Certains flavours always return you to a time and place. For me, nothing sends me straight back to a bustling street-side stall in Indonesia like a freshly made sambal. And nothing lifts any Asian dish to another level like a good side of hot chilli.
Sambal Bajak is a pretty common addition to Indonesian food. It's traditionally a rich, mild-to-hot crushed chilli paste with a deep underlying hint of shrimp paste and garlic. Shrimp paste (terassi in Indonesian), with its deep, fishy flavour is synonymous with Indonesian cooking and I'll mention it a lot throughout many recipes, however, I won't necessarily include it in my recipes. I grew up without shrimp paste due to my mum's aversion to all things from the sea and, although I quite like it, it has a love/hate relationship with many western palettes. In this recipe, I'm adding a touch of fish sauce, it has a milder flavour than shrimp paste and is found in most modern pantries.
Ingredients (makes approximately a 300ml jar's worth)
• 6 large red chillies, roughly chopped
• 1 large onion, roughly chopped
• 4-5 garlic cloves
• 2 tablespoons of vegetable or peanut oil
• 8 candle nuts (kemiri) - or 8 blanched almonds/3 teaspoons ground almonds
• 100ml of tamarind pulp/juice
• 2 tablespoons of finely chopped or grated palm sugar (Gula Jawa - the dark version from Indonesia as opposed to the lighter Thai style is best and available from most Asian grocers)
• 1 teaspoon of salt
• 1/4 teaspoon of fish sauce
In a food processor, add your candle nuts or almonds until finely ground then set aside. Also in a food processor, add the chillies, onion and garlic until they're a consistent puree. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and add the chilli/onion/garlic puree. Stir continuously until it's a deeper red in colour and fragrant. Add the ground candle nuts/almonds, tamarind pulp/juice and salt. Stir on a low heat for approximately 5 minutes. Add the fish sauce and palm sugar and stir for a further 3 minutes ensuring all palm sugar is dissolved, and remove from heat.
Allow sambal to cool and if stored in a well sealed, sterilised jar, it can keep for about 10 days in the fridge.