This Indonesian sensation is more than just a spicy chili sauce; it's a flavor-packed paste with a rich history! Get ready to explore its origins, discover the magic of its ingredients, and unlock the secrets to making your very own homemade Sambal Oelek, the perfect condiment for many dishes. Forget the store-bought pastes, this homemade version with very few ingredients is the best among all hot sauces, and it is ready in five minutes!
💎 Why This Recipe Works
- Ingredients: I will explain why each ingredient is added, how it is chosen, and how each component contributes to the flavor profile of this delicious chili paste. This means you can adapt the proportions to your very own preferences, preservatives free!
- Storage: This sauce is very flavorful, and you need very little of it per serving. So storing it correctly means that a 5-minute recipe ensures you have Sambal Oelek chili paste for months ahead!
- Usage Tips: This chili paste is so easy to add to your everyday cooking, as it is an extremely versatile condiment, and one tablespoon will serve the whole family!
❓ What is Sambal Oelek?
Sambal Oelek [sometimes spelled sambel oelek] is a spicy chili sauce or paste that hails from Indonesia. The word Sambal is an Indonesian loanword of Javanese origin (sambel). It is made from a mixture of chili peppers, along with secondary ingredients such as shrimp paste, garlic, ginger, shallot, scallion, palm sugar, and lime juice.
The name "sambal oelek" comes from the Javanese phrase "oelek [or ulek] sambal," which means "to pound or to grind". The traditional way of making Sambal Oelek involves grinding fresh chili peppers with a mortar and pestle until they form a smooth paste.
It is a versatile condiment that can be used in various dishes. One of the most popular recipes using this chili paste is Nasi Goreng, an Indonesian fried rice dish.
My personal favorite is Beef Rendang, an Indonesian slow-cooked beef curry that packs a lot of flavor and heat. For balance, it is perfectly served with coconut rice.
It can also be used as a dipping sauce for spring rolls or dumplings or as a marinade for grilled meats or seafood. Although, I highly recommend it as a spread in sandwiches, especially when using fried or grilled chicken or fish, beef [try adding it to this perfect Ribeye Steak Sandwich with Arugula] or mixing a little with scrambled eggs or mixed with simple chickpea hummus.
🛒 Ingredients and Substitutions
- Red chili peppers: Thai red chili peppers are the traditional main choice for this paste. However, considering availability and preference, you can substitute them with other varieties; great options are red jalapenos, Fresno chilis, cayenne peppers, or red serranos, depending on the spiciness you prefer. Choosing the right chili pepper is essential to achieve the perfect balance of spice, so choose wisely.
- Shallots, garlic, and ginger: These aromatics add flavor, volume, and complexity to the chili paste. Shallots are sweeter and milder than onions, while garlic provides a pungent kick. Fresh ginger adds a subtle heat and earthiness. You can use onion instead of shallots, but start with half the amount and add more if needed.
- Vinegar and lime juice: Acidic ingredients like vinegar and lime juice balance out the heat of the chili peppers and give the paste a tangy flavor. Rice wine vinegar is the most traditional option and what we use; you could also use white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Fresh lime juice adds brightness and citrus notes, however, lemon juice may be used instead if necessary.
- Sugar: Brown sugar is the most common sweetener used in Sambal Oelek, but you could use any sugar you have on hand. Some recipes call for palm sugar, which has a complex, caramel-like flavor. The sugar helps to balance the heat of the chili peppers and adds depth to the overall flavor profile.
- Salt: A simple ingredient but a crucial one. Salt enhances the other flavors in the Sambal Oelek and helps to bring them together. Be sure to taste and adjust the salt level as needed.
🔔 Be sure to check out the recipe card for all the ingredients and instructions you'll need to make this dish. Don't miss out on any of the details!
- Molcajete: A molcajete is a traditional Mexican mortar and pestle used for grinding spices.
- Food Processor or a Blender: If you don't have a molcajete, you can use a food processor or blender to make your sambal oelek. A food processor is the better choice between the two, as it won't blend the seeds, so opt for it if available.
👩🏻🍳 How to Make Cake (step-by-step)
- Start by washing the red chilies and removing their green stems.
- Peel and roughly chop the shallots, ginger, and garlic.
- Add all the ingredients to a food processor [Picture 1] and blend until you achieve your desired consistency.
