Recipe Corner: Make your own sambal!


It's probably not even necessary to offer a recipe for samba, the Indonesian spicy condiment available at better Asian groceries. It's about as hard to make as a mudpie, and can be made of locally grown ingredients, with a bit of forethought.

We knew we wanted to try this with our favorite chile, long red Thai peppers. We procured the seeds years ago from J. L. Hudson, Seedsman (no apparent connection to the Detroit department store), and have been saving the seeds for years. They are the ultimate fuss-free plant, untroubled by disease, pests, animals, and drought. We'd even argue they do better in regular soil that isn't overly amended. It doesn't seem that Hudson's offers them in the most recent catalog, but any spicy red pepper of relative heat should do. (Then again, we have thousands of seeds, so let us know if you really want our favorite variety.)

Long red Thai peppers ready to be turned into sambal.
  • Long red Thai peppers ready to be turned into sambal.

We grew several bushes of them this summer, and they've been producing long, hot, red peppers for weeks now. Every weekend, you can harvest a basket full of these babies and take them inside for processing.

It's super simple. Remove the stems from the peppers. If you want a milder version, remove the seeds from half the peppers. Put the peppers in a food processor with the stainless steel chopping blade ready to puree them. For every half-pound of peppers, add an ounce of white vinegar and a teaspoon of salt. Puree until the contents of the processor are a pulpy mass. Scoop the contents into a Ball jar, careful to touch the paste as little as possible. One thoughtless wipe of an eye or nose could leave you in discomfort.

The sambal will probably taste a bit vegetative at first, less like a hot paste and more like the fibrous parts of the pepper. That begins to change after a week or two in the refrigerator. If you've only had the Sambal Oelek produced by Huy Fong Foods, you'll notice that this raw version is a bit fruitier and more substantial, unlike something superheated to 250 degrees for canning purposes.

Our experiments have only begun. We've tried a jar in which we mixed a few green jalapeƱos and several cloves of garlic, and we're working on seeing how those flavors mix. 

Ball jars keep well in a freezer, and we're all set to be warmed through whatever this Michigan winter brings.

A jar of finished homemade sambal.
  • A jar of finished homemade sambal.