Most Indonesian enjoy savory food with a side of sambal (chili sauce). This practice is so ingrained in our psyche that even western food franchises such as KFC, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, e.t.c. are forced to serve their food with a bottle of chili sauce alongside the requisite bottle of tomato ketchup.
I always thought that the pairing of sambal and tomato ketchup is a universal thing, and it only dawned on me that this is not so when I came to the United States for my college education.
Ye gods, I don’t want to talk about the chili withdrawal syndrome back in those days, you have no idea how happy I was when I finally got a hold of a bottle of chili sauce.
Sambal Lampung or Indonesian bottled chili sauce
There are many kinds of sambal in Indonesia, but the one paired with tomato ketchup to serve alongside western food is derived from sambal Lampung, and since this sambal always comes in a bottle, we lovingly call them sambal botol (bottled chili sauce).
If you visit any supermarket in Indonesia, you will see many varieties of sambal botol, from spicy to mild to sweet. The one I present here is probably what I will call the normal version, which to me has a balanced amount of sweetness, sourness, and spiciness. You can adjust the amount of chilies, tomatoes, and sugar to suit your taste.
Indonesia is home to hundreds of chili sauce and relish. The easiest one to make at home is probably this sambal tomat kecap – Indonesian tomato chili relish. This sambal is a favorite accompaniment for fried/grilled chicken, fish, tofu, and tempe dishes. Also, unlike many Indonesian sambal with terasi (shrimp paste) in it, sambal tomat kecap is totally vegan friendly.
Kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce)
You will need tomato, shallot, chili, lime, and of course kecap manis. You can buy kecap manis from online (e.g. Amazon), but if your neighborhood Asian market has them, it will most likely be much cheaper. If you must make a long trip to Asian market, be sure to stock up since they can last for a while.
Let’s make some sambal
Once you gather all the ingredients, all you need to do is some chopping, pouring, and squeezing. Dice tomato, slice the chili and shallot, and place them in a bowl. Next, cut and squeeze one lime into the tomato mixture. Finally, pour the kecap manis. Just mix everything together and your sambal tomat kecap is done.
Our family is tofu lovers, so our tofu recipes have been growing nicely over the years. If you need a new tofu recipe, do give this tahu goreng sambal sereh – fried tofu with spicy lemongrass relish a try.
If you can buy freshly fried tofu cubes in side street or supermarket, the only thing you need to do is to prepare the spicy relish.
Fried Tofu Cubes
If you need to prepare fried tofu cubes on your own, the most important thing to remember is to properly drain as much liquid as possible from the tofu.
Since this is a super important step, you can even buy tofu presser to do this step for you.
But, I usually just wrap firm tofu with paper towel, sandwich between two plates and place my heavy cast iron skillet on top.
I recommend letting the tofu drain for at least 30 minutes, though I usually leave them for one hour.
Once it is drained, simply cut the tofu into cubes, sprinkle with salt and pepper, coat with flour, and pan fry until golden brown.
Spicy Lemongrass Relish
This spicy relish is simple to make as long as you have the ingredients. The spices include lemongrass, shallot, garlic, red Thai bird eye chilies, and for the seasoning, salt and pepper.
Heat oil in a frying pan and sauté thinly sliced lemongrass, shallot, chilies, and minced garlic.
Once it is fragrant, season with salt and pepper. Arrange fried tofu cubes in a plate and top with the spicy lemongrass relish.
Nowadays I rarely cook prawns because I have developed allergic reaction to shellfish and nuts. They are not life threatening, but still, I would rather not deal with them. If I just eat a spoonful and remember to quickly pop some Claritin, I will be fine. That said, my hubby is missing this sambal terasi udang – spicy shrimp sauce prawns very much and has been begging me to prepare it for him. So I hope you guys are going to enjoy it as much as he does. Though I really really wish I can eat the whole thing, I know I need to exercise extreme self restrain or else.
Double shrimp treatment
What is so great about this dish is the double use of shrimps/prawns, which makes this a super shrimpy dish. We have a pound of fresh fairly large prawns (I use the ~30 pieces/pound prawns). Then, the sauce has terasi in it, which is basically a block of fermented shrimp. You should be able to buy them from your Asian market. They are either imported from Malaysia in which case they are called belacan, or from Thailand which to be honest I have no idea what they are called. Either way, use the same amount as the recipe, and please remember to toast first with your frying pan. If you want a super duper simple way, you can just microwave for 1 minute.
