Sambal
Chili Paste From Hell - er, Indonesia

Sambal, it's the daily condiment in Indonesia. Sambal is a "relish" made of chilis. I watched grown men cry in Indonesia while eating, still heaping on more sambal. Yes, even though they eat it daily, they, too, break into a sweat, their eyes water, their noses run, and they drink lots of water or sweet tea to wash it down.

The most common, sambal ulek (OO-luk) is made by chopping up fresh red chilis, much hotter than jalapenos, and grinding them to a paste, seeds and all, on a flat lava stone grinder, using a hard shaped rock to make sure the seeds are thoroughly pulverized. It may include shallots, garlic, and salt.

Other sambals are made of sliced green chilis with peteh beans - which have a rather, err, distictive flavor, something of an acquired taste. You can sometimes find Sambal Peteh or the Peteh themselves at Indonesian and Dutch markets, or specialty seasoning shops.

You can find jars of chili paste at the supermarket sometimes. I found some Vietnamese chili paste in the "International Foods" aisle of my local Safeway and tastes alot like sambal ulek.

One of my favorite sambals is Sambal Bajak

Sambal Bajak

  • 1-1/2 cups crushed dried red chilis or 2 cups fresh with seeds
  • 2 cups dried onion flakes or 2-1/2 cups fresh onion

If using dried chili and onion, place them in a bowl of water just to cover and let soak for some time - at least 15 minutes. If using fresh chili and onion, pulverize in blender or food processor

  • 6 cloves of garlic, smashed well
  • 1 tsp. sugar - or more to taste
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • tamarind pulp - a "peanut" worth (this can be found in Indian markets)
  • trasi/ blachan/ shrimp paste - Thai, Indonesian, or Malaysian - a "peanut" worth
  • 1 citrus leaf, finely cut up - daun jeruk nipis
  • 1 tsp. powdered laos - try to find this - it really adds to the flavor
  • 1/4 tsp powered sereh - omit if unavailable
  • 5 kemiri or macadamia nuts, pulverized
    kemiri DON'T taste like macadamias, although they look similar - they are a bit bitter - they are used to add a bit of body to the sambal and balance the flavors.

Combine seasonings.

  • vegetable oil for pan frying

Heat oil in heavy skillet until very hot. Remove from heat (set on unused burner or turn off fire). Drain dried chili and onion, if using. Add chili, onion, and seasonings to oil. Return to heat. Bring to boil. Simmer, stirring often, about 2 hours until reduced to a deep brown paste. Take great care NOT to burn. Adjust heat as necessary.

Cool (not in refrigerator). When cool, put in covered container - such as a clean screw-lid jar and store in refrigerator. Should keep several months if you don't eat it all right away.

Serve as a condiment with Indonesian meals.

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