Category: Condiment

Sensational Sweet and Spicy Sambols

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Being someone who loves a meal with many elements, Sri Lankan food was pretty much my dream come true. Every meal is served with plenty of sides: sauces, chutneys, relishes, and pickles, to make each bite unique and surprising. Sambol is the word for this seemingly endless collection of condiments, and I lost count trying to sample them all in a week.

I believe I mentioned in my previous post about Sri Lanka, how spicy the food is there. Like, blow-your-head-off spicy. And as if the curries themselves weren’t hot enough, the chili-based sambols on the side will certainly commit your taste buds to perplexing levels of pain.

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Pol sambol is the ubiquitous, fiery condiment served at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is probably one of the simplest dishes to make, consisting mainly of chili, shredded coconut, chili, lime, and chili – did I mention the chili? Yea. This mix ranges from very spicy to volcanically hot depending on whose table you’re sitting at.

On the second day of the trip, my tongue seeking refuge in something, dare I say it, borderline bland, I discovered one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted – and it wasn’t bland to say the least, just not sweat-inducing. Seeni sambol, a fragrant, Sri Lankan caramelized onion jam, turned out to be incredible on everything from hoppers to curries, and could turn a pretty plain bowl of red rice into something remarkably special. I became totally obsessed with this sambol and it was the very first thing I attempted to make when I came home. I really cannot tell you enough how awesome this stuff is. Do yourself a favour and make a batch soon!

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The most memorable experience I had in Sri Lanka was learning to cook traditional recipes with two women in the local village. It was likely one of the most eye-opening culinary experiences I’ve ever had – not only learning from such passionate and experienced cooks, but seeing their traditional kitchen, tools, and techniques really inspired me.

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Take their stove, for example. A large clay bench with large mounds molded into it held the earthenware pots in place, and the heat underneath was adjusted by adding more sticks to the fire, or taking them away. Genius. Above the stove was a large wooden wrack to hang beans, seeds, and herbs for fast drying, which I thought was a brilliant way to take advantage of the residual heat. Ingredients were prepped on the floor, since it’s cooler down there, and also nice to sit while you’re working. The knife to cut veggies was actually attached to a stool, and instead of holding the blade, you hold the vegetables and basically drop them on top, slicing them in the air to fall onto a grass mat. The sambol was made by grinding all the ingredients together on a huge flat stone designed specifically for this task, and as such took all of ten seconds to prepare. Spoons were made from dried coconut shells. The plates were made of woven grass, topped with fresh lotus leaves from the nearby creek. The leaves protected the plates from the saucy curries, and when you were finished your meal, you’d discard the leaf into the compost, so that there was literally nothing to wash! I mean.

This day made me take a long hard look at how much stuff I use in the kitchen. Water, electricity, appliances – these women were literally using nothing but things from the earth around them and it made me wonder how we’ve come so far from that connection. Cooking has become so overblown, and it was this experience that reminded me to cook simpler and eat simpler. Get closer to the earth. I don’t have some grand solution, but it’s food for thought.

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I’ll share a few notes on the recipes…
You will likely think I’ve lost my mind when you begin the task of slicing two pounds of onions (#worthit), but I promise you it is the correct amount, and you’ll see that it cooks down to nearly nothing. I tried half this amount my first time and it just simply wasn’t enough. If you’re going to go for this, you may as well make a batch that will last you at least a few meals, right? Fresh curry leaves are a definite preference for this recipe, but I’ve never been able to find them here in Copenhagen so I used dried. They’re not great, but better than nothing. If you don’t want to gnaw on whole spices or curry leaves you can remove them after the seeni sambol is cooked, but it can be a bit of a treasure hunt situation, just sayin’. Once I’ve smashed the cardamom pods, I like to remove the outer skin and just add the inner seeds to the spics mix. I tend to leaves the cloves and curry leaves in since I like those bursts of flavour.

The pol sambol recipe I’ve written here is admittedly, a wimp’s version. I’ll admit that I can only tolerate spice until it begins to overwhelm the other flavours in the food, so mine is strong but still edible on its own. I invite you to go with your instincts on this one and dial up the heat to suit your tastes. If you can find freshly grated coconut (or a fresh coconut that you can grate yourself) by all means use that instead of the desiccated variety! Some versions of pol sambol include curry leaves, but because I only had dried I left them out. If you can find fresh ones, add about a sprig for this recipe, and crush them well before incorporating.

As far as serving these two sensational sambols go, they are pretty much great with All. The. Things. Rice dishes, curries, stews, soups, wraps, sandwiches, salads…I mean it! Once you taste them I’m confident you’ll find infinite uses for them. The first photo is of steamed brown rice and the Kale Mallung recipe that I wrote from the last Sri Lankan post – still a major fav around here. I love this meal for breakfast with a poached egg, lots of seeni sambol and, ahem, lightly sprinkled with the pol sambol.

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A huge thanks to Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts  and Sri Lankan Airlines for making this incredible trip possible!

Show me your sambols on Instagram#MNRsambol

Early Summer Abundance Bowl

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Early Summer Abundance Bowl

Keep it simple. Use what you have. Make it work.

I’ve been staring at these three ideas for the past few hours. In between breastfeeding my baby, laundry, trying to make food for myself, emails, brushing my teeth and changing a couple diapers, I’ve been back and forth to my computer unsuccessfully getting any further with this post.

Then I read it again and realized that the advice that I was trying to give all of you out there was precisely what I needed to hear myself.

My days are so different than they used to be. Instead of being able to play in the kitchen from dawn until way past dusk, I’m playing with my sweet baby. Instead of making food for all of you to recreate I’m making food for us. Unremarkable, perhaps, but there is a turning inwards, a quiet and simplicity that I’m cultivating, or at least trying to. It isn’t glamorous and most of it isn’t worth blogging, but it’s real life. And I am very grateful for it.

