Ginger flavoured (and scented) anything has always been one of my father’s favourite things and while I used to have a slight aversion to the aromatic rhizome as a child, I’ve grown to really love it over the years as well. At my parents house, we used to always have at least one jar of sambal jahe (written djahé in Dutch) in the refrigerator. By making your own Sambal jahe — an aromatic ginger-infused chili-based condiment that’s popular in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore — you always have a quick gingery spicy condiment on hand that can be added to any dish.
The sambal jahe we usually buy from the shops in the Netherlands are well-liked because they are often quite sweet and mild in heat whilst still bursting with flavour, but when you make this homemade version you can adjust the spice-level according to your own tastes by adding fewer or a couple extra chilies, or by using a mixture of chilies with different levels of heat. Personally, while I like store-bought sambal too, I like my sambal quite spicy so for my homemade version I use a couple of mild-ish run-of-the-mill red chili peppers and a handful of very spicy bird’s eye chilies.
This sambal doesn’t only get its spiciness from chili peppers, though, but the generous amount of fresh ginger root adds another level of heat. It’s also slightly sweeter than many other sambals due to the addition of plenty of shallots and palm sugar (light brown crystal sugar can be used as well), but for my recipe below I’ve tried to not overload the sauce with too much sugar.
Due to its gingery and slightly sweet flavour, this sambal is a perfect addition to deep-fried snacks and pork, fish and chicken dishes. I also quite like it on a peanut butter sandwich, or stirred through a homemade peanut dipping sauce.
Sambal Jahe / Sambal Djahé (Sweet and Spicy Chili-Ginger Sauce)
- 100g red chili peppers (mild or spicy, or mixed variety, according to your preference)
- 125g fresh ginger root, peeled
- 3 - 4 shallots (about 150g)
- 6 garlic cloves
- 3 tablespoons sunflower oil
- 40g piece of palm sugar, or 3 – 4 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoon lime juice, or white vinegar
- Prep: Wash and finely chop the chillies, shallot and garlic cloves. Grate the chunk of ginger.
- Add 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil to a wok or skillet and add the chillies, shallot, garlic and ginger. Sauté until the shallot is slightly softened (you can technically skip this step but I find it helps with processing later).
- Remove ingredients from the wok and add to a pestle and mortar or food processor. Add salt and sugar and process into relatively smooth paste (or whatever texture you like).
- Heat the remaining oil and return the chili paste to the pan. Stir-fry the sambal until the juice reduces and all ingredients are fragrant and well combined (20 minutes or so).
- To store, transfer hot sambal to (a) sterile glass jar(s) and leave about a 2cm space at the top. Pour a thin layer of sunflower oil over the sambal to protect it from air. Close jar(s) tightly and place upside down. Allow to cool then refrigerate.