This is an ancient recipe, based primarily on a recipe N. Maheswari Devi saved from 13th-14th c. manuscripts in the Jaffna Library. The library, which contained over 97,000 books and manuscripts and was one of the largest in Asia, was burned by an organized mob on June 1, 1981, during the Sri Lankan conflict, one of the great tragedies of that era. The burning was one of the most violent examples of ethnic biblioclasm of the 20th century.
Although the library has since been rebuilt, many irreplaceable manuscripts were lost to the world. I offer this recipe to you with gratitude to the author for her work researching and saving many such recipes, and recommend her book to you, Jaffna Heritage Cooking.
Roses bloom lushly in the hill country of Sri Lanka; if roses aren’t available, hibiscus (shoeflower) also works beautifully here, lending a little more tang. You can prepare this recipe either as a lightly-dressed salad, or as more of a yogurt-based raita, a cooling element with a spicy curry meal.
Petals are quite perishable, so this should be made and served fresh for a salad; a raita will keep for a few days in the fridge.
NOTE: It’s important to only eat flowers that haven’t been treated with pesticides or other poisons when cooking; if you’re not growing the flowers yourself, be sure to buy from reputable sources that certify they are food-grade quality.
about 40 rosebuds, or 20 roses
3-5 green chilies, minced
1/2 c. fresh grated coconut
1/2 c. red onion, minced
1/4 – 1 c. vegan yogurt (determine amount depending on whether you’re aiming for a dressed salad, as pictured, or something closer to a raita)
1 t. fresh mint, minced
1/2 t. salt
1. If using rosebuds, remove the petals from the base. If using fully-grown roses, tear or chop the petals small (otherwise, the large petals will have an unappetizing slick texture). Rinse and drain them well before continuing.
2. Combine petals with remaining ingredients, stirring to mix well. Serve cold.
Note that curry leaves (flat, dark-green leaves) are botanically known as Murraya koenigii; they are aromatic and an essential element of Sri Lankan cuisine; they’re becoming more available in the States these days, and can also be ordered online to arrive as fresh leaves. They can be frozen if needed for use in curries, but for this sambol, it’s best to start with fresh green leaves. Do not confuse them with the ‘curry plant,’ which has fuzzy grey-green spiky leaves which smell like curry; it is not edible.
This recipe is a variation on one found in N. Maheswari Devi’s Jaffna Heritage Cooking; she notes: “These recipes, which were found handwritten on manuscripts date back to the pre-Portuguese period. Cooking with honey is an ancient practice, which has endured from generation to generation, and many age-old recipes which use honey as an ingredient can still be found today.”
I mention this in part because I was honestly surprised to see honey as an ingredient; I hadn’t thought of honey as a typical component of Sri Lankan cuisine. But honey is actually perfect in this recipe, beautifully balancing the savory and spicy elements.
10 stalks curry leaves (about 100 leaves / 2 c.)
8-10 dried chilies
1 c. red onion, chopped
1 c. grated fresh coconut (or desiccated coconut reconstituted with a little warmed coconut milk)
2 T honey
1-2 T lime juice (to taste)
1 t. salt
1. In a sauté pan, toast curry leaves on medium-high, stirring, until lightly toasted.
2. Either with a mortar and pestle, or in a food processor, combine all ingredients until well-blended. Taste and adjust seasonings, then serve with rice and curry, roti, etc.