(1 hour, serves 8)
The Sri Lankan version of caramelized onions is sweet, spicy, and tangy. It’s important to cook the onions slowly—all the liquid in the onion must evaporate if you want the sambol to keep well. Made properly, this dish can keep for several weeks in the fridge, so you can enjoy a little with each curry meal for quite a long time. An essential accompaniment for hoppers, and delicious with many other meals.
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 TBL Maldive fish, powdered (optional)
4 medium onions, finely sliced
2 rounded tsp chili powder
1 inch cinnamon stick
3 cardamom pods
1 stalk curry leaves
1 tsp salt, or to taste
2 TBL tamarind pulp
2 TBL sugar
1. Heat oil in a large frying pan and start sautéing onions on medium-low (with Maldive fish, if using). Add cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, curry leaves, and chill powder; continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until soft and transparent, about 30 minutes.
2. After about 30 minutes, cover pan, and simmer 10 minutes.
3. Uncover pan and continue simmering, stirring occasionally, until liquid evaporates and oil starts to separate from other ingredients. Season to taste with salt.
4. Remove from heat, stir in sugar and tamarind pulp and allow to cool before putting in a clean dry jar. Use in small quantities.