Sambal is a condiment that’s made mostly from chili peppers and other spices. Some would even say that this is the Asian version of salsa, but instead of tomatoes, chilis are the main ingredient. The texture of sambal can range from smooth to gritty, depending on the way it was made. In fact, if we go with the original definition of sambal, any chili paste can be considered as sambal. Sambal is originally from Indonesia, with a lot of its neighbor countries copying and adapting the recipe as their own. An interesting thing to note about sambal is that the main chili pepper used in making sambal isn’t native to Indonesia but to North America and it was brought there by traders during the 16th century by the Spanish and Portuguese traders.
- In many Asian Countries, sambal is usually a part of their breakfast. Yes, you heard that right, chili paste for breakfast.
- Sambal Oelek, one of the most popular sambal variants, literally means chili paste that is made with a mortar and pestle
- How popular is sambal in Indonesia? A majority of their dishes are either served with sambal on the side, on top or cooked in.
- The simplest sambal can have as little as three ingredients up to fifteen (sometimes even more.)
Sambal Buying Guide
Ever since the booming popularity of Asian dishes in the United States, it is very easy to find bottled sambal is most supermarkets, Asian markets, specialty stores, and more recently, in farmers’ markets. A word of advice, as much as possible, while imported sambal from Indonesia or any other Asian country may taste authentic, be sure to check the labels for any added preservatives. A lot of Asian countries don’t have the same safety levels when it comes to the use of preservatives and chemicals.
One of the best ways to enjoy sambal is to make some of your own or purchase some from a local artisan. With the thriving immigrant communities around the country, it is no longer an impossibility to find locally made sambal that’s as close to authentic as possible.
In fact, many of the large farmers’ markets that have spice merchants will usually have a couple that grinds and make fresh sambal on a daily basis.
Sambal Production & Farming in Texas
Sambal is basically a fresh chili sauce, so it wouldn’t be much of a leap for local specialty sauce makers to make their own versions. In fact, a lot of hot sauce makers are already making their own sambal sauces available for purchase. If you’re having problems looking for fresh sambal then you can easily make some yourself since all of the ingredients for sambal are available locally.
Another option for fresh sambal is to visit some of the local Indonesian restaurants around your city. Authentic Indonesian restaurants will never use bottled sambal and will make their own fresh every day. These shops will happily oblige to sell you a bottle or two if you ask nicely.
Pesticides, Additives, and Chemicals:
As we mentioned earlier, a lot of Asian countries aren’t as strict as the United States when it comes to the use of preservatives so you have to be careful when purchasing imported sambal. Here are some of the preservatives that we have found in the more popular imported sambal brands.
- Potassium Sorbate
- Sodium Bisulfate
- Boric Acid
Sambal has increased in popularity so much that a lot of the major sambal producers in Indonesia and in other Asian countries have set up shop to produce sambal locally and with stricter controls when it comes to the usage of preservatives, with some even making versions without the use of preservatives.
Sambal, whether artisan or commercial, comes in glass bottles. There are some that are packed in foil-lined plastic pouches, but they’re not as common as glass bottles.
Sambal is a very versatile condiment. It’s just like hot sauce, for those that like it, it can go with almost any dish. For usage, just think of any food that goes well with hot sauce, you can use sambal with it. Any dish that can use a spicy kick can use a bit of sambal added to it.
Sambal can be stored at room temperature for a few months without problems. Sambal can also be stored in the fridge to extend its shelf life.
Make Your Own Sambal:
As we mentioned earlier, sambal can be made with as little as three ingredients and we’ll share with you the recipe now.
One pound red chili peppers, remove the stems
Two tablespoons vinegar
One tablespoon salt
Add all of the ingredients to a blender or a food processor and blend until incorporated. Strain out some of the liquid if you feel that it’s too watery.
That’s it! You have your basic sambal.
Now, if you want to add other spices then go for it. Go crazy! There are no hard and fast rules for making proper sambal. If you think that it will taste good in your sambal, then add it. You can add garlic, shallots, sugar, turmeric/ginger, whatever spice you can think of and you have in your pantry will work.