Crack open your windows
Terasi is great, it’s like fish sauce but super extreme concentrated. Unfortunately, it does have quite a strong odor. To uninitiated, this can even be offensive. If you are a first timer, be sure to crack open your windows AND if you have hood, turn it on. I promise that despite the crazy smell, the dish is sure to turn out beautiful in the end.
Have you ever tried chayote before? You can find this beloved squash in many traditional Indonesian dishes. Today I will introduce you to sambal tauco labu siam, a spicy vegetable (and vegetarian) stew dish. This is usually a side dish for many Indonesian rice dishes, such as nasi rames, nasi liwet, e.t.c. But you can always prepare this as one of your many sides to create an Indonesian feast.
How to handle chayote (labu siam)
This is a quick guide to handle chayote. Prior to cooking, we peel the skin, and remove the seed from the chayote. You can cut it into chunks, wedges, thin slices, julien, etc. The simplest way Indonesian enjoy chayote is to cut into big chunks/wedges, and steam until soft, and enjoy with other vegetables in a lalapan. Note that if you handle chayote bare-handed, your fingers and palms might be covered with a thin film that makes your skin tight. I usually just wash it away with soap under warm/slightly hot water. But you can always wear a pair of gloves to avoid this problem in the first place.
Tauco (fermented/salted soy beans)
The second important ingredient to prepare this dish is of course tauco (fermented/salted soy beans). In my experience, even a tiny Mom-and-Pop Asian grocery store carries them. And there are quite a bit of varieties too, from the still solid beans, to a mix of solid and ground beans, to a totally ground version. Preferabbly you choose the ones where the beans are still solid, but if all you see are the ground variety, they are also okay. If your neighborhood store doesn’t carry them, you can also buy it online from Amazon. I like the ones from Yeo’s and Dragonfly.
If you are from Malaysia, or if you have ever took a trip to Malaysia, I am sure you have tasted nasi lemak before. And while the whole nasi lemak ensemble is a treat indeed, the one thing that I consider a must have is nasi lemak sambal that comes with it.
So, if you are thousands of miles away from Malaysia (like me) and want to make the delicious nasi lemak sambal at home, give this recipe a try.
This sambal (chili sauce) is good not only with nasi lemak, but with almost any other Indonesian/Malaysian dishes. We use it with so many thing, from pairing it with fried chicken, all the way to dipping sauce for fresh vegetables.
Hot (Original) vs. Mild Versions
The original recipe uses 100 gram of dried red chilies.
I will be the first to admit that my poor stomach cannot handle that spiciness level. So, what I usually do is I dial down the spiciness level way way down to a measly 20 gram (and I remove all the seeds from the chilies too!).
If you want that signature red color in your sambal, you have two choices. First choice, add about 1 to 2 tablespoons of mild/sweet paprika powder (not chili powder, or it will be super hot again). Second choice (which is my preferred version) is to add 1 can (6 oz/170 gram) of tomato paste.
If you choose 2nd option, you will definitely want to increase the sugar (usually double the listed amount) and salt (by about 1 teaspoon) to balance out the tomato paste. If you stick to the first option, you most likely won’t have to tweak the amount of listed sugar and/or salt.
Now for something completely different. To all my readers, sorry for the super long absence. I took two long vacations back-on-back.
First a 3-week trip to Washington, D.C. with my husband. Then a 2-week road trip with my in-laws from Rocky Mountain and going south all the way to Guadalupe Mountain.
It was super exhausting but very fun. Now that I am back and have taken enough rest, my posting schedule should be back on track. 🙂
Sambal goreng (fried chili paste) is a basic multi-purpose chili paste that can be the base of many delicious Indonesian spicy dishes, plus it can be enjoyed as is. This chili sauce is especially great with fried food, such as ayam goreng/fried chicken, bakwan/fritters, bakso goreng/fried meatballs, tahu goreng/fried tofu or perkedel/potato fritters.
What do I need to make sambal goreng?
