Sambal Belacan

OK, I should be marking the Common Test papers right now but in my haste to get out of the school, I forgot to bring back the Answer Scheme. Oh well. More time for me to write one more recipe. 

Sambal belacan. Sigh. This ubiquitous side dish (can it even be classified as a dish?) has a lot of die-hard fans. I even know of a colleague who loves sambal belacan so much that for fear of putting on weight, she refuses to make anymore of this sambal. How is that possible, one may ask. She loves eating sambal belacan with hot white rice and she can eat bowls and bowls of rice, just to savour her sambal belacan.

For those of you who are not so accustomed to Malay cooking, sambal belacan is simply a chilli condiment. There are many different ways to prepare this. The main two ingredients are fresh red chillies and the pungent (yet oh so fragrant when toasted) fermented shrimp paste. However, if you add other ingredients to the main two ingredients, the sambal may be called by another name.

My Mother’s version of sambal belacan (and the one I grew up with) simply consists of blending 10 red chillies with toasted belacan. That’s it. Yummy with hot white rice.

When I was working at BSS, I met an experienced Peranakan Home Ec teacher and I asked her how she made her sambal belacan. Her version (as well as another Peranakan teacher’s version) was to blend chillies with toasted belacan and strips of kaffir lime leaves. You’ve got to use only the tender leaves, leaving the hard stalk behind. I usually make this version at home now. I find it more fragrant. And, because I’m addicted to chilli, I add in some pieces of chilli padi (bird’s eye chillies) just to spice things up a bit. ;p

Sambal Belacan (blended with kaffir lime leaves)

Some people – the hardcore traditionalists- would shudder at the idea of blended sambal belacan. True, pounding chillies and belacan with a mortar and pestle may be tastier (the texture is  looser and you get coarse bits of chillies) but when you are pressed for time and you still want to eat well, succumbing to the wonders of modern appliances (and ready made products like frozen shortcrust pastry!) is better than not trying to cook at all. 

Sambal Assam

Now, if you take this basic sambal belacan recipe (just the 10 or so chillies with toasted belacan) and mix it with tamarand juice, season with sugar, you get sambal assam. Last year, I invited some colleagues over for lunch and I made this, served with steamed lady’s fingers. The ladies loved it. My family eats the sambal assam with thickly cut cucumber pieces. My mother-in-law’s version of sambal assam is to use dried chillies instead of fresh chillies. I shall try that some day. Using dried chillies give the sambal a richer colour.

There are many other types of sambal and when I have more time, I shall post it up. Time to turn in now and worry about the marking. 😦

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