About Sambal

Sambal is a spicy, chili-based sauce or relish that is popular in many countries across Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia and Malaysia. This punchy condiment is made from pureed chilies but can also include a range of other ingredients, including citrus juice, onions or shallots, various fruit, salt, sugar, shrimp paste, and spices. In Sri Lanka we use sambal as an all-round condiment, it gets put on the table all the time at Olcote! We love it because it allows our chef to please every palate, because each person can increase the spiciness of the dishes in front of them if they so choose.  We always serve our sambal with noodle dishes, but it also goes well with soups, stews, meat, rice and egg dishes. Sambal can also be used to add heat and flavour to marinades, dips and sauces for flavour and adds a ‘good kick’ to every meal.


Coconut Sambal

Sambal is infinitely varied and can be adapted depending on how you want to use it. One of the simplest and tastiest sambals we use is made from coconut, and it’s called Pol Sambal. Pol is Sinhalese for coconut! Pol Sambal makes a lovely accompaniment to hoppers, which we always serve at breakfast at Olcote. Hoppers are bowl-shaped pancakes made from fermented rice flour and coconut milk, and they are super popular with guests of all ages.



  • ½ cup of freshly grated coconut (you can use desiccated if you can’t find fresh)
  • 1 tablespoon of finely chopped shallot/onion
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of red chili powder
  • Juice of 1 lime



Simply add all ingredients to a large bowl and mix thoroughly. How easy is that? At breakfasts in Olcote we serve Pol Sambal with an egg hopper. Delicious! There are so many ways to dish up sambal, here are just a few. They really add colour and interest to the table. 

Tamarind Sambal

Tamarind is a dark sour fruit that grows in a pod. While some cultures use tamarind to make desserts and even sweets, in Sri Lankan cooking it is used mostly in savory dishes. When used with sugar, tamarind gives dishes a beautiful sweet-sour flavour.


  • 8 small chopped red onions
  • 8 fresh chilies sliced, remove seeds for a milder sambal
  • 5 cloves sliced garlic
  • 1 stalk lemongrass thinly sliced (use only the bottom 3 inches of the stalk – this is the most fragrant part of lemongrass)
  • 1⁄2 ounce tamarind (soak in a cup of water and pour the tamarind juice through a strainer before use, to avoid chunks and granular particles)
  • 10 dried chilies (soak in hot water for 5 minutes)
  • 2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 8 tsp oil



Step 1: Blend onions, chilies, garlic, lemongrass, tamarind and dried chilies into a paste. Add 3 tsp oil to ensure it blends to a smooth paste.

Step 2: Add 5 tsp oil in a pan. Once the oil is hot, add the paste and sauté until aromatic.

Tip: Always keep the flame on a low. Sauté for about 13-17 minutes, constantly stirring the paste.

Step 3: Add tamarind paste, salt and sugar.


Health benefits of Red Chilli

Sambal’s main ingredient is red chilli which is packed full of health benefits. Many of the other ingredients such as onion and tamarind are excellent too! Here’s why red chillis are great for you. However, if you have a sensitive stomach or ulcers, you should take your chilli in moderation as the active ingredients can irritate sensitive digestions. 

  • Full of antioxidants and vitamins particularly Vitamin C
  • Boosts immune system which helps fight and recover from infection
  • Decreases blood pressure
  • Enhances Skin and hair health through production of collagen
  • Contains Vitamin A which enhances eye health
  • Enhances cardiovascular function
  • Good source of folic acid