I want my sambal goreng to be full of umami, and for this, I usually use all of these to make my trusted fried chili paste:
dried red chilies. My Asian market typically stock chilies from China and from Thailand, the Chinese are usually slightly milder than Thai ones, so choose according to how hot you want your chili paste to be.
shallots. I use smaller Chinese/Asian shallots, but regular French shallots are okay too.
onion. Choose yellow/white, though, in a pinch, you can use red onion too.
terasi/belacan/shrimp paste. This stinky and pungent block of fermented shrimps is the key to umami-rich chili paste, so definitely try to hunt it down. In a really short pinch, you can use fish sauce, but the final chili paste is definitely inferior to the one using terasi/belacan/shrimp paste.
kaffir lime leaves. This adds that lovely citrusy fragrance to the chili paste, sub with lime zest in a pinch.
tamarind. I usually buy a wet seedless tamarind packet and add water as needed to make my own tamarind paste. In a pinch, you can use tomato paste too, but it will taste slightly different from our traditional chili paste.
How do I make sambal goreng?
Making your very own sambal goreng is quite easy. You will need:
a saucepot/a soup pot/a wok
Here is the step-by-step process to cook sambal goreng:
Boil dry chilies in a small pot. Simmer until chilies are soft. This should take about 10 minutes.
Toast terasi/belacan/shrimp paste. The easiest method is using a microwave and cooks for 30 seconds.
Place boiled chilies, shallots, garlic, onion, toasted terasi/belacan/shrimp paste, and water in a blender. Process into a smooth paste.
Transfer the smooth chili paste into a saucepot/soup pot/wok, cook on medium-high until the paste is thicker and drier.
Add oil and kaffir lime leaves to the paste. Stir to mix, and cook for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to a medium-low and cook for another 20 minutes, or until oil starts to separate from the chili paste. We call this phenomenon “pecah minyak” in Indonesian/Malaysian.
Season with salt, sugar, and tamarind juice. Stir until everything is incorporated into the chili paste. You may adjust the amount of sugar/salt to suit your taste.
And our sambal goreng is done! You now have the option to store them for longer storage or enjoy the chili paste immediately.
How to store and use Indonesian sambal goreng?
This recipe will yield about 4 cups of sambal goreng. I usually divide the chili paste into 4 portions, 1 cup each, and store in sterilized glass jars. Any unopened jar of chili paste should last for up to 2 months in the fridge. Once opened and used, you want to finish it within a week.
How do I use this sambal goreng?
Sambal goreng is basically one of Indonesian handy instant sauce. Arm with this, we can make delicious dishes within minutes. The guide to make a sambal goreng dish is like so:
1/2 cup of sambal goreng/fried chili paste
500 gram (1 lb.) of meat, seafood, vegetables, egg, tofu, or tempeh
Basically, you need to only heat the chili paste in a frying pan/wok, then add your choice of protein/vegetables. Stir, cook, and toss until the protein/vegetables are cooked and coated. If you want some examples of authentic Indonesian dishes made with this handy chili paste, you can try some of these recipes:
Based on these examples, feel free to create your own sambal goreng dishes. Have fun and enjoy. 🙂
Using my homemade sambal goreng (fried chili paste), I can prepare this lovely and delicious sambal goreng kentang, roast potatoes in spicy chili sauce, with nothing but salt, pepper, olive oil, and sambal goreng. Once you give these spicy roast potatoes a try, I am sure you will want to make this all the time. They are so good and super addictive.
What do I need to prepare Indonesian sambal goreng kentang?
First, you will need to prepare a batch of homemade sambal goreng using my previous post. Then, you will need to roast a batch of potatoes using super simple ingredients:
potatoes, I use russet, but any potatoes suitable for baking is okay
How do I roast potatoes?
Peel the potatoes. I peel my potatoes, but you can roast potatoes with skin on too if you wish. It will actually look more rustic that way. 🙂
Season the potatoes. Add olive oil, salt, and pepper. Cut potatoes into cubes/wedges, about 2″, and gently toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Arrange the potatoes. Transfer potatoes to a baking sheet, for 500 gram (1 lb.), a quarter sheet is enough. If you do a double batch and prepare 1 kilogram (2 lb.), a half-sheet pan is better.
