Let’s start with the basics. What is Sambal Oelek? The word sambal refers to chili paste or chili sauce made from chili peppers. To make sambal, the chili peppers are ground and mixed with other ingredients.
Loosely defined, Sambal Oelek is a raw chili paste. It is made using three main ingredients; salt, vinegar, and red chilies.
Originally, Sambal Oelek was used as an ingredient in Malaysian and Indonesian cuisines. However, it has become quite popular lately. The spicy chili flavor that it adds to dishes is irresistible.
Sambal Oelek works best when used as a flavoring ingredient or a base. I do not recommend using it as a direct sauce because it has the tendency to be overpowering.
There are different variations of Sambal Oelek. Some have garlic and lime juice as ingredients.
You can buy Sambal Oelek at a grocery store or make your own at home. Sambal Oelek is relatively easy to make because you need very few basic ingredients.
How to make Sambal Oelek at home
I prefer making my own Sambal Oelek at home because that way, I have control over the ingredients and can easily achieve the flavor that I want.
As I mentioned above Sambal Oelek is very easy to make. Here is how you should go about it.
What you’ll need
- Food processor/ grinder
- Chili peppers
All you need to do is place the chili peppers, salt, and vinegar in your food processor or grinder.
If you do not have vinegar, you can use lime or lemon juice instead. Grind the ingredients together until they form a thick paste.
What you’ll end up with is flavorful homemade Sambal Oelek. You should pour it into a jar and store it in your refrigerator until you are ready to use it.
Pretty simple, right?
Sambal Oelek substitutes
Sambal Oelek is a flavorful ingredient that elevates every dish it is used in. Seeing how amazing Sambal Oelek it is, you are likely to run out of it very quickly.
So what do you do when you have none on hand? Luckily for you, there are several ingredients that are good alternatives to Sambal Oelek.
Gochujang, Sriracha, harissa, crushed red pepper flakes, and homemade sambal Oelek are good substitutes for Sambal Oelek.
Here is how to properly use the Sambal Oelek substitutes
Gochujang is a chili paste manufactured using a fermentation process. In addition to the umami flavor it has, it has a tinge of sour acidity. It also has a rich fermented sweetness. This unique combination of flavors makes it a good substitute for Sambal Oelek.
In terms of consistency, the consistency of gochujang is the same as that of tomato paste. Therefore, you can very easily incorporate it into your dish as a Sambal Oelek substitute.
Gochujang works best as a Sambal Oelek substitute when used in burger patties and stir-fries. You can also use it as a Sambal Oelek substitute in marinades.
When using gochujang as a substitute, keep it in mind that it is more flavorful compared to Sambal Oelek. Substitute Sambal Oelek with gochujang in the ratio 2:1. For instance, if a recipe calls for two tablespoons of Sambal Oelek, use one tablespoon of gochujang.
Gochujang is readily available because most grocery stores and supermarkets stock it.
Sriracha is another chili paste that is a good substitute for Sambal Oelek. It is bright red in color and it has a flavor that is similar to that of Sambal Oelek. You can easily get sriracha at any supermarket or grocery store, which is a plus when considering which substitute to use.
Sriracha has garlic as one of its ingredients so it may have that garlic taste which Sambal Oelek doesn’t have. It also has a sweet undertone. If you do not like the taste of garlic, you should use another substitute.
To counter the sweetness, you can adjust your recipe by adding a little bit of salt or soy sauce, depending on what you are making. If your recipe has some garlic in it, consider doing away with it because it may overpower your dish.
You can use sriracha as a Sambal Oelek substitute in any recipe that calls for Sambal Oelek.
Harissa is a North American chili paste that can easily substitute Sambal Oelek. Although harissa has chilies as its main ingredient, it has other ingredients like garlic, cumin, and caraway seeds. Therefore, its flavor is slightly different from that of Sambal Oelek.
Harissa can easily be incorporated into savory dishes. I particularly like using it in Asian cuisines. Substitute Sambal Oelek with harissa in meat dishes like pork, lamb, poultry, and beef.
Harrisa is quite flavorful. For this reason, add little by little to your recipe until you get the flavor that you want. If you add too much at once, the harissa will overpower your dish.
- Crushed red pepper flakes
If you have no problem with adding heat to your dish without the consistency of a sauce, crushed red pepper flakes should be your go-to substitute. Crushed red pepper flakes are made by crushing red chili peppers.
Crushed red pepper flakes are a quick fix. So if you have no other substitute, these ones will work just fine. You can add a little bit of liquid to your dish for the best results. I recommend using a fish sauce or oyster sauce.
Crushed red pepper flakes tend to add a lot of heat to dishes, so add sparingly depending on how much heat you can tolerate.
- Homemade sambal oelek
If you have a little bit of time on your hands, you can make homemade Sambal Oelek use in your recipe. In a food processor, add a pound of chili peppers, salt, and ¼ cup of vinegar.
Blend the ingredients together until they form a thick paste. Once the paste is formed, place it on a saucepan and bring it to a boil then let it simmer for three minutes.
If you like garlic, you can add a little bit of it to bring out an amazing flavor. This homemade Sambal Oelek may turn out better than the store-bought Sambal Oelek.
To extend its shelf life, store in an airtight container and place it in the refrigerator once it cools down completely.
How to use Sambal Oelek in cooking.
As I mentioned in the beginning, Sambal Oelek is popularly used in Malaysian and Indonesian dishes.
When using Sambal Oelek in stir-fries, you should add it just before you finish cooking. This way, it will add flavor to your stir fry.
Sambal Oelek can also be used to add spiciness to your western dishes. If you are making burgers, pizza, or even wings, add a spoonful of Sambal Oelek for that spicy flavor you want. Always use it sparingly because it adds a lot of heat to dishes.
You can use Sambal Oelek as a condiment on meat, noodles, or fish. It will give your dish an authentic South Asian taste that is a favorite to many.
Sambal Oelek recipes that you should try
There are several Sambal Oelek substitutes out there that you can try. I’ll just summarize a few of my favorites.
The first recipe that I absolutely enjoy is the grilled spicy chicken breast. In this recipe, I use Sambal Oelek as an ingredient in the Thai chili sauce which makes the chicken spicy.
Another recipe I like is the spicy tuna. Sambal Olek really brings out the flavor of the tuna. This recipe is loved by almost everyone.
Since I like my burgers spicy, I add a little bit of Sambal Oelek to the beef patties. The amazing flavor is just out of this world.
Whenever I am in the mood for spicy chicken wings, Sambal Oelek always comes in handy. I use Sambal Oelek as a condiment to enhance the flavor of the wings.
There are several reasons why you may want to substitute Sambal Oelek with something else.
Maybe you ran out and you do not have time to go to the store to buy more, or you simply want to experiment with something different. Whatever the reason, there are several ingredients that you can use in its place.
My go-to Sambal Oelek substitutes are sriracha, gochujang, and harissa. The reason why I like these substitutes is that their texture is similar to that of Sambal Oelek and you can easily incorporate them into various dishes.
Crushed red pepper flakes are also a good substitute but the problem is that it is, not a paste and you may have to add oyster sauce or fish sauce to your dish to get good results.
With homemade Sambal Oelek, you can never go wrong. You just need three basic ingredients and a food processor or grinder. In my opinion, Sambal Oelek is the easiest chili sauce that you can make in just a few minutes.
These substitutes work just as well as Sambal Oelek. I’d love to hear your feedback once you try them out.