Seeni Sambal / Caramelized Onion Relish

Seeni Sambal or as some people call it sambol: is a very famous Caramelized onion relish that the Sri lankan cuisine boasts. It is a versatile dish; that has a combination of sweetness, sourness and spiciness all included in one dish. It can be enjoyed as a side with a Toast, or a Coconut Roti; or with some warm Rice. If you fancy it: you can even have it on your Burger too.

Coconut roti and Seeni sambal(Caramelized onion relish) on a table with Ceylon black tea.

Whether you have too much onion lying around in your pantry, or you want to get creative with your condiments for the upcoming grilling season: I have you covered.

The Ingredients are pretty basic at a glance. You might already have most of them at home; but there is one key ingredient that may be a bit hard to find. That is the main sour enhancer for the dish: Goraka (dried Brindle berry). If you do not have that wonder at hand, you can use Tamarind instead. You will only need to make a little paste out of either one, but a little extra will make the relish a tangy-special.

Ingredients on a table: Sliced onion,Chili flakes,cinnamon,cloves,cardamom,pandan leaf,curry leaves, Brindle berry paste.

Traditionally, this dish calls for dried Maldive fish (cured Tuna). But, today I am sharing a vegan version of the Seeni sambal. But if you have some dried Maldive fish handy, simply add it with the onion mixture while cooking, and you will have a flavor of the sea in your dish.

Bowl of Seeni sambol with wooden spoon on a table.

Seeni Sambal / Caramelized Onion Relish

Serves 6-8 | Prep Time 15 mins | Cook time 30 mins


  • 10 medium size Onions
  • 2 tablespoon dried Chili flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cardamom pods
  • 1 inch Cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 cup Goraka (or Tamarind) paste
  • 5 Curry leaves
  • 1 inch Pandan Leaf
  • 2 tablespoon Oil
  • 1-2 tablespoon Sugar
  • Salt to taste


  • Soak the Goraka (or Tamarind) in water, make a paste and set aside.
  • Slice the Onion into thin slices and mix the salt, Goraka (or Tamarind) paste and keep aside.
  • In a non-stick pan: heat the oil.
  • Add Cloves, Caradamom, Cinnamon, Curry leaves, Pandan leaf into the oil and saute for 1-2 minutes.
  • Add the Onion mixture to the oil and mix well. Cover and cook for 5-10 minutes while stirring in between.
  • When the Onions turns shiny and translucent: add the Chili flakes and mix well until all ingredients incorporate.
  • Once the Onion starts turning to a darker color, add Sugar, and Salt to your taste.


  • Slicing the onion thin is a key here, as this will enable even cooking of the Onion.
  • To make the Goraka or Tamarind paste, soak them in lukewarm water and squish it up with your hand to get all the pulp dissolved.
  • If you use Tamarind for this: the end result will be more of a brown colored relish; if you use Goraka, the relish is going to be a dark brown.
  • Feel free to adjust Sugar and Chili flakes based on how intense you want the relish to taste.

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