This easy vegan sambal is a delicious and aromatic chili paste made from a blend of red jalapenõs, lemongrass, shallots, and garlic. This sambal is one of my go-to chili pastes for curries, stir-fries, or rice dishes such as Nasi Lemak.
What is Sambal
Sambal is a Malay word, which means chili paste or sauce. It’s typically made from a blend of fresh and dried red chilies, fragrant spices that are then cooked down into a thick red paste. This paste is the soul to many dishes such as laksa, spicy sauce, and can be served as a savory jam for toasts or more common one in Nasi Lemak.
Honestly it’s quite time-consuming to make sambal but if you make a big batch, you’ll have this delicious paste for many meals after. With proper storage, sambal can lasts for a long time, and please see below storage tips if you plan to make some soon.
Everyone has their own sambal recipe and it varies depending on their preferred taste. It can be sweeter, very spicy, or with a touch of sourness from tamarind juice. My sambal recipe varies a lot depending on what’s available at the store but it needs to have a few key ingredients as below.
My go-to Sambal Ingredients
- Fresh red chilies
- Galangal (optional but highly recommended and can be substituted with ginger)
- Curry leaves (omit if you can’t find it but highly recommended)
- Tamarind juice (for a tad of sourness)
- Candle nuts (optional, can be substituted with Macadamia nuts)
- Coconut sugar or sugar
A version of Sambal without onion or garlic
- Fresh red chilies
- Dried red chilies
- Thai lime leaves
- Curry leaves
- Tamarind Juice
- Coconut sugar
- Blend chili paste ingredients with oil, not water – an amazing tip from my friend. This reduces the cooking time to at least half.
- Add enough oil to cook the chili. Chili is fully cooked and ready when oil starts to separate from the mixture and the color turns darker.
- Make a big batch of sambal and refrigerate or freeze unused portions.
- Use ice-cubes tray to freeze your sambal for portion control.
This Sambal recipe is
- Perfect for make-ahead meals
- Versatile – serve it as savory jam on toast or add to stir-fries dishes such as Easy Vegan Sambal Potatoes
- Customizable – see above variations
- the base for Tomato Sambal in Nasi Lemak
If you try this recipe, I would love to hear your feedback and see your beautiful re-creation. Leave me a comment, rate it, and tag @woon.heng and #woonheng to your photos on Instagram or Facebook. Happy cooking, friends!
Easy Vegan Sambal (Red Chili paste)
- 1/2 lb [200g] red chili used red jalapeno
- 2 stalks lemongrass white part only
- 1 shallot about 100g
- 1 small bulb garlic about 6-8 cloves
- a few slices of ginger about 8 g
- ¾ cup [168g] oil for blending and cooking *separated to 1/2 cup + 1/4 cup
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Place chili, lemongrass, shallot, garlic, ginger and 1/2 cup of oil in a blender. Blend until smooth.
- Heat a non-stick tall pan then add in the remaining oil.
- Slowly pour in the blended mixture into the pan.
- Cook until the oil starts to separate from the chili by stirring continuously, about 20 minutes.
- Add sugar, salt and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes. The mixture will turn darker.
- Turn off the heat and let cool before storing it into a jar.
This recipe is magic, especially for a Malaysian cuisine newbie like me!
I added a little tamarind juice along with salt and coconut sugar at the end of cooking. I think the tamarind adds even more depth of flavor.
One taste and we instantly knew this recipe will be a regular addition to our food prep.
Terima kasih, MS WoonHeng!
This recipe is wonderful. But this time Id like to make it with candlenuts… how do I do that? Thank you so much!
Hi! As a Singaporean who lives overseas, this is by far the best and most authentic sambal recipe I’ve come across. I added a few kaffir lime leaves and lime juice at the end. The balance of flavors was perfect. Wouldn’t use 100 g chilli padi in the future though :D. Thank you so much!
May I know that your sambal chilli can do it without garlic and onion.
Hello Sandy, yes you can. Please omit and use ginger, lemongrass, turmeric instead.
can I make this without oil? i know oil is also useful for preserving for later but i can freeze the remaining. can sambal be made without oil?
Awesome recipe. When red jalapeños weren’t available I used 100g of the non spicy variety dried chillies and the results were fantastic.
I tried making this but it turned black before the 20 minutes, on low heat too.
Hello Sarva, Thanks for your feedback. When you said it turned black, is it burned? the color really depends on the type of chile you used, if you use bright color or fresh chile, it takes longer to turn darker. But as long as they are cooked, then you are good to go. 🙂 Also, adding sugar too early will caramelize and turn darker as well. Let me know if you need anything else.
Hi! What kind of oil do you recommend using?
Hello Michael, any neutral oil will work, and I used avocado. Thanks a lot!
Hi Woonheng, do you have the instructions and the actual recipe for the version without onion posted somewhere?
Looking forward to trying this recipe! I’m hoping to use galangal and curry leaves (just found some fresh ones!) – should I add them into the paste and blend with everything else, or add into frying step?
