“Sambal,” a term primarily used in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, is essentially a chili-based condiment. The most common ingredients are chilies, garlic, shallots, and sugar, though many also contain shrimp paste, salt, and tamarind. Bottled versions can now be bought in the US. The Indonesian name for pestle is ulek ulek, this is where makers of chili paste coined the name “sambal ulek,” sometimes spelled “sambal olek.” Removing the veins and seeds from the chilies greatly reduces the spiciness of the dish. A capsicum’s spice is located primarily in the veins; the seeds are guilty by association. If you desire more heat, by all means go with the traditional preparation of using the entire chili. Finishing the sauce with tamarind pulp yields a more liquid sauce with a slightly tart edge.
Preparing sambal is essential to learning about Singaporean and Malaysian cuisine, involves adding fresh red chilies (fresh, dried or both) and combination of shallots and garlic. These are pounded in a mortar to create a paste then usually fried in oil. In recent years, many modern homes have begun to use a blender to simplify this task. The sambal puree is fried until the oil separates out from the solids, becoming visible, and the rawness of the shallot-garlic flavor has softened.
© 2008 Robert Danhi. All rights reserved.