There’s one thing about Malaysians that you should know – Malaysians can live without water, but not without sambal 🙂 Sambal tumis, aka, fried chilli paste, is no ordinary chilli paste and a very handy paste to have in the pantry. It’s the ‘mother of all chilli paste’ used in many Malaysian dishes like Nasi lemak, Mee goreng, Sambal ikan bilis, Kangkung belacan and many more. Nothing beats a real (damn) good home-made Sambal tumis. This is a simple recipe shared by some of my Malay friends that will produce a decent home-made Sambal tumis.
The killer ingredient is the Belacan (shrimp paste) – a must-have in this chilli paste. It’s made from fermented ground shrimp mixed with salt, but beware of the extremely pungent smell that’ll leave you (and your neighbour) breathless. So, before you make this paste, remember to open all windows and doors. In overseas countries, belacan can be found in most Asian grocers.
Home-made Sambal tumis is very personal because the level of spiciness and sweetness can be adjusted to suit your personal taste. If you want it sweeter, just add more gula melaka or sugar. If you have high tolerance level for chillies, then add more chillies or mix with birds eye chillies. If you prefer more savory taste, then add more belacan.
Always make more than what you really need because it takes so much effort. Sambal can be stored in airtight container up to a month.
Malaysian Sambal Tumis
Makes 2 cups
1″ thick belacan
6 cloves garlic
60g fresh chillies (or mix with birds eye chillies)
50g dried chillies
3 stalks lemongrass (white parts only)
3 tbsp tamarind water (3 tbsp tamarind pulp mix with 3 tbsp warm water)
1.5″ gula melaka (palm sugar), grated and to taste
1/2 cup cooking oil
1. Toast the belacan in a dry pan on medium low heat. Use the flat edge of the spatula to break the belacan while toasting until fragrant and the texture has become powdery. Stir if you need to, so the belacan don’t burn.
2. Blend or pound the shallots, garlic, chillies, lemongrass and toasted belacan until you get a smooth fragrant chilli paste. Set aside.
3. Strain the tamarind water and squeeze the remaining tamarind pulp mix to get 3 tbsp tamarind water. Set aside.
4. Heat oil in a wok under medium heat. Pour all the chilli paste into the wok and fry the paste. Keep stirring the paste so the bottom doesn’t get burnt. After about 10 minutes, mix in the tamarind water and then the gula melaka. Stir well, ensuring the gula melaka has melted into the paste. Turn the fire down to low and slowly simmer the chilli paste. Stir once a while to avoid the paste getting burnt.
5. After 30 minutes, you can start to see oil bubbling around the edges of the chilli paste. The colour of the chilli paste has also turned a littler darker. Stop stirring and simmer for another 10-15 minutes. Turn off the fire and leave to cool.
6. Once it’s cooled, store the sambal in an airtight jar in the fridge for up to a month.