Monday, 9 July 2012

Sambal - A chilli condiment, the purest use of chillies!

There are more than a few sauces, hotsauces and rubs around the world, containing chilli. There are even candies and chocolate bars containing chillies, but one thing has struck me. There is next to no sambal if I go abroad. In the UK you mainly see sauces, US too, and in the Netherlands there are a few sauces but not a lot. It hasn’t got to do with us Dutch not loving sauces, it has to do with the fact that we have Sambal!
Fresh ground Sambal
Sambal is not really a Dutch thing, but goes way back to colonial times, the time that we had Indonesia amongst others as a colony. I read the Wikipedia article about sambal, and got real good laugh about it, as it is so full with mistakes it is a joke. I will consider re-writing it for them, but before I go into a rant about mis-information, I will get back to the real history. Sambal or the idea to it has been born in Indonesia, Java and Malay and is originally used as a condiment so people can make their food as hot as they wanted. This use was discovered by the Dutch and imported to Holland then spread through other colonies as Surinam. Strange is that Sambal never really spread further then this, as I think that making sambal is one of the purest of uses for chillies, as the sambal contains over 75% chillies normally. 
My own sambals are more like 90-95% chillies, using some ingredients to enhance the flavour or the smell of the chilli used. So other ingredients used in sambal, are there to complement the chilli not to overrule or even co exist no, they are there to complement the chilli., celebrating the chilli as a fruit, making it a really strong and potent condiment.

There are two main groups of Sambal (Javanese) Sambel (Indonesian), raw called “mentah” and cooked called “matang”, the raw one is hotter most of the time.
Old stone morter
The base of Sambal is ground chilli or chilli paste from the whole chilli including seeds to give it a nice texture, made with a stone mortar. I have one to but more often use it to make herb pastes called boemboes. I more often make it in a kitchen machine, and that is fast and easy. This paste I use either as a base if I want to make either raw or cooked Sambal. Depending how hot you want to have it, you use a chilli that you prefer. But keep in mind that Sambal is not diluted with a lot of ingredients, so you will get one or more chillies in just one teaspoon of sambal. Traditionally used chillies for Sambal are: Lombok, Rawit and Rocoto. There is even a sambal made of a chilli that closely resembles the Naga chilli, packing almost the same heat.

Let’s do some recipe’s
Sambal Oelek, the basic raw “mentah” sambal:
1 teaspoon of salt
10 chillies.
Grind the chillies with the salt, and you are ready!

Now that is a fast recipe.
 Fresh ground Sambal Mentah "Bart"
My own basic Sambal Mentah

1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of olive oil
1 clove of garlic
10 red chillies ( Medina or Rawitt of Monkey face )
4-5 drops of lemon juice

Grind the garlic with salt and chillies, when it is a smooth paste add the olive oil stirring it then stir 4-5 drops of lime juice through it until you just about smell the lime. This a fantastic vibrant and fresh Sambal that will keep for more than a week in the fridge.

Spooky yellow sambal “matang”

2 Yellow Bell paprikas
1 normal onion
2 cloves of garlic
15 Golden Cayenne
15 Aribibi Gusano chillies, or 7 Habañero white, or 2 Yellow 7 pot.
1 teaspoon of regular oil
2 teaspoons of Olive oil
2 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of lemon juice

Grind the chilies complete with seeds and all in a processor with Yellow Bell and one teaspoon of salt to a smooth paste. Cut the onion in small bits and the garlic ultra fine.
Heat the teaspoon regular oil and fry the garlic and the onion without getting colour, just glaze them on low heat. When the onion looks like you can almost see through the bits, add the processed paste and get it to simmer. Leave it to simmer until the mixture thickens. Kill the fire and then add the Olive oil, 1 teaspoon of salt and the tablespoon of lemon juice. Put in a jar in the refrigerator, it’ll keep good for several weeks.

This looks spooky and yellow, taste sweet and sour, smell vibrant and aromatic. Mind you, this is screaming hot!

If you try these recipes, let me know or post a picture at Bart J. Meijer's facebook page.

Next time I will make you some fusion sambal recipe’s, for I thought I was done with this post, telling about its history and all. So I had it pre read by a couple of readers, and one of the readers had something. Matthieu Le Gal from Firechillies in France told me there is another condiment that closely resembles Sambal called Paté de Piment or "Piment la pâte" that is eaten in France and comes from their colony isles.  So I read into it and asked him to add a part to this blog.

The Paté de Piment or "Piment la pâte" that is eaten in France comes from the Republic of Mauritius is an island nation off the southeast coast of the African continent in the southwest Indian Ocean, about 870 kilometres (540 mi) east of Madagascar. In addition to the island of Mauritius, the Republic includes the islands of Cargados Carajos, Rodrigues, Tromelin and the Agalega Islands. Mauritius Island is part of the Mascarene Islands, with the French island of Réunion to the southwest and the island of Rodrigues to the east. There are different stories about the origins, one of them is that the Indian people who set up in the island brought the recipe, the "Rougail" word would come from the Tamoul "rougay" which means "green fruits confit".

So "Piment la pâte" is used as a table condiment by itself same as Sambal, but it can also be mixed with diced tomatoes or cucumber or green mango in order to create another condiment: "le Rougail".
"Rougail" is the perfect match to eat with Reunionese curries such as:
- "Carry Poulet" with chicken
- "Carry ti'Jacques Boucané" with smoked pork breast

Some recipes:
Chilli paste Reunion Island "Piment la pâte"

"Piment la pâte" is traditionally prepared with green or red chillies, but I like to make it with Orange Habanero or Fatalii, especially as this last one has a nice citrus flavour combining well with the Combava zest.

- 100g of any kind of chilli, depend on the heat level you want
- 1 thumb-sized piece of peeled ginger
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 Combava/Kaffir lime zest
- fresh cilantro to taste
- white vinegar
- olive oil
- sea salt

Chop the chillies in a blender with the ginger, garlic, fresh cilantro and the Combava zest.
Place in a jar with 3 pinches of salt, add 1 table spoon of white vinegar, mix the ingredients in the jar with your table spoon and compress lightly to level the paste. This will keep for weeks in the fridge.
For people with salt issues, if you skip the salt, you may need to check from time to time if everything is OK. But with the vinegar this paste should be kept long time in fridge.

There's also another recipe with different ingredients using the Mediterranean style, just replace the ginger/cilantro/combava with shallots/chives/a pinch of whole mustard seeds.

Alternative recipe, special "Fire Chillies" style:
It's on the base of one way to prepare a chilli oil, interesting condiment that we are going to talk about later.
Chop finely all the ingredients (except the Combava zest that you will add in the end) and cook them in olive oil in a pan so all the flavour will mix together and the chilli will give its heat to the oil.
Cook slowly at low temp, stir well until all is processed nicely and not burning, than add the table spoon of white vinegar.
Place in a jar and keep it cool in the fridge.

If you try this recipe, please post some pics at Fire chillies facebook page
Have a good dinner !

Yours truly,


  1. - "Carry ti'Jacques Boucané" with smoked pork breast - this sounds good

  2. Great post, Bart. No wonder so many people are wanting to make these recipes :-)

  3. Have you tried sambal kecap? Normally to accompany sate kambing or can be bbq fish. mix cut shallots, cut cabe rawit, tomato, lime, salt, and kecap manis (thick sweet soya sauce).

  4. have you try sambal Belachan??

  5. Going to make some of these next week only need to search for a .. don't know how call it.. make puree of the peppers :-)

  6. nice recepies, i make sambal badjak once a year (huge quantity), if you're interested in my recepy, let me know, will send it to you