Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Sambal Series - Homemade Sambal Oelek

sambal oelek recipe

My mother swears that the second word to have come out of my mouth was 'lombok' which means 'chilies' in Javanese. Even though my first language is Malay, my maternal grandparents are Javanese - my grandfather left the Indonesian island of Java and set sailed to Malacca for greener pastures. So all their 9 children including my mother were brought up bilingual - Javanese at home and Malay in school.

With 9 siblings and half of them bearing families, you can imagine the chaos during our annual trip to visit our grandparents. Everyone could speak Malay, but the adults, when together, just slip into Javanese. The fast chatter was beyond my comprehension. To humor the children, they would sometimes teach us a few words but no one became fluent. I suspected that they liked having a 'secret' language so that they could talk adult stuff or lament about their children to each other. Thus, since the word 'lombok', I've added just 8 more Javanese words to my vocabulary - eggs and the numbers 1 to 7.

Actually, make that 9 more words. The word "oelek" in sambal oelek is also Javanese and is modernly spelled as "ulek". It has nothing to do with the the ingredients that make up the sambal, but refers to the mortar and pestle used to grind the chilies. Every household has its own version sambal oelek. When I moved to California, I was pleasantly surprised to find a bottle of sambal oelek at the supermarket and upon googling, found that it was a popular product. I was happy because it meant I didn't have to import it from my mum. But I looked at the ingredients: chili, salt, distilled vinegar, potassium sorbate, sodium bisulfite, and xanthan gum. It contains both a preservative and an additive. I understand that might be necessary in some foods, but sambal is so easy to make, I decided to make my own to skip the preservative and additive.

Some versions of homemade sambal oelek include shrimp paste, shallots and lemongrass. I prefer it simpler with just salt and vinegar so that it can be used both as a condiment and an ingredient. Slicing and de-seeding chilies are not the most pleasant of jobs. As a kid, I used to waltz into the kitchen looking for a snack when a waft of the pungent fumes would sent me scurrying out of there immediately. It was the chilies, the red chilies my mother was relentlessly pounding in a mortar and pestle that released the stinging odor causing me to cough. Grinding them manually is better, but it's a breeze with the food processor or blender.

sambal oelek recipe


The type of chilies to use
Originally, the chilies used to make sambal oelek and sambal belacan are red serrano chilies. This is a problem because I can't always find them here in the Bay Area. Green serranos are plenty, but not red. So when I was at Milkpail and saw fresh serrano chilies, I grabbed a pound's worth. Since I already had sambal belacan, I decide to make sambal oelek. It made about 1 cup of sambal. I wish I had bought more. serrano 17You can always freeze a portion of the sambal for use later. When you are cutting and de-seeding the chilies, try to have only one hand in contact with chilies while the other hand holds the knife. Then you will have at least one hand untainted by the sting of the chilies. After everything is done, I suggest rubbing your fingers in a citrus (good) or soaking your fingers in a bowl of milk (better) or both (best)!

If you can't find red serrano chilies, try holland chilies which are slightly longer and narrower than serranos, or fresno chilies which are shorter and fatter. Both are worthy substitutes; they just have a little less heat than serranos. I can't find holland chilies here, but below is a photo of a fresno chili compared to a serrano. The same goes if you are making sambal belacan - serrano should be your first choice.

sambal oelek recipe

sambal oelek recipe

Sambal oelek recipe

1 pound serrano chilies
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vinegar

To slice the chilies: cut the top off and slice in half lengthwise. Remove the center veins and all the seeds. If you like it with more heat, leave some seeds in. Slice the chilies in about 1/2 inch pieces. Grind them in a food processor or grind them in a mortar and pestle until they become a thick paste - you may need to add up to 1-2 tablespoons of water to get it going. Pour the paste into a yet unheated wok or sauce pan set on medium to high heat. As the sambal heats up, add the salt and vinegar. Stir well. Leave on medium for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly.

Makes about 1 cup sambal oelek.

20 comments:

Hilarie said...

