Sambal is a sauce made of chiles used in Indonesia cuisine, Malaysia cuisine, and Singapore cuisine. This condiment, or sauce that is used to complement or enhance the flavor of foods, is also used in cuisine of the Philippines and Sri Lanka. These sauces can be made at home or purchased from specialty grocery stores in the United States. The most commonly available sambal in the United States is sambal oelek from Indonesia.
A number of different types of chiles can be used to make this condiment. These include the blocky, red cayenne pepper, which has a high vitamin A content; the yellow adyuma, which is also called habanero; and the red or green bird's eye chili. Among the other chilies that are used are the yellow or green Madame Jeanette chili and the red or green chili pepper.
The spicy chiles in sambal can have health benefits. Chilies may be able to lower the "bad" cholesterol in the blood stream, which is low-density lipoprotein, or LDL. In addition, chiles may increase the production of endorphins, the natural chemical that leads to "runners' high." Spicy chiles are also thought to aid in digestion. Capsaicin, the chili ingredient that causes chiles to be "hot," is the element that to which the chiles' health benefits are generally ascribed.
A simple recipe of sambal oelek includes four ounces of fresh chopped red chiles, two tablespoons of white rice vinegar and one teaspoon each of salt and sugar. The ingredients can be put into a blender until the mixture is finely chopped. This condiment can be stored in the refrigerator between usages.
Sambal can be used with a number kinds of foods. The chili sauce is often used with seafoods such as shrimp or scallops, as well as poultry such as chicken. This condiment works well with asparagus and eggplant and is also used in rice and noodle dishes.
Not every sambal is made the same way, even within a region. For example, this condiment might include a fermented shrimp paste, tamarind concentrate, or crushed fried peanuts when made in Indonesia. Some Indonesian chili sauce recipes call for mango, candlenuts, shallots, or lime. Other recipes call for a combination of some of these additional ingredients.
Like Indonesia, Malaysia has variations on the theme of sambal. These variations can include the addition of a dry fish floss called serunding ikan, or kaffir limes. Other additions include toasted shrimp paste, tomatoes, or sweet-sour mangoes.