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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. I use it to make my own homemade Spicy Ramen Noodles.
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.
Other Popular Chili Sauce Recipes
- Homemade Sriracha
- Homemade Harissa
- What is Gochujang?
- How to Make Chili Paste
- Sweet Chili-Garlic Hot Sauce
- Mojo Picon - Canarian Red Pepper Sauce
- Bravas Sauce (Salsa Brava)
- Sambal Matah
- Sambal Terasi (Indonesian Chili Sauce with Shrimp Paste)
- Ssamjang (Spicy Korean Soybean Paste)
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.
Sambal Oelek Recipe
- 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
- 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. You can strain out some of the excess liquid if you'd like.
- Add to a jar and cover. Refrigerate until ready to use.
This recipe was updated on 5/31/19 to include new photos and a video. It was originally published on 9/28/16.