If we were asked to describe the personality of Southeast Asian cuisine, the first attributes that will surely come to mind are the many spices and herbs that give our most beloved recipes the distinct aromatic flavours and textures. Of this array of flavours, sambal oelek is one of the most popular.
Not only does this chilli paste add heat and flavour to Asian dishes, it also gives a depth of saltiness and sweetness. The beauty of sambal oelek is that it is so versatile, as it can be infused in dishes as well as served on the side. Best of all, it can be stored for later use.
Sambal oelek can be tailored to your taste, by either adding sugar to lessen the spiciness or drizzling some fish oil to boost saltiness. As for arriving at the desired texture of homemade sambal, you can use either a mortar and pestle or food processor.
At the end of the day, it is you who defines what the best sambal sauce is, just as it’s up to you to decide what the best sambal recipe is. If you have never tried cooking with this fiery, flavourful paste, now is the time to start!
Looking for the Best Sambal Recipe? Try These!
1. Sambal Eggs
Sambal eggs is a staple of Malaysian cooking, often served as an accompanying side dish to main meals like Nasi lemak. This dish puts its own spin on ordinary boiled eggs by infusing them with a rich, spicy flavour. To make sambal eggs, you must fry eggs until the outer layer becomes crunchy, while the inside remains tender. Are you sold, yet?
2. Sambal Squid
This iconic seafood barbeque dish is a comfort food for those who grew up frequenting hawker centres. Also known as sambal sotong, a Malaysian favorite, it is made by stir-frying fresh squid along with onions and garlic—some prefer adding ginger as well, which is followed by sautéeing the remaining ingredients separately, and finally, simmering them all together until the sauce is thick and aromatic.
3. Sambal Stingray
Also known as Ikan bakar, this popular Malaysian hawker dish is typically cooked within a banana leaf. (Although foil will do just fine if you have none on hand.) The stingray is first sprinkled with salt—it can also be marinated in chilli—before being grilled or pan-fried over high heat, topped with sambal, laid on a banana leaf that’s been lightly coated in vegetable oil to lock in the flavour. The result is a juicy, tender, and pleasantly spicy fish.
4. Curry Laksa
Curry laksa is a rich and savoury spicy noodle soup with a coconut milk and curry base that is a staple of Peranakan cuisine. Also known as curry mee, this is made with rice or egg noodles and a curry coconut-based broth. Its heat and tangy-spicy flavour come from the garnishes: lime, cilantro, shallots, and of course, sambal chilli paste.
5. Sambal Chicken
This dish is a favourite among foodies who enjoy Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine. When purchased in hawker centres, it is often served with roti canai. This is made by stir-frying aromatic ingredients: ginger, onion, and chillies, and then frying the chicken in vegetable oil as well as sambal chilli paste, coconut milk, and salt.
However, in Indonesian cuisine, sambal chicken can also be prepared through grilling chicken parts or even bite-sized pieces in skewers. It can even be deconstructed further and shredded to become taco fillings or salad toppings.
6. Prawn Sambal
Also known as sambal udang, this dish is a citrusy, spicy Malaysian favourite. The prawns are first stir-fried before being bathed in a rich sambal gravy with a hint of tamarind and lime that’s been processed into a smooth paste and heated beforehand. Once the prawns and sambal gravy is well mixed, the dish can be seasoned with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with white rice and vegetables as desired.
7. Sambal noodles
Take noodles and toss them together with shrimp, egg and bok choy and you will get this hearty one-dish meal. If you find yourself craving for a fragrant noodle dish that will give you a sweet, spicy, and sour fix, this is the dish to make. This dish can be served with cashews, lime wedges, and more sambal sauce on the side.
There are so many possible sambal dishes out there. What do you think the best sambal recipe is?