to wear gloves to protect your hands from the heat of chilies.
Storing and reheating
Coconut sambol is best served fresh. But you can make it ahead and keep it in the fridge for 2 – 3 days. When you reheat make sure to reheat only until it reaches the room temp or I sometimes serve it cold over hot rice which makes it come to room temperature really quickly. Heating fresh coconut sambol can alter the taste.
Menu Ideas for White Coconut Sambol:
Pairings for this versatile Sri Lankan white coconut sambol are literally endless. I mean you can serve it for breakfast with some eggs and toast. Serve it for lunch with curries and for dinner with some bread or roti or even noodles. It’d be impossible to have a complete list here but I’ll add a few of my favorites.
- Rice (ideally red rice), Fish Ambil Tiyal and white coconut sambol
- Boiled cassava or sweet potato topped with white coconut sambol
- Rice, red lentil curry, black pepper pork curry and white coconut sambol
- Sri Lankan style bread (Thati paan or roast paan) with creamy potato curry and white coconut sambol
Sri Lankan White Coconut Sambol
This Sri Lankan White Coconut Sambol aka Kochchi Sambol (කොච්චි සම්බෝල) is an absolute flavor bomb. It's spicy, citrusy, umami, and tastes really fresh. The aroma of hot chili peppers and curry leaves makes it very appetizing. One of the easiest and quickest Sri Lankan dishes to make too.
In to the mortar and pestle, add peppercorns, salt, and Maldive fish chips. Pound them until they become a coarse powder or until no large pieces are left.
Then add the chili peppers cut in halves (otherwise they can pop as you pound them), garlic, and curry leaves. Pound them until everything become a coarse paste.
Add chopped onions and grated coconut into the mortar. Pound them until everything is very well mixed together. You may have to mix it with a spoon a few times as well to make sure everything is well combined.
Finally, add lime juice and more salt if needed. Pound again for a few seconds to mix. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.