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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

Chickpea & Sweet Potato Noodle Soup

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Sweet Potato Noodle Soup

It’s pretty clear how I’m handling winter this year: lots of big, bold, spicy food. Chili, saffron, ginger, and paprika are on heavy rotation these days, and I’m surviving cold days with hot meals infused with far-away flavours.

The inspiration for this dish came from harira, a spicy Moroccan and Algerian soup that is traditionally eaten during Ramadan. I made it a lot when I first went vegetarian, about 16 years ago, but after adding several more recipes to my repertoire, kind of forgot about it. In the interest of internally thawing out my bod, I thought I would dust off this old favourite and give it a couple updates.

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You’ll often see a lot of harira recipes calling for rice or pasta, but I wanted to go the grain-free route on this one, so I pulled out my trusty spiralizer and make noodles out of sweet potatoes! As much as I love “raw noodles” like spiralized zucchini and beet and carrot, let’s face it: beyond their appearance, they aren’t fooling anyone into believing they are pasta. But something really amazing happens when you cook vegetable noodles just a little bit – they actually become rather tender, yielding, and able to absorb other flavours. Sweet potato noodles are definitely a favourite of mine, especially in cooked dishes like this one. They add great texture, and of course, noodle-free oodles of nutrients (try saying that five times).

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You don’t have to soak the lentils for this dish, but it will cook faster it you do, plus the lentils themselves will be far more digestible. And of course you can use canned chickpeas instead of cooking them from dried, but because you won’t be blending them up (into hummus, for instance) I promise it’s worth the effort for not-totally-mushy results. If you’ve never tried cooking your own chickpeas from scratch, maybe now is the time to take the plunge! You’ll never go back, I promise. 

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In other news, I’ve added two new recipes to the My New Roots App! If you’re craving a little more in the way of raw, juicy sunshine, here are two brand-new and exclusive smoothie bowls for your pleasure: the Zippy Zucchini Smoothie Bowl and the Plum Dandy Smoothie Bowl. If you have the app already simply update it, and if you don’t, you can download it here.

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And this week I’m in Sri Lanka, all thanks to Cinnamon Hotels for kidnapping me from the icy cold and transporting to me to a tropical paradise full of exotic fruits, cerulean 29° ocean water, and annoyingly perfect palm-tree-sunset-white-sand-beach situations. If you don’t want to be jealous, you should probably avoid my Instagram, okay?

Stay cozy out there!
xo, Sarah B

Fantastic Falafel Waffles

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Falafels. These definitely sit at the top of my list for most attempts at a healthy makeover and at the bottom of the list of success. How to get them crisp without deep frying? How to get them to hold together without eggs? What is the right balance of herbs and spices? Why are they so darn delicious at a restaurant and so darn underwhelming at home?!

First, it involves NOT cooking your chickpeas. Nope. Not even for a second. Of course I know that this is the traditional way to do it,  but I was skeptical for some reason. Skeptical that I wouldn’t turn into a giant, human gas factory. Any of you have had the misfortune of eating poorly cooked legumes will understand what I’m talking about. It’s pretty uncomfortable. And not just for you. BUT! Miracle of miracles, this did not happen, and on top of a happy tummy, my falafels came out crisp, deliciously spiced, and they didn’t fall apart at all.

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The chickpeas must start out raw and they must be soaked for 24 hours. Make sure to add an acidic medium to the water ( I use lemon juice or apple cider vinegar), give them a good rinse after draining, and you should be okay. I used chickpea flour as a binder, instead of all-purpose flour (duh) and this worked great to hold it all those tasty ingredients together. If you can’t find chickpea flour, try another gluten-free flour, which I’m pretty certain will work just as well. Fresh herbs are also a must for flavour – I chose both flat-leaf parsley and cilantro – so that the “dough” will look rather verdant once blended up.

The second trick is contact with high heat. Deep frying gives us the most crisp and delicious falafels, but it also gives us a whole host of un-want-ables, like oxidized fats and free radicals. Boo. You can cook falafels in the oven, but the dough is never going to get super crisp because the heat is surrounding the falafel instead of connecting directly with it. Again, boo. Enter: the waffle iron. A waffle iron uses high heat that can come into direct contact with the dough, and with minimal fat. Plus it’s fun to say. Falafel Waffle. Obviously, this was meant to be.

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Chickpea Party Tricks
We all know that chickpeas are fiber all-stars, providing 50% of your RDI in just one cup, (whoa!) but they have another party trick up their sleeve that I bet you didn’t know about. Two-thirds of the fiber in chickpeas is insoluble, meaning that it doesn’t break down during digestion, but instead moves through our digestive tract unchanged until it hits the large intestine. The fun starts here, where friendly bacteria (think probiotics!) go to town on said insoluble fiber and actually break it down to create short-chain fatty acids, including acetic acid, propionic acid, and butyric acid. These short-chain fatty acids can then be absorbed by the cells that line the wall of our large intestine and used for energy! How rad is that?! Butyric acid is in fact the preferred source of energy for the cells lining our colon, and with this bonus fuel comes greater potential for optimally active and healthy cells. This translates into a reduced risk of colon problems including colon cancer. So friends, invite chickpeas to your next dinner party – they’ll feed you and your colon cells. Can your pot roast do that?

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I cooked several (ahem) of these waffles over the course of my day, you know, for research purposes.  The ones I made first were the lightest and the crispiest. I still liked the ones that I cooked later on, but I found their consistency was a little dense and chewy, so I recommend using up the dough right away instead of making it ahead of time.

I made a couple little extras to accompany the Falafel Waffles, but these are merely (really delicious) suggestions. The Bright Cabbage Slaw take about 2 minutes to whip up, and lends a welcome, acidic top note to the dish as a whole. Try the Harissa Tahini Sauce as well – it’s savoury, creamy, and a little bit spicy. I was inspired by the one Jessie made over at Faring Well – thanks for the spark! Serve the falafels with whatever else you have on hand; avocado is really tasty, sprouts, fresh chilies, pickles, roasted veggies etc. You can also toss a falafel waffle into a pita or wrap if you want to take it to go, or serve them on top of a bed of whole grains for an even more substantial meal.

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Show me your falafels on Instagram! #MNRfalafelwaffles