sambal: what is it? (a clue - not a style of music, dance or a football player!)

my sambal condiment
Every so often I take a photograph that I really like. It’s never because of any technical artistry (because I haven’t any), but usually because of the colours. Yesterday’s posting on Hainanese chicken and rice with condiments is the perfect example of something I liked that you didn't get to see. I posted a picture of the whole dish and in the corner you can see a shallow bowl of sambal. The food was photographed outside (largely because I still haven’t got the hang of indoor photography). But it was cold and windy outside, so it was literally a case of point, click and run inside with the tray of food as quickly as possible. Brrrr!

So I think you missed out on the beauty and warm vibrancy of my sambal in close proximity, which is a complete contrast to the grey autumn-winter weather outside. This is also an excuse for me to write a short post about what sambal is!

So what exactly is sambal? Contrary to how it sounds, it is not a style of Latin-infused music, dance or even a world famous South American footballer. It is a chilli-based condiment, very popular across South East Asia, in particular Indonesia, my beloved Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka. It also shows up in South Africa, as part of Cape Malay cooking.

Sambals can be raw or cooked and are very similar to the Thai equivalent of Nam Prik Pao. They probably originated in Indonesia (the word sambal is of Javanese origin) before migrating west to Malaysia and Singapore. Indonesia has 100s of different types of sambals; many are localised – specific to a particular island that makes up the vast archipelago. Some sambals are made with a particular type of chilli and others include ketjap manis (sweet soy sauce), shallots, tamarind, candlenuts, ikan bilis (anchovies), galangal (similar to ginger) and lime. Probably the most widely-known in British shops of Indonesia’s sambals is sambal ulek (oelek) which is a simple raw paste of red chillies, garlic and shallots.

While Malaysia might not have quite so many sambals, sambal jeruk (which I published yesterday) is widely used as an accompaniment to rice and noodles (frequently in my house!) I also love sambal belacan, which includes toasted shrimp paste.

Make your own sambal and you will never want to buy a ready-made version again. It is quick and easy to make and stores well in the fridge.

good things to add to a sambal:
  • shallots
  • crushed peanuts
  • turmeric
  • lemongrass
  • dried anchovies
  • dried shrimp paste
  • tamarind paste
  • rice vinegar
  • Sambal can be the building block of many dishes. It is fabulous with rice and noodles, a great seasoning for soups and is delicious with stir-fried or baked fish and meat.
  • Personally, I love a dollop of sambal on fried or poached eggs for breakfast or in a sandwich!
  • Stir a small amount of sambal into a vinaigrette or mayonnaise dressing for salads.
  • Add to marinades for an extra kick!


o cozinheiro este algarve said...

I love sambals.I tried my hand at Oelek sambal recently but it was not one of my successes.Where is your recipe?

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Ah ha. I amended the post and put a link (it's within the Hainanese Chicken recipe). But try the nam prik pao - it really has a kapow flavour!