- You may need to use a spoon to move the ingredients from the sides occasionally for them to blend well. [Picture 2]
- Taste the fresh chili paste and adjust the seasoning to your preference.
- Remove the Sambal Oelek from the food processor and move it to an airtight container to store.
- Serve it as a condiment with your favorite recipes or get fancy with new ones!
💡 Tips and Variations
- Handle with Care: Chili peppers can cause skin and eye irritation and should be handled carefully. When cutting them wear gloves to avoid irritation, and don't touch your face or eyes. Always thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water after handling chilies.
- Water: You may need some water when preparing the paste, however, this will depend on two factors. The first factor is the type of chilies you select and how fresh they are - the chunkier the flesh of the chilies, and the fresher they are, the more water they will naturally contain. The second factor is your preference and how smooth you want your spicy Indonesian chili paste - in any case, you shouldn't need more than two or three tablespoons for the whole recipe.
- Shrimp paste is a popular ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine and can add a savory, umami flavor to Sambal Oelek. Add a tablespoon of shrimp paste to your Sambal Oelek recipe and mix well to make this variation. Be mindful of allergies.
- Tomatoes: To add a touch of sweetness to Sambal Oelek and help balance out the heat. To make this variation, mix a few ripe tomatoes with your chili pepper mixture, but bear in mind this may shorten its storage time.
- Honey: If you prefer a milder, sweeter flavor, try adding honey to your Sambal Oelek. Start with a small amount and add more to taste.
- Blender: As blenders tend to crush the seeds too, I highly recommend using the food processor as per this recipe.
❄️ Storage and Usage
When storing sambal oelek, it's important to keep it in an airtight container to prevent spoilage and maintain its freshness. As you can see in the below picture, my preference is for glass containers with a jar seal made of silicone. Here are some tips for storing your homemade sambal oelek:
- Airtight jar: Ensure the jar is tightly sealed to keep out air and other contaminants. Always use a clean and dry spoon to remove the desired amount from the jar.
- Refrigeration: storing your sambal oelek in the refrigerator is best to extend its shelf life. It can last for up to 2-3 months when stored in the fridge.
- Freeze: As it is a very flavorful ingredient, you can scoop a teaspoon of the paste in each hole of an ice cube tray and allow the paste to freeze for three hours. Once frozen, remove the cubes from the tray and store them in a suitable container or freezer bag and defrost when needed.
🙋 People Also Ask [FAQs]
Yes, sambal oelek is gluten free since it does not include any wheat-based ingredients. It is mainly composed of red chilies, vinegar, and salt - making it a great condiment for people with different dietary restrictions.
Sambal Oelek has a shelf life of up to three months if stored properly. It is important to keep the paste sealed tightly and stored in a cool, dry environment away from direct sunlight for optimal longevity.
While both condiments provide a spicy kick to dishes, they differ in their ingredients and flavor profiles; sambal Oelek has more of a kick to it thanks to the higher concentration of ground chili peppers, whereas chili garlic sauce has hints of garlic and may include other spices.
To pronounce Sambal Oelek, say "saam-bal-oh-lek."
🍱 Ways to Use Sambal Oelek in Cooking
Here are some creative ways to incorporate sambal oelek into your dishes:
- As a condiment: serve your sambal oelek as a condiment alongside your favorite rice dishes, meats, or seafood. Add a dollop to your plate for an added spicy kick, as it is used traditionally for seasoning noodle dishes.
- In marinades and sauces: add sambal oelek to marinades and sauces for a spicy depth of flavor, whether you're grilling, baking, or roasting.
- In soups and stews: sambal oelek makes a great addition to soups and stews, lending its spicy flavor to warm and comforting dishes.
- As a dipping sauce: mix sambal oelek with soy sauce, lime juice, and sugar for a tangy and spicy dipping sauce for dumplings, spring rolls, or other appetizers. Try dipping seasoned potato wedges in it!
🎯 Substitutes For Sambal Oelek
1. Chili Garlic Sauce
- Chili garlic sauce is a popular Asian and American condiment made from chili pepper, garlic, vinegar, sugar, and salt. It is known for its sweet and sour flavor with a strong garlic aroma.
- It's a versatile ingredient, thicker than sambal oelek, suitable for stir-fries, marinades, and dipping sauces, and can be used interchangeably while adjusting the quantity to your desired level of spiciness.
