Saturday, May 2, 2020

Cooking with Bless: Milk Rice and Spicy Caramelized Onion Sambol

Having milk rice (kiribath) for breakfast on the first of the month is a custom I like to follow.  My favorite accompaniment with milk rice is a spicy caramelized onion dish we call seeni sambol.  "Seeni", by the way, does not mean onion, it means sugar!  It is called seeni sambol because we add sugar to this spicy onion dish!

Yesterday, being the first of the month, I decided to open my new bag of rice and make milk rice and seeni sambol for breakfast.  Since I often mention these two dishes in my posts and some have asked how I make them, I thought I will take some photos and do a post. 

First of all, I don't measure anything, so all measurements are approximate!  

Milk Rice:

1 cup rice
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 - 3/4 cups milk (coconut or dairy; I haven't tried any other types of milk for this dish)
1/2 teaspoon salt

I am using basmati rice, here, but, any rice should be fine.  I like to rinse my rice a couple of times, but, it is not necessary.  I used a medium sized saucepan to cook my rice, on the stove top.  I added enough water to cover the rice to a depth of about one inch.

This is how I was taught to check if there is enough water when cooking rice to have perfectly cooked rice - rest the tip of your finger on top of the raw rice and the water should come up to the first line of your middle finger:  

Measuring the depth of water
Bring to a boil on high heat and then, simmer on medium to low heat until all the water has been absorbed and the rice has cooked:

Rice being simmered
Once the rice has cooked, add the milk and salt to taste, give it a stir, and continue to cook on low heat, stirring often to prevent it from scorching, until all the milk has been absorbed.  The rice should be soft and cooked through.  If not, add a little more water or milk and cook a bit longer.  It should be the consistency of thick porridge, I'd say, or a thick rice pudding:

Milk Rice 
The above amounts make enough milk rice for at least two servings.  It makes enough for about four servings for me.  I keep it in the fridge and warm up a portion when needed.  I have not tried freezing it.  Some people make milk rice in their rice cooker, but, I have not tried that.

Seeni Sambol:

This is less of a recipe than a how to!

But, ingredients include:
1-2 onions
cloves (powdered is OK)
cardamom pods (or seeds or powdered)
curry leaves (can substitute a bay leaf or two)
pandan leaf (a piece or two) optional - pictured below
chili powder or crushed chili pieces (1/2 - 1 tsp. depending on how spicy you want it)
Maldive fish pieces (optional) - pictured below
tamarind (or lemon or lime juice) - pictured below
cinnamon (a few pieces, or powder)
lemon grass (optional; I don't have any, so didn't add it!)
oil for sauteing

Maldive fish is a type of dried fish used as a condiment; it is optional.

Maldive Fish 

Maldive Fish Pieces

Pandan leaves are optional, too.  I don't have fresh pandan leaves; I use frozen leaves that I bought from an Asian grocery store:

Frozen Pandan Leaves

I buy tamarind pods as they are available in the ethnic grocery stores, here, but, one can use lemon or lime juice, instead.  The pods need to be peeled before using.

Tamarind Pod

Tamarind Pod, Peeled

Ideally, one should soak the tamarind in a bit of water, scrape the softened pulp off to add to the dish, but, I am lazy, so I just add it as it is to the dish.  However, tamarind pods include seeds, which should be removed; nothing will happen if you cook them, but, they don't taste good if you bite into them, and, in this particular dish, it is easier to remove them before cooking.

Tamarind Seed 

In Sri Lanka, shallots are the preferred type of onion for this dish and they are finely sliced.  I use regular brown onions and I chop mine into small pieces, but sliced is fine, too:

Chopped Onions

Add enough oil to the saute pan to cover the bottom of the pan and a little bit more:

Saute Pan with Oil
Add the chopped onions, salt, curry leaves, and spices (but not the sugar).

Onions with curry leaves, cloves, cardamom pods, and cinnamon sticks

Add chili powder
I opened a new packet of chili powder and added a heaping teaspoon, but a level teaspoon would have been fine, because that chili powder was HOT!

Saute the onions on low heat, stirring often to make sure it all cooks evenly and nothing gets burned:

Half-way through cooking
I like my onions to be well cooked and and the seeni sambol to be more dry than wet, so I cook this for about 15 to 20 minutes.  At the end, when it is almost done, I added some sugar, about 2 heaping teaspoons:

Add sugar
Then, cook it for a few more minutes and the resulting seeni sambol is both sweet and spicy!

Seeni Sambol
I served myself a plate of milk rice and seeni sambol for a late brunch:it 

Brunch: Milk Rice with Seeni Sambol
The rest of the seeni sambol has been put into a glass jar and put in the fridge.  It can be eaten with bread or practically any other starch.

By the way, milk rice can be eaten with jaggery (palm sugar) or any other type of sugar, as well.  I like to eat it with brown sugar, if I don't have jaggery, but, my daughter prefers white sugar. 

