This term is used in much of Southeast Asia and implies a chili-hot relish or else any dish that has been cooked with a paste of red chiles.
A cautionary tale: A family friend once brought us a jar labelled Sambal olek as a token from his journeys. Being inveterate and tough salsa consumers, we figured it would be no big deal. Boy, were we wrong. The toughest among us still quake at the thought of sambal olek. I don't know what became of the rest of the jar.
Sambal is a red pepper paste used in the Asian cuisine. Many different types of sambal exist, each with slightly different ingredients.

It is difficult to discern the differences if you are not used to spicy food; I suggest you try a type that contains fried peppers (e.g. Sambal Manis or Sambal Brandal) since these are less spicy. Frying the peppers breaks down the capsaicin, which is the protein that is responsible for the spicyness.

Some common types of sambal are:

  • Oelek: very spicy version containing fresh red peppers and salt
  • Badjak: fried red peppers with garlic, onions and spices
  • Tjampoer: fresh red peppers with shrimp flour, onions, garlic and spices
  • Brandal: milder type of sambal with fried peppers, onions and Indonesian spices
  • Manis: a mild, sweet samal with fried peppers, sugar, salt and Indonesian spices.

In my few short years of having to provide sustenance for myself, I have found nothing nearly as satisfying (not to mention fun) as making your own condiments and sauces. I thought it would be neat to provide a little guide on making hot sauces such as Sambal for yourself. Additionally I'm sure that the preceding writeups may have caused some interest and I'm sure that all of you are in need of trying some burnin' hot relish?

I have compiled a few Sambal recipes and a few 'Pepper' recipes. Pepper is a generic name used by the Surinamers for their variation of hot relish.

First Things First - The Peppers

There are many different kinds of peppers. I have named a few of the most common ones below. People who are used to hot food will probably quickly reach for the hottest ones. But if you're not accustomed to eating hot food I suggest taking it easy.

Probably superfluous: rubbing your (or other people's) eyes while cutting peppers is a Bad Thing.

  • Adyuma - a.ka. habanero. These are usually yellow and blocky (like a miniature paprika). Very hot!
  • Cayenne pepper - These are usually red and blocky (see above). Very hot!
    There are, however a number of similar looking peppers which are much milder. These can be recognized by their shiny(ier) appearance.
  • Madame Jeanette - Yellow or light green elongated kind of pepper. They have a bit of an irregular shape. These are hot and very aromatic
  • Rawit - Elongated and tiny. These are red or green and moderately hot.
  • Spanish peppers (chili peppers) or Lombok (Javanese) - These are elongated and have a red or green colour. These are relatively mild, the green ones being milder than the red ones.

Some pointers

In general green peppers are not a different species. They are simply less ripe. The ripe yellow or red peppers are often hotter. As sneff rightly points out, there are some green peppers with a raw and hotter flavour than their red counterparts.
Pepper heat, rules of thumb
  • Smaller and thinner skinned peppers are generally hotter
  • The bottom of a pepper is generally milder than the tip
  • Hottest parts of a pepper (in descending order)
    • Pale, flimy membranes on the inside
    • The seeds
    • Flesh
If you particularly enjoy the flavour of any given pepper but cannot handle the heat, the easiest way to cool it is by removing the seeds.

The Recipes


Sambal Badjak

  • 10 red peppers (whichever kind suits you most)
  • 2 onions
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • a small piece of trassi (check out getha’s excellent writeup)
  • 5 candlenuts (aka KuKui or Indian Walnut, I think the Hawaiians know what I’m talking about)
  • 1-2 teaspoons tamarind concentrate
    2-3 tablespoons tamarind water
  • 1/2 teaspoon Laos - Laos is from the Galangal Plant. It has a sharp, stimulating taste, similar to white pepper
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 2 Kaffir Lime leaves
  • 250 ml thick coconut milk (make thick coconut milk from 125g creamed coconut dissolved in 250 ml hot water)
Pound or process the chilies, onions, garlic, trassi and candlenuts to a smooth paste with the tamarind and galangal.
Heat the oil and fry the paste for a few minutes, then add the remaining ingredients and cook gently for 15-20 minutes, until the mixture thickens.

Fried potato sambal

Heat the oil well (stir-fry heat). Fry the chopped onion and garlic until brown.
Beat the laos with a meat hammer.
Add in the following order:
  • Beaten laos
  • Finely chopped peppers
  • Trassi
  • Rest of the ingredients
Fry this entire mixture well and stir regularly to prevent charring.
Turn off the flame. Very quickly mix the potatoes with the mixture so as to season all of the fries with the sambal.
Do not cover immediately when still warm or else the sambal will turn soggy. It must remain crisp.