2. Sriracha Sauce
- Sriracha sauce, known as "rooster sauce," is a tangy and spicy condiment from Thailand but popular in the United States.
- Made from chili pepper paste, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt, it's a bright red sauce with a smooth texture. It can substitute sambal oelek in recipes with similar heat and acidity, although it may require lime juice or vinegar for balance due to its sweeter, milder taste.
- Huy Fong Foods stated that there is a shortage of peppers growing due to the weather [as per CNBC's recent article], so you may find it difficult to find their beloved sauce in the shop these days, so you may need to make your own spicy sauce to opt for other sauces.
- Check our article on sriracha substitutes for guidance and ideas on making your own sriracha and discovering other tasty options.
3. Hot Sauce
- Hot sauce, a chili pepper, vinegar, and salt-based condiment, comes in numerous varieties, from mild to wild, with different brands like Tabasco, Louisiana, Frank's RedHot, and Cholula being popular in the US.
- It can serve as a versatile substitute for sambal oelek, offering a range of heat levels and flavors to suit your preferences.
4. Red Pepper Flakes
- Dried red pepper flakes, found in most grocery stores and spice shops, are a budget-friendly alternative to sambal oelek, offering various heat levels and textures. Be mindful that crushed red pepper flakes won't mimic the texture of Sambal Oelek chili paste made with fresh chilies, however, it is a good alternative.
- To mimic sambal oelek, mix the dried peppers with vinegar, lime juice, brown sugar, and garlic powder.
🍴 More Delicious Sauces to Try
👋 Have you given this recipe a try? We'd love to hear your thoughts! Please leave us a ⭐ review below, and don't forget to tag us @spiceandlife_com on Instagram and Pinterest. Your feedback means the world to us, and we really appreciate it. For more recipes, follow us on Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Thank you! 🙏
Homemade Sambal Oelek Chili Paste Recipe
- 1 Molcajete or
- 1 Blender
- 80 grams Thai chili peppers or any red chili peppers
- 3 Shallots chopped
- 3 Cloves Garlic large size
- 1 teaspoon Ginger chopped
- 1 tablespoon Lime Juice
- 3 tablespoon Rice Wine Vinegar
- 1 ½ tablespoon Brown Sugar
- Water optional
- 1 tablespoon salt
Step 1: Prepare the Ingredients
- Wear gloves if you have sensitive skin because these chilies can be very spicy. Wash them and remove the stems from the Thai chili peppers. If you want a milder paste, you can also remove some or all of the seeds.
- Peel and roughly chop the shallots, ginger, and garlic cloves.
Step 2: Blend the Ingredients
- Using a Food Processor:
- Place all the ingredients in the food processor.
- Pulse the ingredients until they form a coarse paste. You may need to scrape down the sides of the processor bowl a couple of times.
- If the paste is too thick or your chilies are dry, you can add a little water, a tablespoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency.
Using a Molcajete:
- If you prefer to go traditional, use a Molcajete (a Mexican mortar and pestle).
- Start by grinding the chili peppers, shallots, garlic, and ginger in the Molcajete until they form a rough paste.
- Gradually add the lime juice, brown sugar, and salt, continuing to grind and mix until you achieve a consistent paste.
Step 3: Adjust to Taste
- Taste your Sambal Oelek paste. You can adjust the flavor by adding more salt, sugar, rice vinegar, or lime juice according to your preference.
Step 4: Store
- Transfer your homemade Sambal Oelek paste into a clean, airtight jar. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month.
- Top Tip: Top it with a thin layer of oil to help preserve it.
- Be cautious when handling chili peppers, especially if you're using Thai peppers. The capsaicin can irritate your skin and eyes. Wearing gloves is a good practice.
- Adjust the spiciness by controlling the number of chili seeds you include. More seeds mean hotter paste.
- Use brown sugar for a slightly richer flavor, but you can substitute it with white sugar if needed.
- The addition of water is optional but can help achieve the desired consistency.
- You can also freeze Sambal oelek chili paste! Scoop a little sauce into each hole of an ice cube tray and freeze for three hours. Once frozen, remove the cubes from the tray and store them in a freezer bag or container. Defrost when needed.
- Top tip if freezing: Use a silicone tray for ease of removal!