Fermented Sambal Oelek

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A fermented take on the Indonesian chili paste Sambal Oelek, from my cookbook Fermented Hot Sauce Cookbook. Packed with probiotics and a good dose of heat and flavor! Naturally vegan and gluten-free.

A clear jar filled with a red chile paste with a silver spoon resting against the jar.
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This homemade sambal oelek is a thicker, chili paste-like sauce with potent heat, making it a great base or addition to dishes like curries and soups that take on the flavor but reduce the heat a bit. This is a traditional Indonesian sambal oelek chile paste, with a fermented twist!

❤️ Why You’ll Love This Recipe

  • Super easy to make! It’s a great fermentation recipe for first-timers.
  • Packed with both heat and flavor, like any good hot sauce should be!
  • Thanks to the natural preservation properties of the fermentation process, this hot sauce keeps for a good long while.
  • It’s a versatile condiment that can be used a myriad of ways.
  • Packed with gut healing probiotics.
  • Naturally vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free and sugar-free.

🗒️ Ingredient Notes

Thai chili peppers: Fresh Thai chiles make the best sambal oelek. These chiles are also known as bird’s eye chiles and can be found in the produce section of most grocery stores these days. If you only have access to dried thai chiles, you can use them, but you must soak them in warm water to rehydrate them prior to following the recipe. Alternatively, fresh cayenne peppers work as a suitable substitution for the Thai chiles if need be. You are probably most familiar with Thai chiles for their use in Thai sweet chili sauce, sometimes by way of sambal oelek.

Cayenne peppers: Dried cayenne peppers are easily purchased online. They work in combination with the Thai peppers to add more complex flavor notes. In a pinch you can replace them with dried Thai chiles if need be.

Garlic: Garlic and chiles go together extraordinarily well and this small hint of garlic adds to the depth of flavor in this chili sauce.

Salt: Non-iodized salt (salt without iodine) is necessary when fermenting, as iodine hinders the fermentation process. Any kind of sea salt or Himalayan salt works great.

Water: Non-chlorinated (no chlorine) water is necessary for the fermenation process. Home-filtered water usually removes enough chlorine to work well, as does store-bought spring water.

Lime juice: No good hot sauce is complete without a little added acid. In this case the lime juice just works well with the chiles and garlic and adds its own unique flavor note.

Rice vinegar: Rice vinegar is more traditional and adds its own unique flavor, but absolutely any kind of vinegar can be used in its place in a pinch. In fact, you can have fun with it and add your favorite tasting vinegar for a unique touch.

🍲 How to Use Sambal Oelek (Ulek)

Much as you would use sriracha or tabasco sauce, sambal oelek can be used like you would most any hot sauce. Some of my favorite ways to use it:

  • Drizzled over eggs.
  • In a traditional dish like Nasi Goreng Kampung.
  • As a spicy pizza sauce.
  • Mixed into marinara for a spicy pasta sauce.
  • As a marinade for roasted vegetables or tofu.
  • Incorporated into stir-fry dishes.

❓ Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make sambal oelek without a food processor or blender?

Yes! Traditional sambal oelek is made with a mortar and pestle, and you can do the same. Simply create a pepper mash with this method before moving onto the fermentation step.

What does sambal oelek mean?

In Indonesian “sambal” refers to a sauce made with chiles and “oelek” or “ulek” means mortar and pestle.

Is fermentation safe?

Yes! As the lactic acid bacteria carries out the fermentation process, it actually kills off harmful bacteria as well. Despite common fears, fermentation is one of the safest ways of preparing and preserving food. Having said that, as with all food, if something looks or smells off, toss it and start again! You can find more information about the fermentation process in my Fermented Hot Sauce Cookbook or reach out with any questions you may have in the comments below.

🥄 Sambal Oelek Substitutes

Gochujang is a Korean fermented chili paste, with complex fermented flavors not unlike this recipe.

Harissa is a Moroccan chili paste that can replace sambal oelek in a pinch.

Both of these can be found in my cookbook Fermented Hot Sauce Cookbook!

And, if this sambal oelek recipe sounds just a touch too spicy for you, you might like this this homemade pico de gallo instead!

🌶️ More Delicious Hot Sauce Recipes

Louisiana Hot Sauce

Fermented Jalapeno Hot Sauce

Fermented Bajan Hot Sauce

A clear jar filled with blended chiles with a spoon resting against it.

