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  • Jo Jo Yee

Make your own Sambal Chilli Paste using fresh chillies

Updated: Oct 15, 2020

This is a fragrant, smoky chilli paste that can be added to noodles, fried rice and stir-fries.

Tip: Pick and use small, young courgettes for stir-fries. before they develop large seeds and become spongey.

Recently, I entered a chilli competition run by Victoriana Nursery and ended up winning 5 kilos - yes, 5 kilos of freshly picked chillies. When they arrived, I gasped. It was a biiiig box of chillies. After many hours of heavy duty pickling and freezing, I decided to use the remaining chillies to make a Malaysian chilli paste called sambal.

There are so many sambal pastes in Malaysia, some made from raw chillies, some are left to ferment and some, like the Sambal Tumis are made from cooked chillies (the word "tumis" is Malay for stir fry or sauté). You know what happens to chillies when they are cooked gently over a low heat for a long time? They turn deep red and develop a kind of sweet smokiness; and tantalising flavours emerge that taste completely unlike it in its raw form.

To make this sambal paste, you will need to de-seed the chillies (which is actually not as tedious as it sounds). I personally don't wear gloves, but most people would advise you to. Having spent my childhood years in Malaysia means that I have no fear of chillies, nor the heat, nor the inevitable burning sensation which comes with handling them. Its not that I don't feel the burn, it is just that it doesn't bother me.

The chillies you choose for your sambal will depend on your taste and tolerance threshold. I prefer to use a combination of medium and hot chillies, so that the end-result is palatable and does not cause pain.

Traditional "sambal tumis" recipes usually also call for tamarind and candlenuts, but this recipe is kept simple with just a few key ingredients - fresh chillies, shallots and belacan.

Belacan is a shrimp paste which comes in a block or powder form and is a widely used ingredient in Malaysia. You will find it at most Chinese supermarkets. I find that it is a must for this recipe, because it adds the (here we go) "umami" that everyone keeps going on about these days. Word of caution - it is pungent, like an extreme form of fish sauce.

Fresh, rather than dried chillies are used to make the most of freshly picked home grown chillies that are in season.

Sambal Tumis Chilli paste from fresh chillies


6 shallots or 2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

500g chillies, topped, de-seeded and roughly chopped

1 teaspoon belacan (shrimp paste or powder)

1/3 cup oil (plus 3-4 tablespoons oil during cooking)

2 tablespoons demarara sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt


  1. Process onion and garlic in food processor until finely chopped. Set aside. Next, process chillies until finely chopped.

  2. Heat a heavy based pan over medium heat. Add belacan and dry fry for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. (If using shrimp paste in a block form, break it into crumbs). Add half the oil, shallots and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

  3. Add remaining oil and processed chillies to pan and cook for 5 minutes. Add sugar, salt and let chilli mixture cook for 45 minutes, stirring frequently.

  4. As you are cooking the chilli mixture, add additional oil (one tablespoon at a time) to prevent it from burning. Toward the end of the cooking process, it will turn a deep red and be oozing oil. This is when you know it is ready.

This sambal paste is best stored in the refrigerator, so you can use it a little at a time.


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