Sambal Tumis (Fried Chilli Paste)
Sambal Tumis (stir-fried chilli paste) is a versatile Malay/Indonesian condiment which is used for cooking spicy dishes such as sambal udang (prawns), sambal telur (egg) and sambal petai (stinky beans).
You can also use it as a side chilli condiment for hawker one-dish meals such as Hokkein Mee. Even though it is time-consuming to prepare, you can make a large batch at one go and store the excess in the fridge or freezer for later use.
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Tips for making sambal tumis
- To prevent chilli burn, use disposable plastic gloves when handling chilli, especially dried chilli.
- Don’t make your sambal tumis excessively hot, otherwise your guests may not enjoy it. You can always add chilli powder during cooking to up the heat level. Also, a delicious sambal tumis should be hot and mildly sweet at the same time.
- Use regular dried chilli (made from finger-length chilli; pic above) rather than short dried chilli (made from chilli padi). The latter will probably be too spicy. For best results, remove most or at least half of the chilli seeds from the dried chilli.
- Don’t use too little oil. A dry sambal tumis is not so nice. For healthier version, use olive oil.
- If you are using sambal tumis for cooking other dishes and not as a condiment, under-season the sambal tumis by just a little (less salt, sugar and assam) so that when you cook dishes with it, you can still add other seasonings, such as fish sauce and ikan bilis powder, to flavour the dish.
- For best results, use gula melaka (palm sugar; pic above) or brown sugar. They are more flavourful than white sugar.
- Since it takes quite a bit of work to make sambal tumis, I use short-cuts such as ready peeled shallots, garlic and a powerful food processor (pic above). A Malay friend at the wet market shared that you can use peeled red onions in place of shallots.
- Depending on what food you cook, this sambal recipe can be varied in this way: add lemongrass, ginger and galangal for cooking fish; add dried shrimps for cooking petai; add ikan bilis powder for making nasi lemak chilli, etc.
- Tip for de-seeding dried chilli (pic above): Place cut dried chilli, in a colander with a bowl beneath. Shake the colander, or swirl the cut chilli (wearing disposable gloves) in a circular motion. Discard the seeds which fall through the colander into the bowl.
- Tip for de-seeding finger-length chilli (pic above): Using kitchen scissors, snip off the top stalk and then cut lengthwise around the chilli. Discard the middle stem containing the chilli seeds.