Sambal is a sauce made from chilis, spices, herbs and aromatics. It is a popular condiment in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Sambal has a complex flavor that is all at once earthy, spicy and hot.
The traditional way of grinding the spices to make the sambal starter paste is to use a stone mortar and pestle. The ingredients are placed in the mortar (the bowl) and, with the hand moving in a circular motion, they are ground to a paste with the pestle. It is a labor intensive process but the proponents of the traditional method claim that the slower grinding releases the essential oils of the spices better.
The modern and easier way is to use a blender or a food processor.
Cook sambal then ladle as much of the hot sauce as you want onto your main dish or rice. Let the rest of the sambal cool before dividing into portions and freezing. The frozen sambal will keep for two to three months.
- 10 shallots or 8 small red onions
- 2 ounces or 8 fresh chilies
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1 stalk lemongrass (use only the bottom 3 inches of the stalk)
- ½ ounce or 10 dried chilies (soaked in hot water for 5 minutes) or 3 teaspoons chili powder
- 2-inch piece fresh turmeric or 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
- 2-inch piece galangal or 1-inch piece ginger
- 5 tablespoons cooking oil
- 2 tablespoons tamarind paste or 4 tablespoons tamarind juice
- 3 tablespoons palm sugar
- fish sauce, to taste
- Peel and roughly chop the shallots or red onions.
- Slit the chilies and scrape off the seeds. This step is entirely optional. Removing the seeds will remove some of the heat from the chilies. Roughly chop the chilies.
- Peel and crush the garlic.
- Thinly slice the lemongrass.
- Peel the turmeric and galangal then chop as well.
- Using a mortal and pestle, blender or food processor, grind the first seven ingredients to form a paste. If the mixture is too dry and grinding is difficult, add a tablespoonful or so of water.
- Heat the oil in a wok or small frying pan. When the oil is moderately hot, sauté the paste over low heat until fragrant. This should take about 15 minutes. Keep the heat low throughout the process and stir the paste constantly so that it does not stick to the wok/pan.
- Add the tamarind paste or juice, palm sugar and fish sauce.
- Let the paste cook while stirring occasionally. It is ready when the solids separate from the oil. Use immediately or cool to freeze for future use.