Red chilli sambal

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


Appears in

Fire Islands: Recipes from Indonesia

Fire Islands

By Eleanor Ford

Published 2019

  • About

Red chilli sings out in this sweet but complex coral red paste. It is more exciting than sambal oelek and incredibly versatile - if any dish is missing a certain something, stir in a spoonful of this to bring it back on track.


  • 6 tablespoons oil
  • 4 small red Asian shallots, roughly chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled but whole
  • 2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 large red chillies, roughly chopped
  • ½ or 1 red bird’s eye chilli
  • ½ teaspoon shrimp paste (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon dark palm sugar (gula jawa)
  • juice of a kaffir lime or zest and juice of ½ a lime


Heat the oil in the frying pan - be generous as it’s crucial for depth of flavour: you can pour the excess off later. Soften the shallots and garlic in the oil for a few minutes, then add the tomatoes, chillies with their seeds and shrimp paste. Fry over a medium heat until everything is collapsed and softened.

Transfer to a high-speed blender and whizz to a puree. Return to the pan with the palm sugar and a pinch of salt. Fry, stirring often, until the sambal darkens and the oil starts to rise to the surface. Leave to cool.

Brighten the flavours of the sambal with a final spritz of kaffir lime.