In recent years, sambal oelek jars have appeared on grocery store shelves alongside sriracha sauce. In this piece, we’ll explain what sambal oelek is and, if you’ve never used it before, how you may use it to add some heat to your regular cooking.
If you don’t have any sambal oelek sauce on hand or can’t find it readily, we have several substitutions for you to try, as well as a simple recipe for making sambal oelek from scratch.
Concerning Sambal Oelek
A sambal is a hot chili sauce popular in several Southeast Asian nations, notably Indonesia and Malaysia. There are several variants of sambal sauce available, each produced with a different pepper, with a distinct texture, and from a different area.
Since Indonesia has over 17,000 islands and most sambals are handmade, it is hard to know how many sambal types exist at any particular moment.
The term sambal literally translates to “condiment,” but it is also used to refer to any cuisine that has sambal as the major component, such as a sambal goreng udang, which is a shrimp dish seasoned with sambal sauce.
Sambal oelek is a popular sambal sauce (pronounced as zam-bahl U-lek). Sambal oelek or ulek, a native Indonesian sauce that is also famous in Thailand, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka, is really a paste formed from powdered or pureed red chilies, vinegar, and salt.
The term oelek comes from the traditional Indonesian pestle and mortar, or ulek, which is used to produce the paste. Sambal oelek, unlike other forms of sambal, includes chili seeds and chunks of pulp, giving it a chunkier texture. Additional sambal oelek versions may include extra components such as sugar, garlic, citrus juice, spices, or shallots.
Not only is the texture of sambal oelek different from the smoother sriracha sauce, but it is also less processed, giving it a more unadulterated, stronger, and less acidic chili taste.
It is unknown how long sambal oelek has been around, since chili peppers first arrived in the Southeastern Asian countries with the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, not long after the New World explorers discovered them growing in the Americas. It is considered that the inclusion of chile to dishes was immediately accepted by Asian cuisines, and the usage of chilies proceeded to evolve into the major element that they are in many of today’s Asian foods.
Sambol oelek is one of the simplest sambals to get, and may be purchased in mainstream grocery shops as well as ethnic or specialized stores. Always give store-bought or homemade sambal oelek a thorough stir before using since it might separate when kept. Store-bought sambal oelek can survive virtually forever if the lid is firmly replaced and stored in the refrigerator after use.
Recipes Using Sambal Oelek
Sambal oelek is best used as a condiment or spicy sauce substitute for meats, curries, rice, soups, stews, stir fries, tofu, and noodles, but it may also be used to flavor dips, sauces, marinades, and even eggs! If you want to add a spicy kick to a wrap or burger, combine sambal oelek with mayo or ketchup.
If you want a greater flavor from the sambal oelek, apply it at the beginning of the cooking process; alternatively, add it towards the end for some surface heat. When using sambal oelek for the first time, or one from a different manufacturer, always start with a very little quantity, around a quarter of a teaspoon, until you can judge its degree of heat and taste.
Sambal oelek was historically produced to preserve fresh chilies virtually forever, but it may also be used in any savory recipe as a straight fresh or dried chili alternative. If a tiny jalapeño is required in a dish, substitute it with a tablespoon of sambal oelek (or another variety of sambal).
Substitutes for Sambal Oelek
Depending on where you live, it is now much simpler to acquire sambal oelek, but if you are having difficulty finding it or have simply run out, here are a few alternatives, including an easy recipe to create your own.
1. Homemade Sambal Oelek
If you have some fiery red chiles on hand, preparing your own sambal oelek will taste the most like a store-bought sauce. While this recipe calls for cooking the sambal oelek before using it, you may also use frozen chillies.
For a hot sambal, sambal oelek is best prepared using Thai chilies.
Thai chili peppers come in roughly 80 distinct types with varying degrees of heat, although the majority are red, tiny in size, and intense in pungency and heat. Thai chilies are also known by other names, such as Kashmir peppers, however the two primary varieties of pepper cultivated in Thailand are bird peppers (prik khee nu) and chili peppers (prik khee fah).