Hope you enjoyed this "Cooking with Bless" post.  Hope you might like to try making milk rice and/or seeni sambol. 


  1. Thanks for that really informative recipe guide Bless. It sounds very tasty. I hope you are staying safe during this awful time.

    1. You are welcome, Cherie. These two dishes are two of my "comfort foods" as they say. I am staying at home and keeping safe, thank you. Hope all is well with you, too.

  2. I've thoroughly enjoyed this post, Bless, and I'm definitely going to try making the milk rice this week. And thank you for the tip on measuring the water for cooking it. X

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Jules. Let me know if you liked the milk rice. And you are welcome - that is how I've always measured the water when cooking rice. :)

  3. Thank you for those tutorials, Bless! You are a good cook! Technique is the key and it is nice to see how-to.
    I enjoyed your backyard stroll also! (I like dandelions...) Andrea

    1. Thank you, Andrea. Yes, often, it is good to see how it is done and how it should look, etc. Glad you enjoyed the stroll around the backyard, as well. :)

  4. Yay, thanks Bless. I will be trying this as soon as I get my next food delivery. I need lemons or lime and some more coconut milk - I have one can left but that's needed for a chicken and chickpea curry. I only have soya milk and am not sure whether I fancy that in the milk rice.

    Please will you post a recipe for your mackerel curry as well?

    1. You are welcome, Eileen. One of the reasons why I posted this is because you had mentioned you wanted to make them and I thought it might be helpful to see how it is done (although, I know there are plenty of tutorial videos online).

      My mackerel curry recipe is here:

      I didn't do a step-by-step with photos post, though. But, let me know if you want me to do that and I'll take some photos the next time I make it. :)

  5. P.S. I hope Cooking With Bless is going to be a regular feature 😁

    1. LOL, actually, I've done a couple of other "Cooking with Bless" posts, earlier:

      Here's one for my dhal curry and sauteed okra:

      And one for sweet and spicy pork ribs:

      And curried cauliflower:

  6. I grew up eating milk rice but never heard it called that. We would sometimes sprinkle it with raw sugar and add a dollop of butter before eating it.
    I have never had the other dish though. Thanks for sharing--it is always fun to know other customs. xo Diana

    1. Diana, I'm sure milk rice and rice pudding are very similar. I like milk rice, but, don't much care for rice pudding! Isn't that weird?

  7. I enjoyed your "Cooking with Bless" post. The seeni sambol has such a different combination of flavors together than I am used to. I'd like to try it sometime, but probably won't buy all of the special ingredients to make it myself. When the restaurants open again, maybe I can find one that serves it.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Live and Learn. I do hope you will be able to try it at a restaurant, one day.

  8. Happy eating. I enjoy rice and I have made rice milk before, but no dairy and not the same thing you made. But rice in general is fun to work with. Happy May!

    1. Thank you, Ivy. Rice is a staple food for me and I eat it several times a week. :)

  9. I think you have found a new vocation as cooking coach with your clear instructions and photos! I will have to try these dishes soon.

    Really mild today, 22°C, but a strong wind deterred me from serving food on the deck. It didn't deter one of our chipmunks, who retrieved an apple core I threw out for the critters on the front porch, and took it all the way round the house and up onto the corner of the deck!

    1. You are being very kind, Bushlady. :) But, I did enjoy doing that post. :)

      Oh, 22C is very nice weather, but, the strong wind would have kept me inside, too. I wouldn't want anything being blown onto my food! Ha, ha, chipmunk obviously decided to make use of the deck to have his apple treat, since you weren't using it! Too funny!

  10. Yum, must be so aromatic, I love that! I really like rice, so versatile. Have a lovely day, stay safe and healthy everyone!

    1. The spices do make it very aromatic, Natalia. Rice is a staple food for us; we use it or flour made from it, in a lot of ways. Thank you, hope you and your loved ones are doing well and staying safe. Take care.

  11. Thank you for the cooking class.
    You've often talked about these two dishes and now we know how you make them.
    They look delicious :)

    1. You are welcome, Debra. Yes, I make them all the time! :)

  12. Thanks for this. I might copy it out and try the seeni sambol some day. I have been seeing your maldive fishflakes quite often and feeling dubious, but suddenly yesterday I remembered katsuobushi (bonito flakes) from Japanese cuisine. I googled both and it seems they are very similar. (Not that I really love katsuobushi either, but I don't mind it. It is is served sprinkled over hot food so that the flakes flutter in the heat; the first time I saw it I was horrified and thought for a split second it was something alive! I got over it and will eat them now, but if cooking for myself, I leave it out.)

    1. Yes, they are both very similar. But, you can make seeni sambol without the Maldive fish and it will be just as good. :)


Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting. Your comments are much appreciated. Please comment in English. Thank you.