Why I Love Sambal Oelek Way More Than Sriracha

published Feb 19, 2015
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(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

If you love hot peppers, spicy food, and stocking your fridge with new condiments, you should be cooking with sambal oelek. In short, think of it as the hot chile sauce that will make you forget all about Sriracha!

What is Sambal Oelek?

Sambal oelek is a spicy Southeast Asian chile sauce made from hot red chile peppers, salt and sometimes vinegar. Some versions can also contain onion, lemon or lime juice, garlic, or sugar.

Sambal is an Indonesian term that refers to a sauce made with chile peppers, and can include a variety of secondary ingredients. There are a lot of different types of sambals. Oelek, which is sometimes also referred to as olek or ulek, refers to the mortar and pestle used to make this type of sambal in Indonesian kitchens.

Compared to sriracha, sambal oelek is less acidic and lacks a strong presence of vinegar, so you can add heat to a dish without impacting the overall flavor. Sambal is also a slightly thicker, slightly chunkier sauce with chile pepper seeds included throughout. It packs more of a fiery punch, and if you’re adding heat to your food, that’s what you want!

Where to Find Sambal Oelek

Sambal oelek is most commonly found ready-made in glass or plastic jars. Look for it in Asian markets, as well as the in the Asian section of most grocery stores.

How to Use Sambal Oelek

Sambel oelek is my favorite way to add spice and flavor to so many dishes. Just keep in mind that a little goes a very long way so you won’t need much. It’s traditionally used in Southeast Asian dishes, but it can be incorporated into just about anything you cook.

Use this fiery sauce to enhance soup, chili, stir-fries, noodle dishes, and tomato sauce. You can also incorporate it into marinades. Keep the opened container of sambal oelek in the refrigerator, where it will last for a few months.

Have you ever tried sambel oelek? What’s your favorite way to use it?

Try sambal oelek in these recipes: