Sambal – Indonesian Hot Pepper Condiment

I had dinner with Rob, my old engineering colleague, and his wife, Remone, when visiting Holland earlier this year.  Amongst other things, Remone is an amazing cook. She kindly gifted me with a jar of her homemade Sambal and included a printout of the recipe.  I was thrilled!

I love Indonesian cuisine for its variety where fresh local and seasonal ingredients are combined in imaginative ways to yield dishes that are either so spicy that they will clear your sinus; or, incredibly aromatic from the infusion of herbs and coconut slow-cooked with meats and/or vegetables; or, delicately flavored.

Sambal is a spicy condiment that can either be used as a dip for grilled meats or vegetable rolls or an ingredient in a dish to yield an umami flavor with a spicy kick.  I use it in place of Gochujang, a Korean fermented hot chili paste, for some recipes. Although, I have to admit that Gochujang has a unique flavor profile that has no substitute in dishes where it is the star ingredient.

The beauty of Sambal is that it can be made with ingredients that are easy to find and may already be in your fridge or pantry.  Furthermore, it can be made Vegan or nut-free without sacrificing much flavor. I substituted some of the ingredients and omitted the nuts and the shrimp paste and was quite happy with the result.

Here is Remone’s recipe adapted to what I could find in São Paulo. I tripled the recipe and froze the Sambal in a very thin layer in a gallon size Ziploc bag so that it would be easy for me to break off small chunks for future use. It freezes well for months. My yield was about 3 quarts.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 55 minutes

Yield: 1 quart


  • 5 Red or Yellow Madam Jeanette peppers, I used Dedo de Moça, a thin skinned medium-hot Brazilian heirloom pepper
  • 5 medium sweet tomatoes, I used small grape tomatoes and adapted the recipe accordingly
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 tablespoons of oil
  • 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup apple or wine vinegar
  • *3 kemiri nuts (optional), *Do Not Eat Them RawSee note
  • *1 teaspoon of Terasi, fermented shrimp paste (optional), See note


1. Finely dice or mince the onions. Use a food processor, if you have one.

2. Seed half or all the peppers before dicing if they are too spicy for your palate. Dice the tomatoes separately.

3. Fry the onions until soft.

4. Add the peppers and continue to fry for another 3 minutes. Because you are cooking the peppers before the addition of the tomatoes, the resulting paste will be spicier. If you were to add the peppers with the tomatoes, the Sambal would be less spicy.

5. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, sugar and nuts, and shrimp paste, if using.

6. Simmer for 45 minutes until most of the liquid is cooked off.

7. Let Sambal cool before grinding it into a fine paste.


  1. Kemiri nuts or Candle nuts are toxic if eaten raw, but their toxicity dissipates when you cook them. Their appearance and flavor are similar to that of Macadamia nuts.
  2. Terasi is a dried shrimp paste that is sold in blocks. You may be able to find it at an Asian grocer.

Written by Anju Kapur of Anju’s Table. All content and images on this site are copyright protected. Please do not use any of my images without my permission. Should you wish to share this recipe on your site, please add a link to this post as the source.


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