These Thai chilies have a Scoville heat unit range of 50,000 to 100,000, making them around 15 times hotter than a regular jalapeño chili pepper. This is why, while working with Thai peppers, you should always use rubber gloves and avoid getting anything in your face or eyes (or indeed any other hot chilies).
If Thai peppers are too hot for you, use Fresno chilies for a gentler heat sambal. Red serrano chilies have about double the intensity of Fresno chilies, and you may also use red jalapeño or cayenne peppers.
To prepare about ten servings of homemade sambal oelek, you will need the following ingredients:
- Half a pound of seeded and chopped red chilies – Remember to wear rubber gloves when preparing the chilies
- One tablespoon of vinegar
- One tablespoon of salt
- Half a teaspoon of salt
In a food processor, combine the chiles and water and pulse to make a coarse paste. Place this paste in a pan and cook for three to five minutes on medium heat. Frequent stirring is required.
Lastly, add the salt and vinegar to the pan and thoroughly combine. Let the sauce to cook for another ten minutes, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool. It may be consumed immediately or chilled beforehand for the greatest taste. Refrigerate it in an appropriate, airtight container.
2. Tabasco Sauce
Tabasco, a Cajun spicy sauce similar to sambal oelek, is created using peppers, vinegar, and salt, making it a viable substitution for sambal oelek.
Edmund McIlhenny invented and manufactured tabasco in 1868 on Avery Island in Louisiana. How Tabasco is created has changed very little since then, and even today, all Tabasco pepper seeds are grown on Avery Island before being sent to farmers in other nations, notably South American countries.
When Tabasco peppers are ripe for harvesting, they are hand-picked in the same manner as McIlhenny and converted into a salty mash. The barrels holding this mash are capped, salted again, and aged for three years. The aged mash is then blended with vinegar and agitated for a month before being removed from the pulp and seeds and bottled.
Tabasco sauce should only be used in tiny quantities as a sambal oelek alternative since it contains more vinegar. To avoid adding too much acidity or sourness to the meal, use half the quantity of Tabasco as you would sambal oelek.
If you have other spicy sauces in your cupboard, such as Louisiana hot sauce, they may also be ideal to substitute sambal oelek, depending on the recipe.
3. Sriracha Sauce
In the United States, sriracha sauce and sambal oelek are often created by the same company. While the textures change, the tastes are comparable, with the inclusion of garlic and less vinegar in sriracha sauce making a little variation to the overall flavor of the meal. You should only use sriracha if the recipe calls for a sauce rather than a paste.
Try half the quantity of sriracha as you would sambal oelek, and then add more if desired.
4. Chili Pastes
Other chili pastes, such as gochujang or harissa, have the same consistency and, in many cases, the same heat profile as sambal oelek, but they contribute various characteristics that might change the overall flavor of the meal.
Harissa’s hot flavor enhances stews, couscous, breads, and other dishes. Harissa is often prepared with chiles, vinegar, garlic, and spices such as cumin, caraway, nutmeg, allspice, or coriander. It may also include herbs like mint.
If you want to use harissa or another kind of chili paste instead of sambal oelek, be sure to read the label carefully and select one with few additional spices.
Because of its fermented and deep sweetness, gochujang is not suited for replacing a plain sambal oelek in most recipes.
5. Red Pepper Flakes or Cayenne Pepper
As long as the sambal oelek is not employed as a binder in the recipe, a quarter teaspoon of red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper in favor of a teaspoon of sambal oelek will substitute the heat but not the taste.
If you run out of store-bought sambal oelek, the simplest option is to create your own, which requires just a few ingredients and a short amount of time to prepare and cook. However, Tabasco or Sriracha sauces are probably the next simplest substitutions, but only use about half as much of one of these as you would sambal oelek.
If you want to add heat to your eggs, marinades, tofu, or other dishes but have ran out of sambal oelek or are having difficulty finding it in grocery shops, there are a variety of replacements available to replicate the heat, if not all, of the taste of sambal oelek in any sort of food.