Homemade sambal oelek! Jordan is going to be so excited.

maybelle's mom said...

wonderful post. Really fascinating. My parents are Indian, but were raised speaking a different language at home than at school. My cousins and I were raised in the state, and while fluent in our home language, we didn't know many words of the language they spoke at school. And, lets just say my mom and her sisters used it to their advantage to gossip and such.

high over happy said...

Hilarie - knowing him, i know he'll be excited :)

maybelle's mum - on hindsight, it is quite amusing. but back then, it used to irritate us kids to no end!

Anonymous said...

let me add two more - lanang (male), wedok (female)

tastestopping said...

What a fascinating and educational post. I love making things from scratch, too, to avoid the additives and just plain unnecessary ingredients. Just a thought...what about wearing gloves while cutting (so many) chilis? This might save your fingers altogether. And anyone who's had the misfortune of rubbing their eyes with the chili-holding hand knows exactly why you've included the warning! :)

Anyway, I found you through TasteSpotting and am writing to say that if you have any photos that aren’t accepted there, I’d love to publish them. Visit my new site (below), it’s a lot of fun! I hope you will consider it.

Best,
Casey
Editor
www.tastestopping.wordpress.com

Danielle said...

I love home-made sambal, it always tastes a little different each time :)

Sarah said...

Am enjoying your stories :)

high over happy said...

Anon - thanks for jogging my memory! I remember now when my mum wanted to talk about me or my brother, she'll say "si wedok tu" "or "si lanang" thinking we won't know who she was referring to.

Casey - funny site :D

D - you know how I feel about sambal...yum.

Sarah - thanks!

amhogarth said...

Yum! I love Sambal Oelek, although the only sorts I've tried are bottled ones. The current jar I have has the seeds still in, and also lumps of ginger; is it all up to personal taste?

high over happy said...

hi amhogarth - besides ginger and the other ingredients mentioned, some also add garlic and palm sugar. so you are right that it is up to personal taste but within those few ingredients. I made the simplest version because I like to use it as an ingredient in my cooking - i will post recipes soon :) as for the seeds you can leave some seeds in the sambal for you want more heat, especially if you are not using serrano.

Anonymous said...

Lovely reds.

CompostChris said...

Great, I'll start with this recipe, thanks for posting!

erna dyanty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
erna dyanty said...

Hi there,

I'm writing a post for my blog, and I stumbled upon your blog that talks about sambal oelek. I love the fact that you've made the sambal with chilies that are foreign to Asian countries.

I hope you don't mind me linking and using your photo in my post (which I will credit photo taken from your blog. cookinginbatches.blogspot.com)

Love reading your post!
Ern

Dylan said...

Hi there,

Have you got any idea as to the shelf like of Sambal Oelek? I have been making my own version of the 'sauce' and have been giving to friends who love it, but i am consering actually bottling and selling it. Any advise would be appreciated. Thanks Dylan

Anonymous said...

hi dylan
i made this recipe last summer from my chillis,straight after the 10 minute cook i put it in small jars and still using it eg so far 1 year shelf life

Anonymous said...

Dylan,
I'm sure your sauce is fantastic, but unfortunately in California at least you can't sell any prepared food not made in a "commercial" kitchen.
This means it is inspected by the health department.

Anonymous said...

i own a cheap Spanish hand powered food mill that will grind the chiles and leave the seeds in the mill. MUCH easier.

Anonymous said...

Also I really prefer oil to vinegar. A bit more expensive, but WAY better taste, smoother, the flavor of the chiles comes through without that vinegar bite, but plenty hot.

putra said...

after reading this article, so want to learn to cook,I like food delicious and I hope can cook every dayCrispy Chilli Chicken + Steamed Stuffed Chillies + Spicy Pickled Vegetables + Bean Sprout Rolls With Spicy Sauce + Spicy Pickled Radish + Braised Carp With Hot Bean Paste + Chicken Curry + Fish Fillet Curry + Spicy Sesame Chicken + Beef Curry + Hot And Sour Papaya Slices + Spicy Fried Cuttlefish + Crispy Fried Prawns + Stir-fried Spicy Chicken + Stuffed Pickled Cucumber + Chicken In Chilli Oil + Spicy Bean Sprouts + Black Pepper Spare-ribs + Stir-fried Beef With Chillies + Pickled Winter Cabbage

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