Fermented Sambal Oelek

A fermented take on the Indonesian chili paste Sambal Oelek, from my cookbook Fermented Hot Sauce Cookbook. Packed with probiotics and a good dose of heat and flavor! Naturally vegan and gluten-free.
4.99 from 57 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Condiments
Cuisine: Fermentation, Indonesian
Diet: Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Fermentation Time: 7 days
Total Time: 7 days 10 minutes
Servings: 14 servings
Author: Kristen Wood

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces fresh Thai chiles approx. 200 peppers, stemmed
  • 8 dried cayenne peppers approx. 0.1-ounce
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 teaspoon non-iodized salt iodized salt hinders the fermentation process
  • 1 teaspoon non-chlorinated water home-filtered or spring water works well
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar

Instructions

  • In a food processor or blender, combine the Thai chiles, cayenne peppers, garlic, salt and water. Blend until a pepper mash (paste) forms. Pack the mash into a clean jar.
  • Place a cartouche, if using (see Notes), then screw the lid on tightly and store the jar at room temperature to ferment for 1 week. Burp the jar daily by briefly removing the lid to release any gases formed.
  • Once fermentation is complete, transfer the mash into a blender or food processor along with the lime juice and vinegar. Blend until well combined.
  • Keep the sauce stored in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. Enjoy!

Notes

A cartouche is basically a protective layer you can add over the top of a more solid ferment to protect it and prevent bad bacteria when oxygen is present. While not necessary, it does make for a more foolproof ferment. To make a cartouche, simply cut out a circle parchment paper to fit the jar and press into the top of the pepper mash before sealing the jar.
You might also like: Fermented Pomegranate Rose Hot Sauce.
You might like: A Guide to Asian Spices.
You might like: Honey Sriracha Sauce.

Nutrition

Serving: 1ounce | Calories: 7kcal

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A recipe page from the book Fermented Hot Sauce Cookbook from MOON and spoon and yum.
4.99 from 57 votes (42 ratings without comment)

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17 Comments

  1. Wow. This is phenomenal. Used a glut of homegrown Birds Eye chillies and they are hot! Maybe we grow them hotter in Australia? 😂 I love a hot sauce but this is virtually inedible. Any tips for toning it down a little? More lime or vinegar? Don’t get me wrong. Love it! Am fermenting another two of your sauces. Love your stuff.

  2. 5 stars
    Just made my second batch of this recipe! It’s so perfectly tangy and spicy and a great addition to a lot of noodle and stir fries in my house!

  3. 5 stars
    Wow, wow, wow! This was so delicious. I was incredibly nervous to make this on my own (I thought I would fail). But you and your directions made it so easy. I will be making this again!

  4. 5 stars
    This was the first time I’ve made anything that required fermentation and it was a complete success! We’ve eaten it on eggs and roasted vegetables so far and just love it. Thank you so much! I know I will make this again and again!

  5. 5 stars
    Sambal Oelek is one of my favorite hot sauces, and your approach to making it even better and healthier just won my heart! It was also just the right level of fiery goodness.

  6. 5 stars
    My husband loves spicy food so he is big fun of this condiment. For me, on the other hand. it was too spicy. Selecting the right peppers is the key.

  7. 5 stars
    This is amazing. I could put it on everything. I love this even more than the original

  8. 5 stars
    That looks and sounds gorgeous! I sm thinking of so many dishes I could use this with.

  9. 5 stars
    I had no idea it was so easy (and delicious!) to make sambal oelek at home on my own! I’m never going back to store bought again!

  10. 5 stars
    What a delicious recipe! I love your suggestion to drizzle it over some eggs – doing that asap!

  11. 5 stars
    My husband loves hot sauce so we’re always looking for new recipes. We used the parchment to ferment and the whole process was surprisingly simple. It was good and we’ll definitely make again!

  12. 5 stars
    I love sambal oelek but never thought to make my own at home before now. Love how you make it so easy!

  13. 5 stars
    I love sambal oelek in general but have never tried the fermented version or made my own. Great recipe! Thanks for sharing.

  14. 5 stars
    Thank you!! I love making my own sauces to avoid all the preservatives and additives. Can’t wait to try this.

  15. 5 stars
    I’m just curious since I have not fermented anything before, is there any chance of bacteria growing? Just want to make sure I’m safe and doing this right! Really looking forward to trying this spicy treat of a sauce!