Roast the potatoes. Roast potatoes in a preheated oven of 200 Celsius (400 Fahrenheit) for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. I turn the potatoes about 2 times during roasting so they are evenly roasted.
I don’t have an oven, can I still make this dish?
Yes, you can. Most Indonesians actually prepare the potatoes by deep-frying instead of roasting. So if you are not averse to deep-frying, simply heat a pot of hot oil in a pot and deep fry potato cubes/wedges until golden brown and set aside. You should also be able to fry potatoes in an air-fryer too if you own one.
How do I cook sambal goreng kentang?
Once we have a batch of roasted/deep-fried/air-fried potatoes, we are ready to make our sambal goreng kentang. For 500 gram (1 lb.) of potatoes, do the following:
Heat 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of homemade sambal goreng in a wok/frying pan until bubbles.
Add roasted/fried potatoes into the wok/pan, gently toss until evenly coated. Turn off the heat, transfer to a serving platter, and serve immediately.
Super easy and simple, right? If you wish, you can garnish the sambal goreng kentang with some thin slivers of kaffir lime leaves too. The fresh green leaves add a wonderful pop of color to the orange/red of the spicy potatoes.
What other dishes can I make with the handy sambal goreng?
If you love these spicy roast potatoes, you may want to use the same homemade sambal goreng to prepare these dishes:
And feel free to experiment making your own sambal goreng dishes too. Just remember that you will need 1/4 cup of homemade sambal goreng for every 500 gram (1 lb.) of your choice protein/vegetables.
Bali, the land of a thousand temples, is the most famous island in Indonesia. The view is gorgeous and breathtaking, from the wide expanse of white sandy beaches, to the many Hindu temples, and the cool and green hilly rice terraces.
Many come for the visual treats, but if you have the chance to visit Bali, don’t forget to feast on the amazing Balinese cuisine. Every time I go and visit, the highlight of my vacation is always the food.
What is Sambal Matah?
Each region in Indonesia has its signature sambal, and Bali’s signature sambal is sambal matah. The most common translation for sambal matah is raw sambal since there is no cooking involved when preparing it. Based on the ingredients, I think it is more fitting to call it a spicy lemongrass salsa, or a spicy lemongrass and shallot salsa.
Sambal Matah Ingredients
We will needs shallots, lemongrass, bird-eye chilies, lime juice, olive oil, salt, and terasi/shrimp paste. You can also add garlic, kaffir lime leaves, and bunga kantan/torch ginger flower.
Terasi (shrimp paste)
Since terasi (shrimp paste) can be difficult to obtain if you live outside of Indonesia, feel free to substitute with fish sauce. Although it won’t be very authentic, the flavor is still very similar, and the umami boost from fish sauce is very close to Indonesian shrimp paste.
It is more common in Bali to use kaffir lime for the lime juice. Kaffir lime leaves are common in many Asian groceries in the US, but I have yet to see fresh kaffir limes. I use regular lime to prepare sambal matah all the time, and I think it is not a bad substitute at all.
Use red bird-eye chilies (Indonesian: cabe rawit) for the most authentic experience. If you want a milder sambal matah, you can substitute half of the amount with milder chilies. Try using cayenne (Indonesian: cabe keriting), or even Fresno (Indonesian: cabe besar) for an even milder option.
Olive oil vs. coconut oil
If you have coconut oil at home, defiinitely use that instead of olive oil. Coconut oil is a common cooking oil in Indonesia, so it is not surprising that we use coconut oil for sambal matah.
How to prepare sambal matah?
1. Slice lemongrass
Remove the green outer layers of lemongrass to reveal the inner white portion. Chop away the top part of the lemongrass, then thinly slice the bottom 5 inches of the lemongrass stalk into very thin slices.
2. Slice shallot
Prepare shallots like you would an onion. Peel away the outer skins, then cut the shallots into small dices.
3. Chop bird-eye chilies
Remove the stems, then cut the chilies into small pieces. You can remove the seeds first before chopping the chilies to make the sambal milder.
4. Toast and ground terasi/shrimp paste
Terasi/shrimp paste comes in a block. Use a knife to cut away a small piece, place it in a microwave-safe bowl, and cover the bowl with a microwave-safe plate.