Leek Sambal

This makes a large amount of sambal, this kind preserves very well, however and makes a great gift!
  • 1 pound of red peppers (mild or hot, whichever suits you better)
  • 1 pound of leek
  • 1 pound onions
  • Garlic
  • 1 pound of brown sugar (not the drug)
  • Salt, oil, ketjap
TIP: if you want to cool it even more remove the seeds prior to preparation
Take the leek, onions and peppers and mix them well in your food processor. Throw in some finely ground garlic.
Fry slowly in corn or sunflower oil. Gradually add the brown sugar as well as the ketjap to flavour.
After everything is well fried let it cool.
Storage: you can store it perfectly well in a glass jar. Does not need to be cooled but may be a good idea if you’re keeping it longer.

Sambal trassi

Wrap the trassi in aluminium foil and grill until it gets dark. Alternatively you can bake it in an oven heated to 150-200 degrees centigrade.
Chop up your chillies finely.
Mix well in a food processor or pestle until you have an even smooth paste.

Sambal Asem

Same as Sambal Trassi. Just add 1 or 2 teaspoons of tamarind concentrate.

Sambal Kemiri

Same as Sambal Trassi. Just add 10 dry roasted and ground candlenuts (aka KuKui or Indian Walnut, I think the Hawaiians know what I’m talking about).

Suriname Peppers

Fonfon pepre

Fonfon pepre literally means 'beaten pepper'. This is not really a hot relish as such. It really is a way of storing pepper should you happen to buy it in large quantities. It can than be used as a seasoning or instead of the fresh peppers in the recipes that follow. This kind of seasoning can be made with any type of pepper. The recipe is simple. Grind the pepper well in a mortar and pestle. Add a pinch or two of salt (per ground pepper) and dry the mixture.
Traditionally this was done by placing the pepper on the hot zinc roofpanels of the houses in Suriname. If you live in a more temperate climate (like I do), you should just place the pepper in an oven and set it to thaw (30 to 40 degrees Centigrade).
Protect dry pepper from wind and curious children - or rather protect the children from the pepper!
Fonfon pepre tastes very different to the dried varieties of pepper you can get prepackaged in the supermarket.

Most of the recipes below (as well as the ones mentioned earlier, really) do not have strictly fixed amounts or proportions. These will depend on your preference and tolerance to hot food. In general I would suggest making it such that the total volume of the finished product is approximately half a pint to a pint. I would usually limit the garlic (if required) to four cloves. I would limit the onions to one medium head. The peppers themselves are trickier, I would start off with one or two peppers and add some more if you prefer. It is better to make it a little too mild than way to hot! Experiment!

Piccalilly Pepper

Piccalilly is a kind of relish you can buy ready made in Holland. It is essentialy Gerkin Pickles in Mustard. To make Picalilly Pepper you need a jar of the relish, some garlic and a hot or very hot kind of pepper. Grind the pepper and garlic in a pestle or cut them into very small pieces. Mix the mash through the relish. Let it all sit for a few days. If the relish turned out too hot just add some more Picalilly to cool it.
Storage: a few weeks if chilled

Shrimp Pepper

  • 100 grams Fresh Shrimp (large or small)
  • Oil
  • 1 Cup of chicken or beef stock
  • 1 Onion
  • 4 Cloves of garlic
  • Tomato puree or tomato ketchup
  • Trassi (check out getha’s excellent writeup)
  • Peppers (I use Madame Jeanette)
  • Laos - Laos is from the Galangal Plant. It has a sharp, stimulating taste, similar to white pepper
Chop up the onions and garlic and fry them well. Add the trassi and laos while frying.
After you’re done grind the peppers ion a pestle and mix all of the ingredients together.
Storage: a few days if chilled

Tempeh Pepper

  • Tempeh (check out the writeups for info)
  • 1 onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of Sambal Oelek (see writeup above)
  • 1 adyuma pepper (habanero)
  • oil
  • trassi
  • laos
  • Powdered ginger
  • Tomato Ketchup
  • Ketjap Manis (sweet soy sauce)
Cut the tempeh into strips of half a centimetre by 3 centimeters.
Fry the onion and garlic seasoned with the trassi. Add the Sambal Oelek, laos and ginger and fry them with the onion and garlic.
Now add the tomato ketchup, ketjap manis and a little water.
Stir the tempeh strips through the mixture.
Stir regularly on a small flame until everything is absorbed by the tempeh.
Storage: this does not store very well

Above all: have fun experimenting and don't rub your eyes!!!!!

Again thanks go to sneff for his added input!

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