The galangal feels quite hard, do you know if it blends easily in the vitamix? (I’m afraid of damaging my new vitamix since I’m so in love with it :))
Hey there, thanks so much for your interest. You can chop the galangal smaller. Vitamix is a powerful blender and can handle not so hard ingredient like galangal 🙂 I usually blend with my vitamix. 🙂 You will add the galangal to the chili mix and cook and add curry leaves when it’s almost ready if you prefer. hope that helps. Happy cooking. Best, WoonHeng
May I ask a silly question? What is the difference between sambal and Thai curry paste (though of course there are different kinds, I realize)? It looks like many of the same ingredients, but I’m not sure. Would I be able to substitute a Thai paste as a short-term solution until I make your recipe, or are they too different?
Oh no worries at all, Misha. It’s a great question. I do find that they can be used interchangeably sometimes depending on which dish you are trying to make. If you are making laksa, the Thai curry paste may have a little more lemongrass taste. But for the short term, it’s a great sub. Thanks for checking. All the best. Best, WoonHeng
Thank you for sharing this wonderful recipe. Can i find out do you keep the entire chili plus the water that was separated? Or do you strain them dry before bottling them up? Tks for the advice.
Hey there, thanks for reaching out. Great question: I only use the chili and you shouldn’t need to strain them as the oil and cooked chili can be stored in the jar. Hope that helps and please let me know if you have any other questions at all. Best, WoonHeng
Hi, looks great. You mention candle or macadamia nuts in go-to ingredients but I can’t see them in recipe. .?
Hi there, that is optional, but it does increase the flavor, I didn’t get any during that time but when I do have them on hands, I’ll use them. Hope that helps.
Thank you for providing a version without onion and garlic! I have this bookmarked and will definitely give it a try once I get my hands on all the ingredients 😊
Of course, let me know if you need anything else. Happy to help. 🙂
Ever since I went plant-based a year ago, I haven’t eaten any nasi lemak or sambal. So imagine how thrilled I was when I came across your IG feed and blog! I just made this today and am about to make the rest of the sides for my vegan nasi lemak. So excited. Thank you!
that’s so awesome. I can’t wait to hear your feedback and so glad this blog could help you a little. 😉 Have a wonderful day. Best, WoonHeng
Thank you for this lovely recipe.
I seem to have difficulty finding shallots these days.
Is it ok to substitute with onions? If so, which type and how much to use?
Hey B, yes, you can, any onion would work. Red ones will have a sweeter taste than the yellow. Hope that helps and good luck. Happy cooking.
One more question – what kind/brand of blender do you use? I like how it’s a smaller container so there is a smaller container to wash at the end of the process? Right now I have to wash a large blender, even when I am blending a small amount of sauce.
Hi June, that was Vitamix with the blending cups. If you like you can also use a food processor. Hope that helps. 🙂
What sections of the asian grocery store can I find candlenuts in? What are they called in Mandarin?
Hello June, they should be around the spice section along with star anise etc. They are called ‘石栗’. Hope that helps.
Prachi Nilay Shah
Thank you for making it so easy for us to cook sambal at home. However, just wanted to understand it’s shelf life in and outside refrigerator.
Will wait for your reply.
Hi there, thanks so much for your feedback. The shelf life at the counter top depends on the surrounding temperature. If you have enough oil to cover all the chili, you should be able to keep it outside for up to a week and longer if you refrigerate. I also shared that you can freeze them in ice cubes. Hope that helps. Happy cooking!
Looks delish but i would liketo use all your preferred ingredients – would i fry off curry leaves first and cut shred lime leaves? Appreciate you helping us with these fabulous original and cultural flavours – very special!
Hi there, thank you for your interest. You can temper the curry leaves first if you prefer. I also love to cut both curry and lime leaves into thin slices then add towards the end of the cooking. Hope that helps.
Gosh so good and mouth watering!!! amazing recipes !!!
Thank you so much for your feedback, Kaushi! Best, WoonHeng
Non garlic onion sambal
How much dried chillies and fresh red chilies portions?
Tamarind juice – can blend a few pieces of dried tamarind with water?
How much tamarind juice to use?
Hi Melly, there is no definite rule on how much chiles you need. The more you use, the more volume you’ll get. You can always start with 1lb of fresh chiles and 1 cup of dried ones. Yes, your way of preparing tamarind juice will work. I would remove the tough core if there are any. If you like a more sour taste, you’ll use 1/2 cup if not, start with 1 tablespoon. Thanks and good luck.
Thanks so much!! 🙂
Thanks so much for this recipe! If I were to add the optional but recommended ingredients (galangal, candlenuts, kaffir lime leaves, curry leaves, tamarind juice, and coconut sugar), what quantities do you recommend?
Hello Rachel, thanks for giving this recipe a try. I would use a small knob of galangal, about 3-4 candlenuts, 8-10 leaves each (lime and curry). Tamarind juice and coconut sugar will be adjusted accordingly to personal taste. The best part of making sambal is all ingredients can be adjusted based on personal preference. 🙂 Let me know if you need anything else.