Seeni Sambol (Sweet and Spicy Caramelized Onions)

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Seeni sambol is meant to be eaten as a condiment, but I love this sweet and spicy onion relish so much that I eat it straight out of the container. No shame.

Like its Southeast Asian cousin sambal, Sri Lankan sambols are part of a larger meal, alongside dishes like hoppers or rice. This is my favorite sambol. It’s easy to make but takes patience: lots of stirring and doting over a pan of slowly caramelizing onions, Maldive fish, chili powder, curry leaves, and sugar. Feel free to adjust the amount of pepper to your preference.

Seeni sambol


2 tablespoons oil
1 pound red onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 inch piece ginger, finely chopped
1 sprig curry leaves
4 cardamom pods
4 cloves
2 inch cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 cup Maldive fish
5 tablespoons tamarind pulp, softened in 1/2 cup hot water
1/4 cup coconut milk
juice of 1/2 lime
2 teaspoons sugar

1. Strain softened tamarind pulp in a sieve, discarding solids. Mix tamarind pulp into coconut milk and set aside.

2. Heat oil in pan. Fry onions, garlic, ginger, and curry leaves until onions are golden brown.

3. Add cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, salt, cayenne pepper, Maldive fish, tamarind-coconut mixture, and lime. Cook, uncovered, on low heat for about 40 minutes.

4. Add sugar and mix well. Remove from heat, cool, and store in a glass container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Serve at room temperature.

Sri Lankan Roasted Curry Powder

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I’ll never buy bottled curry powder again.

Spices for Sri Lankan roasted curry powder

Sri Lankan cuisine is under the radar in the U.S. and it’s a shame. I’ve been lucky to taste so many Sri Lankan dishes with Nishan’s family and these days, I’m learning to cook it myself. It’s fiery, vibrant, and the flavors are an amalgamation of Sri Lanka’s history. The rice and curry spreads vary with Tamil dishes, Sinhalese dishes, Muslim dishes, Dutch and British-influenced dishes, and rice and coconut factor into nearly every meal. I could go on forever, but Serious Eats has already written a terrific primer on the cuisine.

The base to many of the curries I’ve been cooking is this roasted curry powder. In practice, it’s usually supplemented with large doses of chili powder and fresh chiles. This curry powder should keep indefinitely in the fridge, but I wouldn’t know. A batch rarely lasts long in our household.


1 tablespoon uncooked basmati rice
4 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 piece cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
5 cardamom pods, shelled
5 cloves
2 springs curry leaves

1. Toast each ingredient on a saucepan separately over medium heat, stirring often, until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from heat, cool, and grind in a coffee grinder. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator.

Khiar Shoor (Pickled Cucumbers)

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Khiar shoor literally translates from Persian to English as “salty cucumbers,” but it is so much more than that. Shoor are a category of Iranian pickled vegetables, be they cucumbers or cauliflower or carrots or nearly any other vegetable. There’s also torshi, but that’s a whole other classification of pickled vegetables that we’ll save for another post.

Every summer while I was growing up, my mom and all the Iranian aunties would gather in someone’s home and spend the day peeling vegetables and peppers and onions, making the next year’s batch of shoor and torshi. The air would be ripe with the smell of vinegar and garlic and the kids would be enlisted to help. The shoor would be ready to eat a few weeks later; the torshi would need to wait months, sometimes even years.

Nowadays you can buy shoor or torshi at any Middle Eastern market but nothing comes close to the homemade version. I made this version when I found myself with too many Armenian cucumbers from my parents’ garden. Once ready, these cucumbers go wonderfully with sandwiches or kotlet.

Pickled Armenian cucumbers


2 red or green chili peppers
2 pounds Persian or Armenian cucumbers
5 cloves garlic, peeled
7 sprigs tarragon
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
kosher salt

1. Wash, clean and drain the vegetables and herbs. Sterilize canning jars, drain and dry thoroughly.

2. Fill each jar almost to the top with cucumbers, garlic, tarragon, and bay leaves.

3. Bring 6 tablespoons salt, 12 cups water, peppercorns, sugar, vinegar, and chili peppers to a boil. Remove from heat and fill each jar within 1/2 inch of the top with this hot liquid. Let cool and seal jars. Store the jars in the refrigerator for at least 10 days before using.

Spicy Pickled Okra

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It’s dead in the middle of winter and there are no fresh okra at the market these days. Or so I thought. They’re around, albeit pricier than usual, and who knows where they came from, but I found them at the store last week and this recipe immediately came to mind. If you know me, you know I love pickles and I love okra too, so this condiment-slash-side dish is just perfect.

These are probably better pickled during the summer months, when okra are actually in season, but making these garlicy spears now is fine if you’re craving a taste of summer. Just make sure to use fresh, not frozen okra. They’re excellent alongside sandwiches or as a cocktail garnish. Oh, and straight out of the jar works too.

Spicy Pickled Okra


1 1/2 pounds okra
4 garlic cloves
2 cups cider vinegar
1 3/4 cups water
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1. Divide okra and garlic evenly among 2 (2-pint) jars.

2. Combine vinegar and remaining ingredients in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes. Carefully pour vinegar mixture into jars, leaving about 1/4 inch at top. Seal jars; refrigerate at least 3 days and up to 1 month before serving.

Seasonal Pickles

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I love pickles. Iranian torshi, Italian giardiniera, Japanese tsukemono – the possibilities are endless. These days, I’m increasingly seeing seasonal pickles show up on restaurant menus, which is a welcome change from the plain pickled cucumber of yesteryear.

This recipe is a simple take on seasonal pickled vegetables, and is ready in just one day. Feel free to substitute the vegetables with whatever is readily available in the markets. These are, after all, seasonal.

Seasonal Pickles


4 cups distilled white vinegar
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
12 fresh thyme sprigs
6 Turkish bay leaves
4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
2 teaspoons whole peppercorns
1 rosemary sprig
3 carrots, peeled, quartered lengthwise and cut into two-inch pieces
12 radishes, trimmed and halved
15 purple pearl onions, peeled
1/4 pound green beans
1 head cauliflower, thickly sliced

1. Combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Stir until sugar and salt dissolve. Add thyme, bay leaves, garlic, peppercorns, and rosemary; stir to blend.

2. Add all vegetables to a large, sterilized canning jar. Add vinegar mixture until vegetables are submerged. Cover with plastic wrap and lid and chill at least one day and up to one week.