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Chili Sambal

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This chili sambal can be prepared in minutes and tastes great!

One of the things I enjoyed most about visiting Sri Lanka was eating and also learning how to prepare delicious Sri Lankan food like this easy chili sambal. There are so many different sambals that are served with different main and side dishes. Sambal is the Sinhala name for it. You might have heard chili sambal called a sambol which is the tamil word for this spicy chutney.

Chili Sambal

Call it sambol or sambal… either way it’s delicious.

About this chili sambal recipe…

This is a recipe I learned on a visit to a small village. All of the cooking and food preparation was done in a small hut. The sambals were prepared as they have been for hundreds of years: on a stone table. The ingredients were place on the grinding stone and then smashed to a paste, with just a little water.

I watched as a batch of this chili sambal was prepared and then the cook, asked me to give it a try.

I sat there and grinded my first chili sambal. It was an experience I will always remember.

Special Ingredients

One of the ingredients used to make this and other chili sambals was Maldive fish. This is a popular ingredient in many sambals but it’s not something you can just run up to the supermarket and purchase.

You will find it online and at specialty Sri Lankan shops though. Failing that, you could use dried baby shrimp which are easier to find at most Asian grocers.

That’s what I used in this recipe but I now am the proud owner of several jars of dried Maldive fish.

How is chili sambal made?

Dried bird’s eye chilies are first soaked in water to rehydrate them. Then they are pounded on the grinding stone into a thick paste.

Then, one by one, each of the other ingredients is added to the chilies and the grinding continues until it’s all pounded and ready to enjoy.

How I changed the recipe…

To be honest, I’m not sure if I changed the recipe at all. I have always toasted dried chillies before soaking them. It brings out the flavour. It’s possible they did the same but I didn’t see this done.

You can toast or leave them as they are before soaking.

You could probably leave the roasting step out without affecting the flavour too much. I used dried shrimp instead of Maldive fish as they use in Sri Lanka.

Making chilli sambol

Toasting the dry chillies until warm and fragrant.

Making red chilli sambol

Grind your red chillies into a paste.

Making chilli sambol

Add the onions and keep grinding and pounding.

Making chilli sambol

Add the maldive fish or dried prawns.

Chilli sambol

Once all pounded into a paste, add salt and lime juice to taste.

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If you like this Sri Lankan chili sambal, try some of these Sri Lankan favourites too…

Butternut Squash Curry
Black pork curry
Black chicken curry
Crab curry
3 Meat Curry
Eggplant (Aubergine) curry
Green Bean Curry
Sri Lankan Beef Curry

Yield: 250ml

Sri Lankan Red Chilli Sambol

Sri Lankan Red Chilli Sambol
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes


  • 50g dried red chillies (the kind shown)
  • 50g red onion - finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Maldive dried fish or dried shrimp
  • Lime juice to taste
  • Salt to taste


  1. Roast your chillies for about three minutes until fragrant over medium heat in a dry frying pan.
  2. Soak the chillies for half an hour. Remove the stems and place in a mortar or food processor.
  3. Using your pestle and mortar (or food processor) grind the red chillies with just a little water until you have a paste.
  4. Add the onion and dried fish or shrimp and continue grinding until combined.
  5. Squeeze a little lime juice over it all and add salt to taste.

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