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Indonesian tofu sambal goreng (Sambal goreng tahu)

My love affair with Indonesian food started on the island of Bali over 25 years ago. I was pleasantly surprised by the new and lovely flavours, and the abundance of new herbs, spices and ingredients. I usually think of cooking Indonesian cuisine when I want Asian flavours, and eating it makes me happy. Here is a lovely recipe.

Sambal goreng translates to "fried sambal" and is a technique used in Indonesian cuisine where the sambal paste is first fried in oil to release all the aromatics and flavours. This cooking process is followed by a quick stir-fry or a slow simmer in coconut milk as in this dish. The sambal pastes can vary significantly between regions but usually always contain chillies and galangal or ginger.

This is a lovely sambal. The rich colour develops from the red Thai chillies and the tomatoes that I choose to purée instead of chop. In addition, the sambal is tart from the tamarind and has a nutty nuance from the almonds. This is a rich sambal from coconut milk and pairs well with the delicate soft tofu. Traditionally the tofu used is fried, but I kept it soft to be healthy.

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

For more recipes from this cookbook, click here.


For the spice paste:

3 shallots or 1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon ginger paste

3 large red chillies, or 2 Thai red chillies

1/2 teaspoon shrimp paste (optional)

2 candlenuts, or 3 almonds

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

Salt, to taste

1 teaspoon tamarind extract

1-3 teaspoons water, or as needed

2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil

For the Sambal:

2 cups water

1 2-inch piece lemongrass

1 kaffir lime leaf

2 tomatoes, minced

1/2 cup coconut milk

2-3 cups fried tofu, or firm tofu, diced

Add all the ingredients for the spice paste, except the oil, to a small blender and purée till very smooth.

Add the oil to a small pot and fry the paste on low heat for 3-4 minutes till aromatic and the ginger smells cooked.

Add the water, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and bring the liquids to a boil. Simmer gently for 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the coconut and simmer for 10 more minutes till the sauce thickens a bit. You never want to boil the sauce after adding the coconut as it may split. The sauce may be prepared and kept at this point for about 24 hours.

To serve, heat the sauce till it simmers gently. I prefer not to use fried tofu, but if you choose to, layer the tofu in the centre of a shallow plate. Drizzle the sauce to surround the tofu. Serve immediately.

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