Salads make me feel happy inside. Not because salads are hilariously good at telling jokes like this. But happy, anyway. A good salad, whether it’s a garden salad, a main course salad, a fruit salad, a dessert salad or whatever, can be bursting with incredible flavour, if prepared right – like the one that I’m going to show you today! If I ever had to describe my style of food, this would be it. It’s colourful and it’s packed with all the flavour profiles you’d want from a dish – from perfectly cooked, deliciously moist and warm chicken to the refreshingly cool and sweet rock melon, from the heat and spicy kick of the herby dressing to the wonderful texture and flavour of the salty and spicy coconut sambol topping, this Chicken and Melon salad with Coconut Sambol is one of the most satisfying and guilt-free salads that I’ve ever tasted!
And yes, a uniquely Sri Lankan, Pol Sambol (Coconut Sambol)! Ask any Sri Lankan and they’ll tell you how much they love it and how much of a staple dish it is in their meals. It’s often eaten with rice, bread, potatoes, sweet potatoes etc. but here I’m pairing it with a salad! You can see the green pepper sambol version that I made in my Black Pork Curry post. The original version however is made with red chilli peppers, chilli powder, lemon, onions and dried fish flakes and here I have modified it ever so slightly by removing the fish flakes and adding some lemongrass to complement this salad. And I dried out this mix completely by toasting the coconut sambol in a dry non stick frying pan.
Like I said, this coconut sambol is a staple in almost every Sri Lankan household and it completely transforms this salad! I mean it’s not even the same thing without the sambol. I used to love eating it as a sandwich filling (where this sambol would just go between two slices of buttered bread, that’s it, and you’d never realize how amazing that combo is until you try it!), and one of my non Sri-Lankan friends used to call it the “orange sandwich”. 🙂 The deep orange colour comes from the red chilli peppers and chilli powder. It packs a wallop in terms of heat (which of course you can change to your liking), and every bite is packed with the nuttiness of coconut, the spicy heat of red chilli, the sweetness and saltiness of onions and the tartness of lemon and lime, all mixing and mingling with each other to completely elevate this salad. One of my (and my husband’s) favourite ways to eat steamed rice is with just coconut sambol and a gravy made out of coconut milk. That’s it. Wakes up all the taste buds in my mouth and every single neuron in my brain that’s connected to all the sweet memories of my childhood, without fail.
There’s no denying it, the star of this salad is the sambol. It ties together all the flavours of the perfectly cooked chicken, the rock melon and the tangy dressing and adds a nice textural element as well.
My other favourite component in this salad is the dressing! It’s a spicy, tangy, sweet dressing and it gives incredible flavour to anything that it comes in contact with. I heated oil and used that hot oil to “sizzle” all the ingredients of the dressing (see below) so that they cook together, which helps all the flavours blend together.
Once those dressing ingredients have been “cooked” and mixed well together, I add the tamarind (instead of vinegar) which results in a nice thick paste. To use it as a dressing I dilute it with some water. You can even use the undiluted paste and maybe even toss it with the chicken too.
I chose to drizzle this fantastic dressing over the perfectly poached chicken, red bell peppers and salad leaves instead.
Some rock melon slices,
and a sprinkling of coconut sambol later,
your delicious salad is ready to be served (and devoured)!
Chicken and Melon Salad with Coconut Sambol
- Salad leaves of your choice for 4 I used a mix of garden salads and butter lettuce
- 1 sliced red bell pepper
- ½ a small rock melon sliced (watermelon or honeydew will also work)
- 2 chicken breasts poached and shredded or leftover chicken (about 12 -14 oz/ 350-400 g)
- about ½ cup of coconut sambol more, if you prefer
- Tamarind dressing
- ½ cup desiccated unsweetened coconut (or fresh coconut if available)
- ¼ cup finely chopped onions
- 1 tbsp finely chopped lemongrass or minced lemongrass paste
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- ¼ tsp sugar
- salt to taste
- 2-4 tsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp tamarind paste
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 2 tsp grated ginger
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- ½ tsp cumin
- 1 tbsp red chilli flakes
- 2 tbsp finely chopped red onion
- 3 tbsp packed chopped parsley
- ¼ cup oil vegetable oil or peanut oil
- water to thin out the dressing
- In a bowl, combine chopped onions, lemongrass, cayenne pepper, sugar and 2 tsp of lemon juice and mix well.
- Add the desiccated coconut and using your hands mix well until all the spices are absorbed by the coconut and it turns orange.
- Add a pinch or two of salt to taste, mixing well.
- Taste and add more lemon juice if you prefer.
- Heat a small nonstick pan on medium heat, and add the coconut sambol.
- Toast the coconut sambol over medium heat until it becomes dry and slightly toasted. Remember to move the coconut around the pan frequently to avoid burning.
- Set aside to cool.
- In a heat proof bowl, place the grated ginger, brown sugar, cumin, red chilli flakes, chopped parsley and onion.
- In a non stick saucepan or pan, heat the oil until it is really hot and simmering.
- Carefully pour the hot oil over the ingredients in the bowl. Mix well to combine.
- Add the soy sauce and tamarind and mix well. Add water to thin it out if required. Set aside to cool.
- In a large bowl, place the salad leaves, red bell pepper, chicken and drizzle the cooled dressing on top. Toss to combine.
- Layer the rock melon in the salad. Sprinkle the coconut sambol over everything, just before serving.
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