The nasi lemak is only as great as its sambal.
If there’s one thing Malaysians are known to be passionate about — sometimes to too great a degree — it’s the food. Food can make or break us, and especially so when it’s a signature dish like the sambal. Deemed a Malaysian staple, sambal is most commonly eaten on the side with meals such as nasi lemak, but even in its simplicity it can contain a multitude of flavours.
Kelvin Lee, Executive Sous Chef at One&Only Desaru Coast, boasts a sambal recipe that guests love, among the fresh and healthy foods at the resort’s Mediterranean restaurant, Ambara. His inspiration comes from the lost and forgotten herbs of Malaysia, cultivated at the resort’s Chef’s Garden and infused in his array of seasonal dishes.
A Malaysian national who grew up in Australia, Chef Kelvin has over 20 years of experience in fine dining across Singapore, Malaysia, Korea and Japan. He has also worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in France including Le Jardin de Sens and Michel Bras.
With his signature sambal recipe, Chef Kelvin set out to create a sambal paste that would appeal to a broader audience — young and mature alike, those who are all too familiar with the taste or completely new to it.
“I will readily admit that my tolerance for spice is pretty low — even a dollop of bottled chilli sauce is enough to make me sweat,” he admits. “This dampened my enjoyment of sambal, as my ability to appreciate the complex balance of flavours were nullified by heat.”
Chef Kelvin’s recipe utilises the authentic cooking methods and flavours of sambal, but with a softening of the heat that would exclude those unused to spice. Check out his recipe for home-made sambal made for all, for you to make in your own time and in the comfort of your own home.
Sambal Chilli, crafted by Chef Kelvin Lee
- 200g chilli paste (deseeded)
- 500g shallots or red onions
- 250g garlic
- 50ml canola oil
- 200g tamarind juice
- 300g palm sugar
- 150g shrimp paste (belacan)
- 100ml water salt to taste
- Using a food processor, blitz the onions, garlic and belacan (shrimp paste) until smooth. If you do not have a food processor or prefer a more textured sambal, use a mortar and pestle and pound away.
- Heat your saucepan over a medium heat and add canola oil to the hot pan. The surface of the oil should shimmer. If the oil begins to smoke, the pan is too hot. Add in the pureed ingredients and sauté for two and a half minutes or until the kitchen smells glorious.
- Add the chilli paste, tamarind juice, palm sugar and salt to the pan and stir until combined. Then add 100ml of water, bring it to a boil and reduce to a low flame. Cook until the sambal darkens and the oil separates.
- Once cooled, portion into sterilised jars. If you do not intend on using it immediately, store in the freezer for up to a year.
For the chilli paste, soak dried chillies (deseeded) in warm water for 15-20 minutes. Drain, leaving about a tablespoon of soaking liquid and then blitz it all in a food processor.