seeni sambol - Sri Lankan cuisineMy mother-in-law makes a lovely seeni sambol – spicy, sweet onion sambol – that I love. But I didn’t have her recipe, so had to see what I could find. Because, of course, I had to have seeni sambol to go with my coconut roti.

This picture doesn’t do the dish justice. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a better picture until after the meal was over and all the seeni sambol was gone. Next time…

First thing you should probably know is that seeni means sweet. Or was it sugar? Nope, not onion, as was my first guess. Sweet because, even though there are lots of onions in it, more so than everything else put together, it’s also sweet.

I found one that, while I didn’t think it was entirely hers, still looked reasonable. I found it in my red Sri Lankan cookbook that Fahim’s cousin gave me. And then I decided to give it a try. 🙂



  • 50 ml coconut oil
  • 225 grams onion, sliced finely
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4″ slice ginger, minced
  • 25 g tamarind
  • 50 ml coconut milk, thin
  • 50 ml coconut milk, thick
  • 1 tablespoon red chilli pepper powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 5 tablespoons Maldive fish flakes
  • 5-6 curry leaves
  • 1/2 lime, juice of
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Destructions Instructions

  1. seeni sambol - caramelized onion, garlic, gingerHeat the oil in pan and fry the onions, garlic and ginger. When golden brown, remove, drain, and set aside. Drain excess oil from the pan.
  2. Mix remaining ingredients and add to the onions. Mix well and cook over very heat for 30-45 minutes.
  3. Stir in the sugar and remove from the heat. Discard cinnamon stick before serving.

If you don’t have curry leaves, omit. There is no substitute. Use fresh, not dried.

If you don’t have virgin coconut oil – the stuff that smells sweetly of coconuts – use any unflavoured vegetable oil.

If you don’t have red chilli pepper powder (usually found in the Asian section of supermarkets), use cayenne pepper.

Maldive fish flakes can usually be bought in Asian grocery stores or possibly in the Asian section of your grocery store. If you can’t find it, you can try dried shrimp – I’m told it’s a good substitute but haven’t personally tried it.

This isn’t my mother-in-law’s Seeni Sambol. Hers has much less Maldive fish flakes and doesn’t use coconut milk. I got confirmation of that from her other daughter-in-law. 🙂 I’ll get her recipe – somehow, sometime – and give that a whirl, too. Her version is very nice. This one is, too – we liked it very much.

Seeni Sambol can be served with whole boiled eggs in it – one per person, usually – or with the boiled eggs broken up in it. It’s can be served with coconut roti, string hoppers, egg hoppers, and hoppers.

Give it a whirl, see what you think, and let me know. 🙂


Every Sunday is Sri Lankan Sunday where I’ll be posting a new Sri Lankan recipe, whether it be a curry, mallung, sambol, roti, or…

I’d love it if you joined me. 🙂 Cook something Sri Lankan or tell a story about an experience you’ve had with Sri Lankan food and blog about it, then post a comment including a permalink to your blog post. Let’s share the spicy Sri Lankan cooking love! 😀

2 Replies to “Seeni Sambol – a lovely Sri Lankan dish”

  1. It’s funny. I’m a Sri Lankan student living in Canada, but I needed to find this recipe.
    Thanks Laurie 🙂

  2. Hi Pumudu! You might find this strange, but I seem to attract a fair number of Sri Lankans living abroad who end up here for the same reason – searching for Sri Lankan recipes. 🙂

    Let me know how the recipe works for you. 🙂

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