There is a saying that Indonesians can enjoy a good meal out of the humblest spread as long as accompanied by sambal. What exactly is sambal you ask? Sambal ranges from smooth chili sauce (think Sriracha) to chunky type of chili concoction (think sambal oelek) to relishes where chili is not even the dominant ingredients yet its unique spiciness cannot be overlooked (such as the famous Balinese sambal matah). This recipe for sambal bawang kecap (chili & shallot relish) is of the later version and I think is a pretty good introduction to Indonesian sambal.
The All Important Kecap Manis
You can tweak and change the recipe to your liking. If you don’t have shallot, just use onion. For a milder chili kick, try habanero or fresno instead of the fiery Thai bird eye chilies. The ginger and daun salam (Indonesian bay leaf) can be safely omitted. But you definitely must use kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce) to make this sambal. Most Asian groceries carry this nowadays, and luckily there’s always Amazon for backup plan.
Slicing and Stir Frying
Once you gather all your ingredients, you simply need to start slicing for most part. Although I use Thai bird eye chilies for this, I always deseed them since I find the chili kick is too much otherwise. Prep work should be super fast, most likely takes about 5 minutes. Cooking this relish is simplicity itself, basically it’s a sauté and simmer job. The cooking is done when the relish becomes thick.
- 4 tablespoon oil
- 125 gram (~ 4.5 oz) shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 Indonesian bay leaf (Indonesian: daun salam)
- 1 cm (~ ½ inch) ginger, peeled and bruised
- 10-20 Thai bird eye chilies, seeded and roughly sliced
- 1½ tablespoon Indonesian sweet soy sauce (Indonesian: kecap manis)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup water
- In a small frying pan, heat oil over medium high heat, then sauté shallot, Indonesian bay leaf, and ginger until fragrant and shallot is translucent.
- Add in the Thai bird eye chilies, mix well and cook for 30 seconds.
- Add in Indonesian sweet soy sauce, salt, and water. Mix well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until all the water has evaporated and the relish is thick.
- Turn off heat, serve as relish or side dish to sunny side ups, pan fried tofu/tempeh (or other protein for omnivores).