Thursday, 23 September 2010

Sambal ulek (chilli & tomato sauce)

Sambal ulek is one of Mrs K's star dishes. It's a smooth chilli sauce that's actually one of her simplest recipes (it doesn't even need a video!). 'Ulek' is the Indonesian name for a stone pestle (you will often see it spelled the Dutch way 'oelek'). Mrs K doesn't use an ulek as it takes forever - a hand blender is a perfect substitute and gives a much smoother result. You could use a food processor, but it would probably get stained unless it has a glass bowl.

This sambal can be used for anything - it's almost Mrs K's equivalent of tomato ketchup; perfect as a dip or pouring sauce, in cooking or even in your sandwiches. It can be as fiery or as mild as you wish - just pick the strength of red chillies you're comfortable with. In this batch we made, Mrs K used a mixture including birds' eye chillies and Scotch Bonnets. Needless to say it was extremely potent. The quantities used here make 5 small (300g) bottles, and cooking time is under an hour.


  • 500g red chillies (any type, don't use green ones as they'll spoil the colour)
  • 250g shallots
  • 8 tomatoes
  • 1 bulb of garlic (about 8-9 cloves)
  • 2 spring onions
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 stick of lemon grass (use the soft bottom half only, or use the bottled minced variety)
  • 2 inches of ginger root
  • Pinch of ground turmeric
  • 2 dessert spoons salt
  • Sunflower oil (or the chilli oil from the sambal goreng tomat recipe)
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves (optional - Mrs K says some people don't like the taste)
  • 1 teaspoon terasi / shrimp paste (optional - as above)


The great thing about this dish is that you hardly have to do any preparation beyond washing everything, peeling the shallots and chopping the spring onions coarsely. When you've done that, put the chillies, garlic, shallots, spring onions, ginger, bay leaves (and kaffir lime leaves if you're using them) into a large saucepan. Top up with cold water until water's about an inch below the rim - quantity isn't critical as we just want to boil everything. 

Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Now remove the bay/lime leaves, add the tomatoes and turmeric, cover again and simmer for a further 15-20 minutes until the tomatoes are very soft. Remove from the heat and leave to cool down for about an hour.

When it's cooled, pour off all the water except about a tumbler full. Using a hand blender, carefully start blending everything together in the saucepan. When it's become to a very coarse mixture like the picture below (this could take a few minutes' blending), add the salt and sugar, terasi if you're using it, plus three tablespoons of oil.

Continue blending until the sambal is smooth and creamy - again, this could take a while depending on the blender you're using. The colour will gradually turn to a rich orange, and it's ready to eat. Store in airtight bottles for up to a month in the fridge.

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