Sambal is a fresh pepper or chilli paste from Southeast Asia, most commonly made with ground chilli, salt and vinegar.
A more elaborate sambal can be spiced with fruit or onion, lime juice, lemon grass, sugar, garlic and oil. Sambal oelek is the Indonesian version of this condiment – a crimson chilli paste, kept in its simplest form to preserve the chilli’s character by only adding brown sugar and salt.
“Oelek” is the Dutch spelling of the Indonesian word “ulek”, referring to a prehistoric Indonesian stoneware pestle and mortar which is still used to grind spices. Sambal oelek is a good substitute for fresh chillies, adding heat without altering the dish’s delicate flavours. Use it to spice up a meal or to accompany Asian dishes such as meat and fish, fried food, curries, eggs and rice.
Find sambal oelek at speciality stores such as Thrupps in Johannesburg, 011-268-0298; Main Ingredient in Cape Town, 021-439-5169; or online at www.tasteofasia.co.za.