Sambal, the ubiquitous chili condiment found all across Asia, and in particular Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia is so addictive, you won’t be able to stop yourself from putting it on just about everything.
There is no one recipe for sambal as there are so many variations of this chili condiment, but the base components to sambal are primarily red chilies, shallots, ginger and garlic. From here, the possibilities are truly endless. Each region has its own variations and within that, family traditions which can vary from one household to the next.
In Singapore, practically every noodle or fried rice hawker will have a tub of sambal on the side which you can then add copious quantities of to your dish before finding a place to eat. Some sambals will contain belacan which is a fermented shrimp paste with a rather distinct odor. The version of sambal I tend to make at home more often is one without belacan as it’s more flexible and I can then use it on both asian and non asian dishes.
This recipe for sambal is one of my favorites, made with baby tomatoes and lemongrass. I started making this last year when I had a surplus of lemongrass on hand and ever since then, it’s been a standard addition to my sambas. The addition of a few tomatoes to this sambal is similar to the Indonesian Sambal Tomat, which gives it a bit of a tang and also cuts down on the sometimes intense heat level (it all depends on how hot your chilies are). Also, shallots are traditional but I don’t always have shallots at home, so red onion often makes the cut.
You’ll find the video here. If you do decide to make this, let me know how it turns out for you!
20 red chilies, de-seeded (optional) and roughly chopped
10 grape tomatoes, cut in half
2 inch x 1 inch ginger, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 med red onion, peeled and chopped
4 stalks lemongrass, ends trimmed and outer leaves removed
1.5 tsp salt
1 tsp ground pepper
3 tsp palm sugar (or brown sugar if palm sugar isn’t available)
3 tsp tamarind paste
5 Tbsp neutral tasting oil
- In a very large mortar and pestle (or a large metal bowl and a wooden mallet), add the chopped chilies, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, onion and lemongrass. Pound the ingredients for 4 to 5 minutes to slowly allow the ingredients to break down. If you prefer to make this sambal in a traditional way, you should continue to pound the ingredients, while stirring occasionally with a spoon until the ingredients completely break down into a paste. Alternatively, pound for 4 to 5 minutes to release some of the juices and then place the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until you form a smooth paste.
- In a large wok, heat the oil for 1-2 minutes and pour the paste into the wok.
- Fry the paste over low to medium flame in the oil for approximately 10 minutes. Then add the salt, pepper, palm sugar and tamarind paste.
- Continue stirring and frying for another 10 minutes. You should start to see the oil separating from the sambal at this point. If you don’t, keep stirring until the oil separates. The sambal is done at that point.
- Place the sambal in a clean jar and allow to cool to room temperate.
- Cover and place in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Serve this on noodles, fried rice, or use it as a spice paste for coconut curries. Or mix it with some mayo for a spicy spread! Possibilities are truly endless!