Chili pastes are probably my favorite condiment so I knew once I read about Sambal Oelek I had to try it. I really enjoyed the Thai Red Curry Paste I made a while back as well as my usual go tos, Moroccan Harissa and Korean Gochujang. I was looking forward to trying out a new chili paste and thankfully this new one did not disappoint in the least! Sambal Oelek is a Southeast Asian chili paste that varies from country to country but generally consists of red chilies, shallots, ginger, garlic, lime and lemongrass. The mixture is then ground up and can be added to soups, noodle dishes, meat marinades, etc. The paste was very spicy but had wonderful flavor. I loved the combination of the sweet, spicy and citrusy flavors. I have a feeling this will go well with a lot of different dishes!
One of the most important steps in making Thai dishes is preparing the chili paste. The paste is a concentrate of aromatic ingredients that provides a lot of flavor for the dish. There are many variations of chili pastes but this particular one is used in Massaman Curry. It could be used in a variety of dishes as well, not just for Massaman Curry. If you have a food processor making it would be easy, but without one it will take some time to prep. You can find the paste in stores but it goes without saying that it won’t have the same amount of flavor and freshness that making it from scratch provides. It can be tough to find the authentic ingredients but if you live near or in a city there is likely a Thai or Asian market that can provide some of the harder to find ingredients.
My favorite part of making this was roasting it for a few minutes in a pan. By heating it up the flavors were released into the air and the whole kitchen smelled so good! It’s an important step since it intensifies the flavor of the paste as well. The result was a really versatile concentrate of flavors that can be used in a ton of different Thai foods. It should last for a week or two in a sterilized jar in the refrigerator.
Gochujang is a fermented chili paste made from red pepper powder and is used in a lot of Korean dishes. The great thing about this recipe is that it makes a lot and can be stored for up to a year in the refrigerator. It isn’t too hard to make, but it does take some time to acquire the right ingredients. I could not find soybean flour/powder at the local grocery store so I bought it at an asian market instead. Malt powder is the same thing as “malted milk powder” which can be found at the grocery store. Glutinous rice powder is the same as rice flour and I bought the “mochiko” brand which worked nicely. I am letting the jars sit out in the sun for a few days to ferment and age properly. Right away, the gochujang had a nice spicy and sweet flavor so I can only expect it to get better with age.
Harissa is a chili paste used in a lot of North African foods. It is usually added to couscous, soups, and meat dishes. You can use any kind of chili depending on how spicy you would like the paste to be. I used Arbol chilis which are on the spicy side but you can use serrano, ancho, or guajillo chilies for a milder flavor. I don’t have a food processor so I ground up the garlic and chilies very finely in order to form a paste–and it still turned out pretty chunky. I am excited to try this out on the Moroccan tagine I will be making soon!