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Indonesian sambal ulek

Sambal is a core ingredient in the Indonesian table and feast. No meal is complete without at least one sambal. Usually, three to four sambals of varying spice levels adorn a table.

Sambal ulek, also spelt as oelek, is the most basic sambal and is readily available in jars. However, the jars are also filled with preservatives and other chemicals that give the sambal an off taste.

This sambal is about spice—hot and fiery. It is a base for more complex sambals and is simple but also quite delicious. In India, sambals are used either as a condiment to add a pop to food or soups and stews for complexity. Here, I kept it as a side for a larger Indonesian meal that was made milder on purpose.

Sri Owen is a master of Indonesian cooking. Her deep knowledge of the ingredients and cultures of Java, Sumatra, and the other islands in the archipelago is unsurpassed. I have several of her cookbooks, each one a deep dive into the cuisine, culture, and history of the land. These and her other cookbooks are highly recommended for any cook who wants to enjoy and master Indonesian cooking.

For more recipes from this cookbook, click here.


25 dried red chillies, arbol preferred, but any spicy chilli will do

1 cup water

Salt, to taste

1 teaspoon apple cider or other mild vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons peanut oil

Add the chillies to a pot with the water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 25 minutes. Cool and drain keeping the cooking liquids.

Combine with the salt, vinegar, sugar and oil and blend to a smooth paste. Add just enough of the cooking water to aek avery thick paste.

Serve at room temperature.

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