Wednesday 12 August 2015

Asian Chilli Paste/Sambal Tumis 参巴辣椒酱

When it comes to SouthEast Asia, eating chilli pastes or sambal is akin to eating to ketchup in the West. This is how popular chillies are here. There are many varieties and versions to making an Asian chilli paste; the Thais have their namprik pao, the Indonesians their sambal oelek and the Malaysian the humble sambal tumis. These Asian chilli pastes have quite similar ingredients but shine with their own distinctive tastes.

Today, I am introducing a basic sambal tumis recipe that is used in a variety Malaysian cooking. It has a fiery sweet and spicy taste with just a tinge of sourness as a balance. This sambal tumis is strongly fragrant with garlic, shallot and the most pungent of all, shrimp paste or belacan. This sambal tumis is meant to be spicy and I wouldn't (and refuse to) recommend it any other way.

As I mentioned earlier, the ingredients to making an Asian chilli paste are more or less similar. However, a good chilli paste has to be fragrant and flavourful. The chilli paste has to be slowly cooked in lots of hot oil. Yes, a good sambal needs a lot of oil in it. The rationale behind this is simple. You need the oil to completely soak up the ingredients and fry up every nooks and cranny of the blended ingredients until fragrant. It is also essential to slowly fry or tumis the paste to get the maximum aroma. The more you tumis, the better is the smell.

This sambal tumis recipe is the backbone of many glorious Malaysian dishes. You could opt to make a large batch of this and keep it frozen for later use in various recipes.

Serving suggestions:
1. Sambal nasi lemak (chilli paste for nasi lemak) - click here for recipe
2. Sambal udang/sotong (prawn or squid chilli dish) - click here for recipe
3. Sambal udang kering (spicy dried shrimp) -click for recipe
4. Sambal petai (chilli stinky bean)
5. Namprik pao (Thai chilli paste)
6. Nasi goreng pedas (spicy fried rice)
7. Mee goreng mamak (Malaysian-Indian fried mee)

Asian Chilli Paste/Sambal Tumis 参巴辣椒酱

Makes 520 g of sambal


30 g dried chilli, stem and seeds removed
50 g garlic
150 g onion
100 g shallots (bawang ros)
15 g belacan (1 inch cube), toasted
120 ml (1 cup) corn oil
100 ml water


1 tsp tamarind paste or to taste
20 g salt
100 g sugar

Cooking Instruction

1. Cut dried chilli into small pieces and soak in hot water for 10 minutes. Chop garlic, shallots and onions into smaller chunks. Toast or burn the belacan until pungent.Remove dried chilli from hot water and mix together with garlic, shallots, onion chunks and belacan.

2. Put 1/2 of the ingredients and water into blender and blend finely. Add the other 1/2 and continue to blend until it becomes paste. (By diving it into half, we do not need to use too much water).

This photo shows the steam evaporating

4. Place the paste into a wok and stir in high heat for 10 mins until the moisture evaporates. (By reducing the moisture, you could greatly reduce your cooking time and oil splatter later). Then add in oil and continue to stir for 5 minutes. Reduce fire and slowly stir-fry the paste for 20 minutes until the paste turns darker and oil starts to separate from paste. By this time your sambal should have that heavenly fragrant. If it does not, fry it longer.

5. Add in desired seasoning. The colour of the sambal should turn a shade darker. When seasoning is well incorporated, switch off fire and let cool. Use for your choice of recipe or keep frozen until needed.

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