Saturday, January 17, 2009

Seeni Sambal (Sweet and Spicy Onion Relish)

The Indian sub continent is a food lovers paradise for a reason. The availability and usage of aromatic spices, fresh ingredients and cooking methods make it easy to get addicted to Indian food and stay that way. It is never easy to pin down one single way of cooking a dish, the variations to the same dish are sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle. The result is not just regional cuisines but micro regional cuisines.

Though the spices used are predominantly the same the way they are cooked and combined can be very different. So lets take South Indian or more specifically Tamil Nadu cuisine and SriLankan/Tamilian cuisine. Though the spices and the ingredients used are more or less the same but the resulting dishes taste very different.

So if you combine onions, tamarind, chilli powder, salt and a bit of sugar I would call it puli kuzhambu but my Srilankan friends call it Sambal. Yes one is watery and the other is dry amd I am probably over simplifying it but the fact remains. Sambal is a condiment made primarily with chilis and used as a condiment to spice up a dish.


Seeni sambol is slightly sweet because of the caramelized onions and the added sugar. The amount of chili powder can be adjusted to make it as spicy as you want.
The onions can be deep fried and vinegar used in place of the tamarind. It is a perfect side for rice, idli,dosai or chapathi. The recipe that my friend gave had onions,sugar,chili powder,salt and sugar. I followed the recipe from the Hindu newspaper website here. It is also has a few other Sri Lankan recipes so if you interested.

Seeni Sambal with Avacado parathas

  • 3 Large red onions sliced

  • 4-5 garlic sliced

  • small piece of ginger grated

  • curry leaves a few

  • 1/2 tbsp chili powder

  • 2-3 tsp jaggery

  • 1 tbsp tamarind extract(I used a small lime sized ball with minimum water to extract the pulp

  • 3 tsp oil

  • salt as needed

  • Method
  • Heat oil in a pan, add the curry leaves, onions, ginger and garlic and saute till the onion starts to get brown

  • Add the chili powder,salt,tamarind extract and continue to cook on low heattill the onion comes together 20-25 minutes

  • add the jaggery at the end when your required consistency has reached

  • continue to cook for a few more minutes till the sugar is incorporated well

  • The condiment can stay for atleast a week and probably more if refrigerated.

    We had them with Avacado parathas, the addition of avacado to the dough made it super soft and fluffy. The idea for which came from Priya's Easy N Tasty Recipes. I used wheat flour, couple of avacados mashed, salt and a tsp of oil.

    Also check out Indira's version.


    1. Sambal is great. I love the combination of both garlic and ginger with tamarind. Is it jaggery or sugar? OR am I missing something....
      I have made Avacado paratha too and as you said it was too soft. I got it from Mahanandi.

    2. That relish looks delish ISG :-) I agree that adding avocados do make parathas soft.

      Enjoy the rest of your weekend :-)

    3. We used to get something like this in our hostel - it was more watery - and my Tamilian friends used to call it onion kara kuzhambu. Seeing your photo - the colour - makes me want to make it!

    4. Cilantro, sorry it should read jaggery, fixed the post now. I should check out Indira's version of the paratha.

      Sunita, I kept eating it till it was all gone, addictive. You too have a great weekend, ours is a loong one 4 days with the inauguration and all.

      Sra, I think I know the onion kara kulambu you are talking about, but they use the small onions don't they? Sure you should give it a try, I bet you'd like it.

    5. Whatever you call it, I love everything that goes in this sambal...
      Sri Lankan cuisine is one of my favorite cuisines... That Hoddha recipe in the web site you linked to sounds just like the Kerala stew! No surprise I guess, since it goes with string hoppers, and we serve the stew with appams and idiyappams..

    6. wow. i feel like making it right away for chapathis. i loveeee onions. will give it a try sure.

    7. I was up at the Asian market today and almost bought some bottled Indonesian sambal -- left it for another day after I found a granite mortar and pestle ;)

      The pic of seeni sambal on parathas is delicious! I have made Indira's avocado chappati a couple times. I should try with parathas. The sweet/spicy relish would be a great complement!

      Thanks for the link, too :)

    8. Looks so delish !!!
      Did you manage to wrangle an invitation, being so close and all

    9. hey i tried it and totally loved it. thanks. . will be posting after a few days in my blog.

    10. Sig, yes even the coconut sambal they make is a lot similar to the coconut chammanthi made in Kerala. The stew yes, I have it at my Sri Lankan friend's place with string hoppers - delicious. You are sure to love this one.

      Mahimaa, I know exactly how much you like this, that was record time.

      Linda, I used to carry bottles of this when the Indian grocery store I used to frequent carried Sri Lankan, Maldives stuff, not anymore. I bet the mortar and pestle is a might good investment too.

      Sandeepa, I only wish I had friends in high places :)

    11. This sounds great Indo. I have heard that Sri Lankan cuisine has lots of similarity with south indian , particularly kerala and tamilnadu but never really got to taste it...

      Wishing you a fantastic 2009!

    12. Thanks for the link - the hoddha and pol are similar to idiappam and stew! I haven't tried Sri Lankan cuisine and you inspired me with this preparation. I have an Indian cooking book with many sambal recipes. Will try one!

    13. Seeni sambal looks delicious...i have heard about this, but never tried...both paratha n seeni sambal seems to be nice combo...sure gonna try soon..

    14. That looks awesome.. i used to make a Tofu sambal quite often... where tofu cubes are simmered in this spicy sauce.

    15. Looks dleicious! Nice tempting pictures!

    16. This relish looks so good. Nice recipe. So mouthwatering. YUM!

    17. Isn't Sambal used in Malaysian cooking too? Looks delicious. I love the idea of avocado parathas!

    18. Sambal is lovely! i jus love its combo with roti.

    19. This is really new to me and looks fabulos. I love caramelized onions and this is perfect pair for the parathas. I have read about it in Indira's blog but this combo makes me to try it soon.

    20. Mallika, yes sambal is popular in Malaysia, Maldives, Sri Lanka to name a few. Avocados make up for about 3tbsp of butter and makes the parathas super soft. But this fat is all good.

    21. Sambal is great.Its too tempting.

    22. That's a good sambal. I will try the recipe

    23. Yummy.

      Now that you got my mouth watering, I am craving both Indian food and Sri Lankan Sambal.

    24. Oh ... no grinding and all. Am making this soon. Will lemon juice do for the tartness too? I don't have tamarind but do have chilli vinegar.

    25. I made this! It's so good! I went for the lemon juice lest the vinegar subdues the sweetness and skipped the curry leaves as I did not have them. Thanks Indo! :-)


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