Thursday, June 18, 2009

Basic Sambal Tumis Recipe

In Singapore, where there are no harsh climatic or seasonal changes throughout the year, preserving and storing food to see the families through the seasonal change hasn’t been seen as such a priority, until we are living and studying abroad. It may not even be the cold and snowy winters but in places where the shops are so far away or the goods are out of stock until the next shipment. Of course, I am speaking from personal experiences where I was working and living in the tropical paradise of Papua New Guinea where many of the residents depended on the monthly shipment of Burn Philips (import and export company) to bring all their supplies from machineries to household goods and foods. People especially the expatriates back in long gone days relied on having those monthly shipments to tide them over. Now, many of us are able to go to the stores or supermarkets to buy a bottle of Teriyaki sauce form Japan, pasta from Italy and salmon from Alaska. Alas modern commerce has over taken the seasons and the need for having the skills to hoard enough food to keep a family for many months is long fading into oblivion.
In Sydney, where the winter is mild, preserving food to see my family through the winter hasn’t been seen as a priority, but last weekend we made enough sambal tumis (hot chilli sauce) to see us through the next few months. Cooking and storing the extras are not not new for us because we were both brought up in the age before supermarkets and sliced bread, when food was commonly made from scratch and we all made the best of what we had. We tried not to forget that heritage and the life skills our past had taught us but now we're back on living a simple life and those memories help us almost everyday with what we want to do now. We would like to share this versatile sambal recipe with you, which can be used as a chilli base for chicken, fries fish and ikan bilis sambal like the condiment we have used for the nasi lemak recipe. It can also be used as garnish for lontong and mee siam.

Basic Sambal Tumis Recipe:


1. 350grams Dried Chillies
2. 250g Shallots (if unavailable substitute 2 onions)
3. 60g cloves of Garlic
4. ½ cup buah keras (candlenuts)
4. 80g blachan, toasted
5. 150ml Assam juice (to taste)
6. 1 stalk lemongrass, thinly sliced
7. Oil
8. Salt and sugar to taste
1 Soak the dried chillies in cold water (half a day) and drain.
3. Put the dried chillies, shallots, buah keras, garlic, lemongrass and the toasted blachan and some water (just enough to cover the ingredients) into the blender and grind till fine.
3. Put some oil into a wok, add the chillies mixture over medium heat until aromatic and add the prepared assam juice.
4. Cook for some time until the chillies mixture turns into a little dark red consistency and the oil separated from the paste or what we call *pecah minyak*
5. Add salt and sugar to taste


  1. what is sambal tumis?? is it also the sambal chilli??

  2. Hi BY,
    Yes. Add Ikan bilis it becomes ikan bilis sambal Lor.

  3. oh i c. so this is the chilli for the nasi lemak??

  4. Wow Uncle Phil, your recipes are spot on, very similiar to my mum's. Any plans to visit Melbourne?


  5. Hi Joanna,
    We hope that you continue to cook your mum's recipes and enjoy it with your loved ones. No immediate plan for visiting Melbourne but we love to meet you guys in the future.

  6. Uncle can this sambal be the based for mamak noodles too?

  7. Hi Yuliana,
    I am not sure the mamak noodles you are referring is the one I have in mind. From my memory, isn't it seasoned heavily with tomato sauce and spiced and garnished with sliced green chillies?

  8. Hi Uncle,

    How many cups of sambal will this recipe yield?

    Why are candlenuts added to sambal tumis? How will this enhance the sambal tumis?

    I am still on the lookout for the perfect sambal tumis recipe and I hope you don't mind me asking you all these questions.

    Thank you!

  9. Hi Naddy,
    Thanks for visiting my blog. That's approximately 1 1/2 cup of sambal. We normally double the ingregrients to make 3 cups of sambal and have them freezed for the winter months when chillies are expensive and not in season. Why candlenuts? Hmmm... thats is an interesting question which I am now asking to myself... unfortunately my mother is no longer around to answer why candlenuts are added to this recipe. Please try this "inherited" recipe and tell me whether you like it?

  10. The Candlenuts provide an oil that is slightly poisonous, laxative, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. This much candlenut won't do you any harm except to help you wake up in the morning.
    Personally, I also like a bit of tamarind and some macadama nuts to give it a little crunch, and a pinch of mace. Also use palm sugar, not cane sugar.
    Yummy for breakfast on toast with bacon and egg on top.
    Mark Freeman.

  11. Hi Mark,
    Thanks for sharing your information and recipe with us.