Early Summer Abundance Bowl

Needless to say, meals have been simple and Abundance Bowls have been abundant. I’ve been cooking grains and beans in bulk to use for later, then tossing whatever fresh veggies I have on hand into the mix. If I can bend time and squeak out five or ten minutes worth of creativity, a sauce happens, or maybe a quick pickled condiment. All of a sudden, a pretty boss bowl of tasty, healthy food sits before me and I feel like the luckiest person in the world, living in true abundance. That is what the Abundance Bowl is all about. Keeping it simple. Using what you have. Making it work. And I guess feeling that kind of overwhelming gratitude doesn’t hurt either.

Early Summer Abundance Bowl

Here we are in the first breaths of true summer. My little family and I are back in Canada for the next little while and it feels amazing to be home. The sun is bright and the river is crisp, gardens everywhere are bursting with fresh food. The Early Summer Abundance bowl celebrates all of it, along with the feeling of luckiness that always pervades my thinking this time of year, as we begin to reap the benefits of the season.

I chose freekeh in this edition, a roasted, immature wheat that tastes deep and rich and is the perfect counterpoint to sweet, young beetroots, earthy radishes and vibrant sprouts. The grain is harvested while still young and soft, then roasted or sun-dried. The health bonus of harvesting immature wheat is that it retains more of its nutrients and proteins than its fully-grown counterparts. It even claims to have fewer carbohydrates than regular wheat because it’s young. It surprisingly has more dietary fiber content than brown rice, plus more calcium, iron, and potassium content.

You can find freekeh at Middle Eastern grocery stores and increasingly at natural and gourmet food shops. Sometimes it is referred to and sold as “Green Wheat”. If you have never tried freekeh before, get ready to freak out. It’s seriously amazing stuff! It cooks up like any other grain, keeps very well in the fridge and can be enjoyed hot or cold. I love it in salads, especially with lots of garlic, olive oil and lemon to balance the smoky flavour.

As I was after a sort of Middle Eastern flavour profile, I chose to make a harissa-spiked chutney with spring onion and dates, which is altogether scrumptious. Leftovers of this are excellent smeared on toast with poached eggs for breakfast, accompanying roast veggies or in an avocado sandwich. The colour isn’t very sexy, but the flavour is oh-my-goodness delicious. And to really take this Abundance Bowl to the next level, I may have put a little seared halloumi cheese in there. Maybe. Oh I totally did.

Early Summer Abundance Bowl

 

As for those of you asking about the Potluck Picnic in Toronto, I have made the difficult decision to skip it this year. There are so many things going on in my life (all positive!) but in the name of keeping things simple and quiet, I am honoring the commitment I made to myself to focus my energy on my family at this time. I so much appreciate your enthusiasm, and also your understanding. And of course I look forward to resuming the event next summer!

Show me your Abundance Bowls on Instagram: #earlysummerabundancebowl

Big Comfy Sweet Potato

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Comfort food is different for all of us. For some, it’s a big bowl of macaroni and cheese, for others, it’s ice cream and chocolate sauce. Me? Sweet potatoes. For real. There is something so soothing and grounding about digging into one fresh out of the oven, loading it up with ghee, salt and cracked black pepper. It’s a simple dinner that saw me through my student years when I was living on a budget, held my hand when I dropped everything and moved across the world to Copenhagen, and continues to show me the love even now. Sweet potatoes are kind of like that favourite, threadbare white t-shirt, or the song I could listen to a thousand times without ever getting sick of it. Total comfort.

Well, this time I dressed up that white t-shirt with a cornucopia of yumminess: black beans, avocado, sprouts and my Red Blanket Sauce that will knock your woolen socks off. It’s the Big Comfy Sweet Potato and it’s simple, delicious and I reckon just the kind of thing that will make you feel pretty comfy too.

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The toppings for the Big Comfy Sweet Potato are up to you. I was digging the cilantro, sprouts and green onion, but you could put all manner of delights into this one, depending on the season and what is available to you. Cherry tomatoes would be great, freshly shucked corn, bell peppers too. These are the perfect clean-out-the-fridge kind of dinner, because as long as you got your sweet potato, you have a blank canvas that will only get better with a little help from some other veggies buddies.    

But if you really don’t have anything else on hand, the Red Blanket Sauce is killer. Just a plain sweet potato swaddled in this stuff is a proper meal. Super creamy and rich, and delicious draped across so many things – rice, lentils, roast veg – you name it. I tried to do a riff off of mole sauce, but I can’t claim to know anything about authentic Mexican cooking, so I’m going to avoid the comparison. What I do know, is that it tastes like a thousand layers of spice, herbs, sweet, savoury, tangy, bold, and chocolate-y without being chocolate-y…know what I mean? Guh. I want more.

Comfy Digestion with the Sweetest of Potatoes
Many people think that sweet potatoes are just regular potatoes that are orange, but they are in fact a completely different vegetable.
Compared to regular potatoes, sweet potatoes have oodles more vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), vitamin C and even more fiber. This means that sweet potatoes are excellent for your digestion. Sweet potatoes are composed mainly of starch, which is very easy to break down and is soothing for the stomach and intestines too. This makes them an ideal healing choice for those suffering from the pain and inflammation associated with stomach ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome. The roughage of sweet potatoes even prevents constipation. Comfy stuff!

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Speaking of easy and delicious, if any of you are still in the mood for a simple cleanse, check out my article in the February issue Oprah magazine! I wrote a 4-day detox plan with tasty recipes that are all really easy to make using basic ingredients . If January has passed you by without a little clean-up, now is your chance. The program is also available online, here. I hope you enjoy!

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