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31 May 2019

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.

A “sambal” actually refers to any chili sauce or paste that is made from a variety of chili peppers, with any number of other ingredients added in for flavor. Any chili sauce or paste would be called sambal.

Sambal Oelek in a container, ready to use

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.

You can find sambal oelek in stores. The most popular brand I see is from Huy Fong Foods. I’m here to show you how to make it at home, though. Much better!

What Does Sambal Oelek Mean?

The word “sambal” is an Indonesian word referring to a sauce made primarily with chili peppers. “Oelek” (or olek or ulek) refers to a mortar and pestle.

Hence, Sambal Oelek is Indonesian for a chili sauce ground with a mortar and pestle.

Sambal Oelek Vs. Sriracha

Sambal oelek is more of a base recipe compared to sriracha. Sriracha is sweeter and usually has more vinegar included in the recipe.

Sambal oelek, on the other hand, is usually thicker and contains fewer ingredients. Because it is less processed, it is often much spicier than your typical sriracha.

See my Homemade Sriracha Recipe for more information about sriracha.

What Types of Chili Peppers are Used for Making Sambal Oelek

Let’s talk chili peppers. Thai red peppers would be optimal for this recipe, but you truly have many, many other options.

Red Chili Peppers for Sambal Oelek - Recipe

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.

Sambal Oelek ingredients

How to Make Sambal Oelek

Making Sambal Oelek is very simple. Add your chili peppers, vinegar and salt to a food processor or other grinder. A Molcajete is a great option here.

Next, grind the mixture until a course paste forms.

Add the resulting chili paste, Sambal Oelek, to a jar and cover. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Sambal Oelek on a spoon, so vibrant and red

Serving Ideas for Sambal Oelek

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.

Sambal Oelek Substitutes

You have several options to substitute for sambal oelek in recipes. None of these will duplicate the flavors, but each can work in a pinch.

Try using the following:

  • Sriracha – often the best substitution
  • Harissa – it will alter the final flavor of your dish, but can still be rather tasty
  • Chinese Chili Sauce or Paste
  • Any Basic Chili Paste
  • Gochujang – has a deeper, more fermented flavor

Here are a Few Recipe Suggestions for Sambal Oelek

Time to make the Sambal Oelek! Let me know how YOU use it.

Learn more about How to Make Chili Paste.

 

Sambal Oelek on a spoon, ready to add flavor to your dishes

Other Popular Chili Sauce Recipes

Check out more Hot Sauce Recipes or learn more about How to Make Hot Sauce.

If you enjoy this recipe, I hope you’ll leave a comment with some STARS. Also, please share it on social media. Don’t forget to tag us at #ChiliPepperMadness. I’ll be sure to share! Thanks! — Mike H.

5 from 4 votes
Sambal Oelek Recipe
Sambal Oelek Recipe
Prep Time
5 mins
Cook Time
5 mins
Total Time
10 mins
 
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.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Indian
Keyword: hot sauce, recipe, sauce, spicy
Servings: 20
Calories: 9 kcal
Author: Mike Hultquist
Ingredients
  • 1 pound red chili peppers, stems removed 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
Instructions
  1. Add all of the ingredients to a food processor or other grinder. A Molcajete is a great option here.
  2. Grind until a course paste forms. You can strain out some of the excess liquid if you'd like.

  3. Add to a jar and cover. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Recipe Video

Recipe Notes

NOTE: You can also simmer this sauce over low heat about 10 minutes before jarring to mellow the flavors, but raw, uncooked is traditional.

Heat Factor: Medium-Hot

Makes about 1.5 cups.

Nutrition Facts
Sambal Oelek Recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories 9
% Daily Value*
Sodium 350mg 15%
Potassium 77mg 2%
Total Carbohydrates 2g 1%
Sugars 1g
Vitamin A 5.3%
Vitamin C 66.9%
Calcium 0.5%
Iron 1.5%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

This recipe was updated on 5/31/19 to include new photos and a video. It was originally published on 9/28/16.

