Gotu Kola Sambol is a bright green side salad made with finely chopped Indian pennywort, grated coconut, lime juice, and chilies. This fresh and easy recipe with a secret seasoning is suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Sambol is extremely popular in Sri Lanka, and I think it has some fun similarities to Italian gremolata and Argentinian chimichurri.
⭐ Why it works
- No fish flakes or meat products.
- Fresh intense flavor compliments many foods.
- Nutritious with exceptional levels of vitamins A and C as well as iron.
- Wild-harvest centella asiatica and market produce are both good.
- Customizable recipe from no heat to extremely spicy.
- Gotu kola - choose bright green perky leaves of centella asiatica.
- Coconut - fresh grated is best, but shredded dry coconut can be used if rehydrated.
- Shallots - more kick than dry bulb onions and sweeter than garlic - just right.
- Green chili - adjust the amount for the spicy level you like.
- Lemon or lime - lime is traditional, but lemon is pleasant and less bitter.
- Vegan fish sauce - the signature ingredient that makes this plant-based recipe so tasty.
- Chop fresh pennywort (centella asiatica) leaves.
- Grate fresh coconut.
- Prepare shallots, lemon or lime juice, tomato, and green chilies.
- Mix chopped and sliced ingredients with citrus juice and vegan fish sauce.
🌿 What is gotu kola?
The scientific name for gotu kola, or pennywort, is centella asiatica. The greens are commonly known as vallarai keerai in Tamil, pohe kula in Hawaii, pegagan in Indonesia, and a myriad of other names around the world.
It's no wonder this amazing plant has so many names. It's a nutritious superfood found in the wild and in farmers' markets that has been valued for centuries around the globe for its health benefits.
Check out this post on centella asiatica if you would like to read about its benefits and discover more ways to prepare and eat it.
🥥 Grating coconut
My motto is fresh is always best, so here are a few pointers on grating your own coconut. While there are many ways to crack one open, I find this method simple and uncomplicated.
- Ordinary table knife with a serrated edge
- Heavy chefs knife or cleaver
- Bowl to catch coconut water
- Citrus zester or coconut grater
- "Mark" the circumference of your coconut with a wet finger. Then run an ordinary table knife with a serrated edge around the mark to create a shallow groove.
- Hold the shell in the palm of your hand over a bowl to catch the water inside. (If you prefer, you can pierce the eyes of the coconut and drain the water first.) Take a heavy knife or cleaver. Use the dull edge opposite the sharp blade to whack the shell as you turn it in your palm. DON'T USE THE SHARP END OF YOUR KNIFE AGAINST THE SHELL!
- After several thumps, the shell will pop right in half. It's easier than you might think.
- Now you can scrape your fresh shreds for sambol. There are coconut graters of all kinds on the market. But if you don't have one, I find a citrus zester, as shown in the photo above, works fine for this recipe.
👩🏻🍳 Expert tips
- Wash and spin dry fresh pennywort. Then remove stems before chopping to a fine texture.
- Temper the spiciness of your sambol to taste. You can even leave chili out if you want.
- Be extra careful opening a fresh coconut, and don't use the sharp end of your heavy knife or cleaver to hit the coconut shell.
- You can substitute freshly grated coconut with shredded dried coconut that has been soaked in warm water for 30 minutes.
- The signature seasoning in this recipe makes all the difference. However, if you need a substitute for vegan fish sauce, you can use coconut aminos, light soy sauce, or ½ teaspoon of sea salt to taste with a pinch of brown sugar and garlic powder.
- Freshly made sambol can be chilled and is best consumed the same day it's prepared.
Maldive fish flakes are used frequently in Sri Lankan cuisine. Thus, it's included in many traditional gotu kola sambol recipes. You don't have to worry, though, if you are looking for a delicious condiment without fish, as the seasoning in this recipe is completely vegan.
You'll want to check the label if purchasing vegan fish sauce from the market. Not all brands are gluten-free. The Best Vegan Fish Sauce Substitute made with tamari in place of soy sauce is gluten-free.
🥦 More superfood recipes
- 4 oz. fresh gotu kola leaves, about 4 cups well packed
- ½ cup finely shredded fresh coconut
- ¼ cup diced tomato
- 2 tablespoons minced shallot
- 1 teaspoon minced green chili or more to taste
- 2 tablespoons vegan fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice
- Wash gotu kola well and spin dry. Remove stems from leaves and discard the stems. measure out 4 cups of leaves. Finely chop the gotu kola.
- Grate fresh coconut and measure out ½ cup. See photos and tips in the recipe post for cracking open a coconut if needed.
- If using dry shredded coconut, cover with warm water and soak for 30 minutes to rehydrate. Measure out ½ cup after it is soaked and drained.
- Dice tomato, mince shallot, and squeeze lemon or lime juice.
- Mince green chili. See recipe notes for adjusting the spiciness of your sambol to taste.
- Mix all the prepared ingredients together. Adjust taste by adding more vegan fish sauce, lime juice, or chili if desired.
- Serve sambol right away or chill and serve later the same day.