A recipe for homemade Sambal Oelek, the classic chili paste used for cooking, made with a variety of ground chili peppers, vinegar and salt. It is ideal for seasoning noodle dishes and enhancing the flavors of sauces.
We know you all love sriracha - Homemade Sriracha, anyone? - but have you cooked with Sambal Oelek? Perhaps it is time to begin. You can purchase Sambal Oelek from the grocer and carry it home, but once you realize how simple it is to make on your own, you'll never want the store bought version again. Fresh is always best, and you can't get much fresher than this.
What is Sambal Oelek?
While Sriracha is distinctly Thai, Sambal Oelek is Indonesian, and it is essentially a raw chili paste that is ground. It uses very few ingredients, traditionally red chili peppers, vinegar and salt. It can be used as a base to make sambals and other sauces, and works best when used more as a condiment or flavoring ingredient than as a direct sauce or hot sauce.
There are variations, of course. A tour of the web will find other ingredients added to Sambal Oelek, such as garlic, lime juice, different vinegars and more, though at some point, with such additions, the paste stops being Sambal Oelek and becomes something else. That's OK! This is what Sambal Oelek is for, to be used as a base, a springboard to new and interesting flavors. I've also seen recipes with the paste cooked down a bit. I suppose this would mellow it out, but traditionally the paste is simply ground with a mortar and pestal, though you can use a food processor to achieve the same effect, of course.
Let's talk chili peppers. Thai peppers would be optimal for this recipe, but you truly have many, many other options.
If you can't find Thai peppers, or if they are too hot for you, try cayenne peppers, red serranos, or red jalapeno peppers. Of course there are many other options, but these particular peppers work the best in order of descending heat levels.
In truth, Sambal Oelek works great as a simple way to preserve your peppers. The salt and vinegar will let you keep them a long time. Pop it into the fridge and pull it out to swirl into any sort of soup or stew, anything in a crock pot or slow cooker. Swirl it up into a bowl of hot noodles with some soy sauce and fish sauce and you have a super simple lunch. Quick and easy! I used it just last night by adding a couple tablespoons to a traditional pesto, then tossed it with noodles. Topped it with some seared salmon and BOOM! Quick, easy dinner with just the right touch of spice.
Time to make the Sambel Oelek! Let me know how YOU use it.
Learn more about How to Make Chili Paste.
Sambal Oelek Recipe
- 1 pound red chili peppers - Thai is traditional, but red jalapenos, serranos and cayenne peppers are good substitutes
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- OPTIONAL ADDITIONS
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon lime juice
- Add all of the ingredients to a food processor or other grinder. A Molcajete is a great option here.
- Grind until a course paste forms.
- Add to a jar and cover. Refrigerate until ready to use.
NOTE: You can also simmer this sauce over low heat about 10 minutes before jarring to mellow the flavors, but raw, uncooked is traditional.