Sambal Oelek Recipe

 

Sambal Oelek - 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. | ChiliPepperMadness.com #HotSauce #Sambal #Spicy

29 comments

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Marie, Sambal Oelek can last a few months in the fridge or longer in the freezer. It’s about the acidity. If you want it to keep for longer, add in more vinegar. It really should measure at least 4.0 ph or lower to last longer. Enjoy.

  1. John overholser

    Ok , Lets talk PH , what’s my safest way to test the PH of the sauces I make ?

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      John, the best way is to use a PH meter. I recommend the Thermoworks PH Meter. I am an affiliate and have been using it for quite a while. Let me know how it turns out for you.

  2. Theresia lans

    Can I put it in jars and waterbath it and safe it in my pantry

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Theresia, if you’d like to can/jar this with a water bath, check the ph first. It is best if it is 3.5 or below for home canning/jarring. If not, you can add in a bit more vinegar to lower the acidity.

  3. Is the store bought version cooked is that why it keeps longer and is darker in colour than the one in the picture for this recipe ? Needing to get regular quantities for a recipe on my new menu and it’s proving expensive and difficult to get so figure we’ll make it – thanks

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Simone, as it is basically a chili paste, you can definitely cook it if you’d like and it will darken. It can also darken from the types of peppers used. For your menu, you can experiment with pepper types as well as using fresh vs. cooked Sambal Oelek and see what works best for you. Let me know how it turns out! I’d love to hear.

  4. I mix a teaspoon of sambal oelek with a generous dollop of heavy cream in a shot glass to make a delicious steak sauce.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness


      Great idea, Robert! I love that. Will certainly try it.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      You can use a ferment for this, no problem. I think you’d have a great recipe there.


  5. Hi Mike. Thanks for the awesome tips. I’m from Malacca and our ‘Sambal Belacan’ uses ‘Belacan’ (traditional Malacca shrimp paste) and Kaffir lime juice. The uncooked sambal only lasts about a week in the fridge. I’m trying to make it safe for shelf storage for gifts and maybe to sell later. Will try out your tips.

    Also, may I know where you bought the cute little jar bottle in this post? Thanks

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Thanks, Yana! Yours sounds delicious! I found these jars at a local store, but I’m pretty sure you can find some online. I hope you can find them! Take care.

  6. Why do the jalapenos need to be red? Is there a taste difference between green jalapenos and red ones?

    REPLY: Mogie, the red are the ripest and a bit sweeter. You CAN use green jalapenos, though you won’t get the vibrant red color. — Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  7. Three or four tablespoons of Sambal Oelek mixed into 1-1/2 pounds of 80/20 ground beef makes delicious burgers. I also enjoy adding a teaspoon or so to my breakfast omelette. The store-bought Sambal has become a staple in our household. Now I look forward to making it fresh.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Thanks, DaveR! Hoping you enjoy it.

  8. I use it on/in everything. Tonight I stirred some into baby Brussels sprouts with balsamic sauce. Can’t live without it♡

  9. Can I proceed this in a water bath? Or will that change the flavor too much?

    REPLY: Renee, I believe you should be able to. It might slightly cook the mixture, but some people cook theirs anyway. I think you’d be OK. Check the ph. — Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Florentina, you can easily dial back the heat by using milder peppers.

  10. Yo Sumartojo

    Re: Sambal Oelek

    The word “oelek” (this is an old spelling for “ulek” which in Javanese means “crushing” in a mortar and pestle. Sambal means “hot sauce”.

    I add a little bit of palm sugar to the “Sambal ulek”. Another popular “Sambal” is “Sambal terasi” consisting of chili pepper, salt and shrimp paste (“terasi”). Almost all Javanese know this traditional Sambal.

    I am experimenting to make “Sambal” for my friends with different ingredients (Habanero, chili, jalapeño peppers, etc. with cranberry, peach, mango, palm sugar, Kaffir lime leaf, fish sauce, etc.)

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Sounds like some very fun experimenting!

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