Sri Lankan Sweet and Hot Stir Fried Onion Sambal (Seeni Sambolaya/Sambal) – Recipe No. 01 සීනි සම්බොල


Undoubtedly, Sri Lankan Seeni Sambal must be one of the top most tastier dishes made primarily with onions, in the world. Its particular combination of mildly hot and sweet taste would make anyone addicted to it forever. In Sri Lanka, I don’t think that it’s possible to find anyone who doesn’t enjoy this. For your information; the word “Seeni” means sugar and “Seeni Sambolaya” mean a sambal made with sugar or that it has a sweetness. Well yes, it makes sense as we use sugar to sweeten it. But you know what, traditionally, people did not use sugar for this dish. In fact, they did not use any sweetener at all. The slight sweetness that onions already have was sufficient for them as its sweetness. However, during the evolution of this dish, at a point, people started to adjust its taste with adding sugar. So, now as you can see, there are more than one versions of this dish and luckily I have learnt and mastered cooking all those types. So this is the recipe No. 01 and trust me this is the most common and the popular way of making this tasty sambal. Surely, I will give you guys rest of the recipes soon.

Ha for once who are new to Ceylonese cuisine, this is so great with bread, rice or rice and other curries, as a filling for buns, with roti and food like pittu, milk rice, string hoppers and hopper.



  • 4-5 medium-to-large sized onions – Finely chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic – finely chopped or sliced
  • 1 tsp of finely chopped garlic
  • 1 ½ – 2 tbsps. of red chili flakes (you may adjust the amount to your taste)
  • 1 ½ tsps. of tamarind paste (bottled) mixed in ½ a cup of water
              Usually, we take pulp with its seeds and soak in lukewarm water for about 10 minutes. Then, you can easily make a cream with your fingertips and remove the seeds at the same time. If you are following this traditional method, take 1 ½ tsp of tamarind pulp and soak in ½ a cup of lukewarm water and prepare its cream.
2 to 3 tbsps. of Maldives fish (Umbalakada)- Optional but highly recommended.
  • 1 tbsp. of sugar
  • 1 stick of cinnamon – crushed into smaller pieces
  • 5 cardamom seeds
  • 4- 5 cloves
  • 1 -2 spikes of curry leaves
  • Few small pieces of a pandan leaf
  • ½ a cup of cooking oil



First, add around ¾ tsp of salt to onion cut pieces and mix thoroughly with your hands. Now, warm the oil under medium-to-high heat level and bring in garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves and stir fry for about 10 seconds.


Then, add the salted onions to the pot and continue stir frying for about 10 minutes.


Remember to stir continuously in order the onions to get fried evenly and to prevent sticking to the bottom inner surface of the pot. Now, once the onions become less-moist-looking and cooked, add chili flakes (and Maldives fish small pieces) and continue stir frying.




At this point, it is better to lower the heat a bit. May be to low-to-medium level as the chili flakes may be burnt fast. Ok, continue frying with the chili flakes for about 2 minutes before the next step. Remember, you will be now seed the oil and onions turning golden or reddish from the color pigments of chili flakes. Ok After, quickly increase the heat a bit and pour in ¾ of the prepared tamarind cream and mix rigorously for about 20 seconds. Now, once again lower the heat to low-to-medium level and add the sugar and continue stir frying for about 30 seconds. At this point you can carefully taste and adjust salt, tamarind and even sugar for your taste. Ha remember, you can add salt to your taste at any step of the recipe.  


Remember to follow the same order when combining ingredients. Don’t add chilies before the onions are well fried as chilies may burnt if exposed to heat for a longer period.
Don’t add the tamarind cream before chilies as it would prevent the chilies being fried efficiently.
Once you add the sugar, make sure to lower the heat and not to cook for a longer period as sugar would crystalized when cooling down if more heat was given. Then your dish will become a “candied sambal ” not a Seeni Sambal 🙂 😉
you can also add the Maldives fish pieces when the onions are half way cooked. Just don’t add them right at the beginning as they might absorb more liquid from the onions and they will be, internally, kind a boiled rather than being fried.


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