Sambal Oelek

Have you ever heard of sambal? Over here in North America, sambal has not been well known but this is changing. Sambal is a condiment, popular in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and a few other places.

This condiment is primarily based on red chili peppers. There are so many types of sambal and over the next little while I am going to share some of my favorites.

Today, I am going to share the most common sambal. Sambal oelek is really the base sambal because it is primarily made with chili peppers. This sambal is often used as the foundation of other versions that have more ingredients.

Sambal oelek is usually available in larger grocery stores with an international section. Usually, it is on the shelf right next to sriracha sauce. The next time you go to buy a bottle of sriracha, pick up a small jar of sambal oelek – you will not regret it!!

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To make sambal oelek, you can use a mortar and pestle or a food processor. The food processor does a fine job and is great for making large batches of this spicy condiment, but there is something special about using the old fashion granite kitchen tool.

I love my mortar and pestle. Actually, I have three of them: a granite one, a wood one and a marble one. I use them all!

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Use nice fresh red chili peppers. Remove the seed and the inner pith. Cut them into 1/2 inch pieces. The small size chunks of chili peppers make it easier to work them in the mortar and pestle.

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Hold the pestle with one hand and grip the mortar with the other. Pound the pestle into the mortar, breaking up the chili peppers. Also, take time to press, turn and do a grinding motion with the pestle inside the bowl of the mortar.

All this works to break down the chili peppers. It can be difficult to break down the skin. If desired, you can stop once the inner flesh is an even smooth sauce consistency.

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Squeeze the lime juice into the mortar and sprinkle the salt in. Mix the sambal oelek and serve immediately with rice, noodles, meat or many other Asian inspired dishes.

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5 from 1 vote

Sambal Oelek

Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Servings 4 tbsp
Author Steve Cylka


  • 5 red chili peppers
  • 1/2 lime
  • pinch of salt


  • Cut the tops off the chili peppers and remove the seeds and inner pith. Cut the peppers into 1/2 inch pieces.
  • Place the diced chili peppers into a mortar and pestle and pound them until they break down. Keep working the pestle into theà mortar using a turning and grinding motion.
  • Once the chili peppers have been pretty well ground, squeeze the 1/2 lime into ground up pepper. Add the pinch of salt and stir the sambal oelek
  • Serve with rice, asian noodles, meat and more.


About Steve Cylka

Steve is the author of The Black Peppercorn. He is a recipe developer and food photographer. His recipes have been featured on websites like Bradley Smoker, Times Picayune, Buzzfeed, and Basil & Salt. He has also authored and co-authored a couple cookbooks.


  1. Love using a mortar and pestle like this. This is one of my favorite condiments too. 🙂

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