I love spicy hot foods! Hence my attraction to foods such as kim chi, curries and the like. This, however, may seem strange. While I love heat in my food, I really do not like hot sauce! Sure, when I make buffalo wings (I'll post my recipe) I have to use hot sauce. But apart from that, you'll never, ever see me use hot sauce on my food.
So what do I do? I use sambals and hot pepper-based concoctions. You see, I like texture! Hot sauce is just a liquid. I want crunch and bite! That's why I love hot sauces that are thick and flavorful -- made of pieces of onions or shallots, various kinds of hot peppers and sometimes fruit! They're so much more interesting and flavorful to me than boring hot sauces.
I was in Tanzania in November. I was absolutely thrilled that the restaurant featured Indian hot mango pickle! It was made of unripe mangoes, vinegar, garlic and hot peppers. I single-handedly (I think, anyway) ate most of it. I put it on my stews, on the veggies, on rice -- on everything! It woke the food up, deepened (but didn't mask) the flavors and added a nice layer of texture.
I have been to Malaysia a few times and love the food. The sambals, which are chilli-based sauces, are wonderful! I bought a cookbook of Malaysian sambals, dips and sauces and made one.
I warn you now -- I found the process to be long, arduous, time-consuming and literally exhausting. But my, oh my -- the finished product was delightful. It was a delightful combination of dried prawns, fresh and dried chillies and lemongrass. The resulting sambal was highly aromatic and I warn you -- very, very hot!!!! But it perked up food and make the eating experience a worthwhile challenge.
Some of the ingredients, such as tamarind pulp, galangal and belachan, may be unfamiliar to many Western cooks. But I've been able to find them in Super 88 and other Asian supermarkets in my neighborhood.
Special Kampung Prawn Sambal
1/2 cup dried prawns, rinsed and soaked for 15 minutes
4 tablespoons oil
2 medium ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, diced
1 1/2 tablespoons tamarind pulp mashed with 1 cup water, strained to obtain juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 stalks lemongrass, thick bottom part only, outer layers removed, inner part sliced
1 inch fresh galangal root, sliced
1 1/2 inch fresh tumeric root, sliced or 1 tsp ground tumeric
20 dried chillies, soaked in water to soften, then deseeded and cut into lengths
8 fresh red chillies, deseeded and sliced
15 shallots, peeled
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon belachan (dried shrimp paste)
1/2 cup water
1. To make the Spice Paste, grind all the ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth, adding a little oil if necessary to keep the blades turning.
2. Drain the dried prawns and grind them coarsely in a mortar or blender.
3. Heat the oil in a wok and stir-fry the dried prawns over medium heat for 3 minutes until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and onion, and stir-fry for another 3 minutes until the mixture softens.
4. Add the Spice Paste, reduce the heat to low and stir-fry for 8 - 10 minutes until the oil separates from the mixture. Add the tamarind juice, sugar and salt. Increase the heat to medium and stiry-fry for 5 minutes until the sambal thickens and the oil separates from it.
This sambal keeps in the refrigerator for 3 months.
Yields 2 1/2 cups