Cook in the microwave for 30 seconds to toast until the shrimp paste turns a lighter shade, very fragrant, and looks crumbly. Let it cool slightly, then use the back of a spoon to crush into a fine powder.
If you don’t have a microwave, you can also toast the shrimp paste in a frying pan without any oil over medium heat.
5. Juice a lime
Use fresh limes whenever possible since bottled lime juice is simply not very good. If you have a Microplane grater, you should use it to get some fresh lime zest too and add the zest to sambal matah.
6. Make sambal matah
Combine lemongrass slices, shallot slices, bird-eye chili slices, shrimp paste powder, salt, lime juice, and optionally, lime zest in a mixing bowl.
Even though sambal matah is meant to be raw, most Indonesians cook the oil until shimmering before using it. Please assemble the rest of the sambal matah ingredients first before cooking the oil, then pour the hot oil over the sambal.
Use a spoon to mix all the ingredients. Give it a taste test, and add more salt if needed. You can even add sugar if you think the sambal needs it, though I don’t usually add any to mine.
Prepare pan-fried chicken breasts
You can certainly serve sambal matah as a side for any of your Indonesian rice meal, but today we are going to serve it with some crispy golden pan-fried chicken breast strips.
We will use some chicken breasts, salt, pepper, and all-purpose flour. I use olive oil to pan-fry the chicken, but you can use butter or a mix of butter and olive oil for the best of both worlds.
First, cut each peach of chicken breast into two halves so they are thinner and will cook faster and more evenly. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper, then give a light dusting of all-purpose flour.
Heat oil and/or butter in a frying pan over medium-high heat, and fry chicken breasts until golden brown and crispy, about 2-3 minutes per side.
Rest for 10 minutes after frying to redistribute its juice and making sure the breasts are tender and juicy, then cut into thin strips.
Mix chicken strips and sambal matah right before serving.
TIPS: If you don’t feel like frying chicken breasts, you can buy a whole rotisserie chicken, cut it into bite-size pieces, and mix with sambal matah.
Other Indonesian sambal to try
For most Indonesians, a meal is not complete without a side of sambal or two. If you hunger for more Indonesian sambal, you can give my other sambal recipes a try:
Eating rice for breakfast might be an alien concept for non-Asian, but this is not a strange concept for most Indonesians.
Whenever my Mom prepares rice for breakfast, it usually means nasi uduk with multiple dishes. One of the dishes are usually meat, such as fried chicken, beef rendang/chicken rendang, or occasionally, ayam sambal goreng sereh.
Today I will share my recipe for ayam sambal goreng sereh (chicken in spicy lemongrass sauce). The list of spices for this dish is much shorter compared to a rendang, but it still packs a punch and just as satisfying. Of course, you can serve this for lunch or dinner if having a heavy rice meal for breakfast is not for you. 😁
Ingredients for ayam sambal goreng sereh
1. Bone-in chicken with skin
First, we will need some bone-in chicken with skin. You can buy a whole chicken and cut it up into 8-12 pieces, or you can use about 4-5 chicken leg quarters and separate them into thighs and drumsticks.
Start with rubbing the chicken pieces with salt and turmeric. Set aside for 15 minutes.
2. Prepare spice paste
Grind garlic, shallot, galangal, red chilies, and the white part of lemongrass in a food processor or with a mortar and a pestle into a smooth paste.
3. Fry chicken
Heat about three tablespoons of oil in a wok over medium-high and fry the chicken until the skin is crispy and golden brown. It is okay for the chicken to be not 100% cooked. Set aside.
4. Sauté spice and lemongrass
In the same wok, fry the spice paste, turmeric, and the green part of lemongrass until fragrant. About 5 minutes.
5. Add chicken and the rest of the ingredients
Return fried chicken into the wok, along with coconut milk, tamarind liquid, salt, and coconut palm sugar. Mix well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the sauce is very thick and the chicken is tender and cooked.
Turn it into a complete Indonesian rice meal
As I mention earlier, we usually serve this as part of a nasi uduk ensemble. If you would like to follow suit, you can try preparing some of these dishes and serve them all together.