Cover Pol sambol, or coconut sambal, is a beloved dish in Sri Lanka (Photo: Pixabay)

From a zesty brinjal salad to a spicy prawn stir-fry, these easy recipes will spice up your lockdown menu

Are you a fan of Sri Lankan cuisine? During lockdown, it's comforting to know that restaurants like A Li Yaa deliver their brand of delish and extravagant Sri Lankan fare straight to our doors. But if you're in the mood to get creative in your kitchen, nothing says simple and super-tasty recipes like the Sri Lankan staples of pol sambola (coconut sambal), vambatu or brinjal salad, and more.

The best part about making them at home is you can modulate the spiciness of each dish by adding or reducing the level of chilli and curry powder in each recipe. Here are four easy recipes to start with.               

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Pol Sambol (Coconut Sambal)

A delightful accompaniment to rice dishes and brunch favourites like pol roti (recipe at the end of the story), pol sambol combines the flavourful crunch of minced shallots with the twang of lime juice and the kick of chili paste. The bright orange tone in this dish is caused by the combination of the red chilli paste with the white shredded coconut—the fresher the coconut, the better the taste of your pol sambol.

Serves 4   

Ingredients

2 cups of freshly grated white coconut

2 tbsp of red chili paste or 'cili giling'

15 shallots, peeled

3 - 4 Calamansi limes

2 to 3 tbsp of Maldive fish, pounded (use pounded dried prawns as an alternative if you don't have Maldive fish) 

Salt to taste 

Instructions 

Cut your shallots into quarters and pound them into a paste. You can also mince them in a food processor. Combine the minced shallots with the grated coconut, chilli paste, Maldive fish in a bowl with salt and the juice of the limes. Mix the ingredients together thoroughly with your hand. Taste and add salt as necessary until the mixture achieves your ideal combination of saltiness, hotness and zest from the limes. Serve with pol roti or rice and curry.

Tip: Up the red colour of your pol sambol by adding a tablespoon of chilli powder and mixing well.      

Vambatu Salad (Brinjal Salad)

Tatler Asia
Photo: Island Smile
Above Photo: Island Smile

The star of this tasty vegetarian dish is the fry-till-golden eggplant, sliced thin and seasoned with the zest of lime juice, salt and various colourful fresh ingredients. 

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 long brinjals, sliced into circles about a quarter-inch thick

A large purple onion, sliced

1 green chili and 1 red chili, chopped

A ripe, red tomato, sliced

2 small Calamansi limes

2 tbsp coconut milk

Salt to taste 

Instructions 

Fry the brinjal slices until golden brown. Set aside on a paper towel. In a bowl, combine the onion slices, chopped chillis, salt and coconut milk together. Add the juice of the two limes along with the sliced tomatoes. Finally, add in the fried brinjal rounds and toss lightly, taking care that they don't break apart. Your eggplant salad is now ready to serve.   

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Isso Thel Dhala (Prawn Curry)

A fragrant dry prawn curry, Isso Thel Dhala is powerful in flavour and so easy to make once your ingredients are assembled and prepared. Popular Sri Lankan ingredients like Maldive fish give this spiced prawn dish its unique flavour—but you can always substitute it for pounded dried prawns if necessary. Paprika and chilli powder contribute to its rich red tone and fiery kick. Ideally, you should use large prawns with the shells still on for extra flavour. 

Serves 4 - 5 

Ingredients

500g of large prawns, deveined

1 large purple onion, chopped finely

2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely

1 tsp of chili powder

1 tsp of paprika powder

½ tsp of tumeric powder

½ cup of water

 2 tbsp of pounded Maldives fish or pounded dried prawns

2 to 3 Calamansi limes

Sugar 

Instructions

Fry up the chopped onions and garlic till golden. Add the chili powder, the paprika and the tumeric powders to the pan and stir in for about a minute. Add in the Maldive fish and stir. Then, place the large prawns into the pan and stir fry for about three minutes until the prawns change to a red colour. Add water, lime juice and a pinch of sugar and let simmer for a few moments. The curry should be dry, with all the prawns evenly covered in that deep red coating.

Tip: If you want the dish to have a redder colour without being too spicy, add in about a tablespoon of tomato paste when adding the lime juice and sugar.

Pol Roti (Coconut Flatbreads)

Adding grated coconut to any dish makes it more fragrant and better, so goes the unofficial rule of Sri Lankan cooking. The island's unique take on the traditional flatbread thus involves shredded coconut. To keep your flatbreads nice and consistent, have your weighing scale handy so you can measure out all the little dough balls easily and quickly. 

Makes 10 - 11 small flatbreads     

Ingredients

400g of plain flour

200g of fresh white grated coconut

Salt

¾ cup of water

Cooking oil

Instructions

Place salt and grated coconut into a bowl with the flour. Add the water little by little, combining the mixture slowly. Knead the dough mixture and divide into 10 balls approximately 80 grams each. On a flat surface, roll the dough lumps into little circles, making sure not to make them too thin. Dust a separate container with some flour and place the dough in it, cover it with a cloth for about half an hour.

Heat up a dry non-stick flat pan. Wet your hands with a little oil, patting the flatbread dough circles gently on either side before placing them into the pan. Cook on one side till golden brown and then turn over with a flat spatula till the other side is the same colour. Remove it from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes before serving with pol sambol and your choice of a curry.   

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