SAMBAL hijau better known as sambal ijo or sambal lado is a significant condiment in Indonesian cuisine.
Savoury with slight hints of heat, the green chilli sambal is a must-have with any Indonesian meal be it Padang, Sundanese or even Minangkabau cuisine.
Its importance can be likened to sambal belacan’s pride of place among Malaysians especially when savouring Malay or Nyonya food.
There are many recipes formaking sambal hijau but the simplest one calls for green chillies, bird’s eye chilli, green or red tomatoes, onions and garlic sauteed in oil until the onions turn translucent.
The cooked items are then blended to a rough paste before being sauteed in a wok again.
This results in a paste that is ever so tasty and I enjoyed relishing it with fried fish like gurame, deep-fried duck, fried tempeh or even fried tauhu when in Indonesia.
The appetising flavour of sambal hijau impressed my taste buds 20 years ago during a trip to Bali when I chanced upon an eatery selling nasi Padang.
I liked it so much that I wanted to eat sambal hijau every day while in Kuta and Ubud.
Discovering its appealing taste led me to scour the Internet for different green chilli sambal recipes to recreate in my kitchen.
Indonesian cooks Seri and Sofia at the office cafeteria have been helpful in providing tips for making the condiment which they often prepare for lunch alongside an array of local dishes.
What is interesting about sambal hijau is the room for creativity it allows when playing with the ingredients.
Some cooks add terasi (shrimp paste or belacan), those with a liking for aromatics might throw in lemongrass or even galangal, some add lime and others include either ikan bilis or dried shrimp to flavour the sambal paste.
Sambal hijau can be the ideal vessel to carry ingredients like prawns, squid, fish and chicken similar to how Malaysians use the fiery red sambal as a base for sambal udang, sambal ikan, sambal sotong and sambal ayam.
There is no hard and fast rule when making sambal hijau so my advice to readers is to go simple before you go big.
Here is a sambal hijau recipe with prawns that has 60 bird’s eye chilli among the ingredients.
My schoolmate Sailesh Velayuthan was horrified upon noticing the amount of chillies in the recipe and questioned my sanity but worry not, there are enough onions to tone down the heat.
The amount of chillies can be reduced depending on your heat tolerance level.
Udang sambal hijau
6 to 8 green chillies
60 bird’s eye chillies (35g)
1 red tomato
1 big onion
6 cloves garlic
1 inch (20g) galangal (optional)
2 stalks lemongrass
2 tbsp belacan powder/ 8g belacan cube
300g large fresh prawns
20g udang kering (dried shrimp)
Sugar ½ tsp to 1 tsp
Salt ½ tsp
½ cup of oil
Toast dried shrimp in a pan over medium heat until fragrant.
Use a mortar and pestle to pound the dried shrimp until it becomes floss-like. Set aside.
Slice shallots and set aside.
Dice the big onion, garlic and tomato and transfer to a liquidiser.
Chop the galangal and green chillies and add these as well as bird’s eye chillies to the blender as well.
Add ¼ cup oil (or water), salt and sugar and blend to a semi-fine paste.
Heat ¼ cup of oil in a pot.
Bruise the lemongrass with a knife or pestle and throw the herb into the oil and allow it to aromatise.
Then add shallots and stir briefly before putting in the belacan.
Stir to combine the ingredients before adding the dried shrimp.
Keep stirring to prevent the ingredients from browning.
An aromatic and pungent smell is to be expected.
Watch for the shallots to turn translucent before adding in the blended paste.
Stir the paste and semi-caramelised ingredients until they combine.
It is important to stir the sambal hijau to prevent it from burning.
Cook until the oil splits.
Then add fresh prawns and allow to cook. Cover to steam for 30 seconds.
Gently stir until the prawns curl and change to an orange hue to offer a lovely contrast to the green chilli sambal.
Remove from heat when done.
Serve with warm rice.