So, what’s a Sambal Queen blog without a post on sambal, right? Here’s my “Sambal Belacan for Dummies”.
What is Sambal Belacan?
Besides being my fav thing that I cannot live without, it is essentially a chilli paste made from fresh red chillies and roasted shrimp paste. There are several different versions of this all-time favourite. Cooking, like art, is pretty much subjective and largely depends on the cook’s interpretation of the dish.
The Sambal Belacan I learnt is a family recipe I learnt from the best Sambal Belacan maker in the whole wide world. (Ok, am allowed to be biased a bit, no?) This is my late grandmother’s recipe that has never failed me. It has just 3 ingredients – Fresh red chilies, roasted belacan (shrimp paste) and freshly squeezed lime juice. Oh yes, my grandma’s recipe also has a heart full of love.
When I became a vegetarian, one of the things I missed is good ol’ fashioned Sambal Belacan. After much experimentation with several vegetarian belacan powders, I finally found a real decent one that my mother-in-law found in Ipoh.
How to make Sambal Belacan?
If you ask any Nyonya for their recipes, they will tell you that they agak–agak. This means that you will probably NOT get anywhere with Metric System in a Nyonya’s kitchen. This agak–agak method of cooking comes from many years in the kitchen watching the veteran cooks at work and experimenting in our own kitchens. I am blessed to have been able to watch 3 great cooks at work – my late grandmother, my mum and my mother-in-law.
So, here’s my Sambal Belacan recipe.
- Fresh red chilies
- Vegetarian belacan powder
- Fresh lime juice
- Salt to taste (Optional)
- Wash the chillies clean and dry them.
- Fry the belacan powder over VERY low fire until fragrant. (Enjoy the lovely smells! :D) MUST keep stirring. Whatever you do, do not leave this unattended.
- Allow the fried belacan to cool.
- Put all the red chillies and belacan powder into a chopper/food processor or you can do the good ol’ fashioned way with a “lesung” (pestle and mortar).
- Pound until fine.
- Squeeze some lime juice over the sambal paste before serving.
- Best lime to use is “limau nipis” (Calamansi) or “limau kasturi” (lime). In a pinch, lemon works as well.
- If it is too spicy, try adding a pinch of sugar to douse the heat a little. BUT if you are really a kindergarten chilli eater, best to remove the seeds before making your sambals.
- When pounding the chillies using the “lesung”, the trick is to put one chilli at a time and some belacan to prevent the chilli from splattering on you. If the paste gets a little watery, add more belacan. Keep adding chillies and belacan alternatingly.
- If you must use a food processor, please do not use those blenders that need water to be added to work. This is not recommended as you don’t want a runny sambal belacan.