Global Pantry: Cooking with Sambal Oelek
Meet your new favorite hot sauce—with a range far wider than Asian applications. By Naomi Duguid
Sambal Oelek (sometimes written "sambal ulek") is a chile paste made of pounded or chopped fresh red cayenne chiles flavored with salt, a little sugar, and vinegar, but with no garlic or spices—so its taste is that of pure hot chile essence. It’s originally from Indonesia, where a “sambal” is a chile-based condiment sauce (there are many kinds of sambal), and “oelek” means mortar or pounded in a mortar.
If you’ve bought a jar of sambal oelek to use in Indonesian or other Asian food, you’ll soon find it has a place in many other parts of your repertoire, from salads to sandwiches. One fabulous everyday use that will have you buying more in a hurry is in peanut butter or almond butter sandwiches. (I also love it on cheddar cheese.) Spread the nut butter on your bread or toast; then smear on a little sambal oelek. Top with another slice of bread or toast, or eat open-faced: a very adult peanut butter sandwich!
Sambal oelek is also a versatile kitchen friend. Try tossing in a spoonful to add punch to a soup or to a tomato sauce for pasta, or include some when you are marinating meat (it’s particularly delicious in a marinade for lamb). Put some out as a condiment (in a small bowl with a small spoon) with practically any meal; its fresh red color is very decorative.
Five More Everyday Uses for Sambal Oelek
Keep in mind this stuff is pretty potent. If you’re sensitive to heat, start with small amounts.
- 1| Dot on top of scrambled eggs or omelets, as you would Tabasco.
- 2| Deploy it as your secret weapon for a three- or four-alarm chili.
- 3| Mash it into softened butter to make a feisty topping for bread, roasted vegetables, or steak.
- 4| Stir into the meat mixture for burgers or meat loaf; double the heat by adding some to the ketchup topping.
- 5| Wake up pizza by adding sambal to the tomato sauce.