Sambal Tumis (Sauteed Sambal)

Here is a recipe that is a basic building block to many Malaysian dishes – the sambal tumis. It literally means Sauteed Sambal, sambal being a chilli paste/sauce and you can find the basic sambal paste recipe here. For sambal tumis though, I add a bit of garlic and shallots (or red onions) in the paste. The special ingredient here that makes sambal tumis especially yummy is the tamarind juice (Asam Jawa). Some people add belacan, which is fermented shrimp paste, while I do not. If you can find it, and feeling extra adventurous, please do. I find the smell when I cook belacan too overwhelming (and this is coming from a person who LOVES durian.) and I get a slight allergic reaction to belacan if it’s not prepared correctly. So I avoid it whenever possible.

I also use this recipe as a base for sambal tumis sotong (Squid Sambal). I do vary my accent ingredient – I especially love sambal tumis telur (with hard-boiled eggs, something my grandma Pah loves), and I make it with aubergines which is a particular favourite of Jennifer’s. Prawns go rather well with sambal tumis, too.

I pound my sambal paste in the lesung (pestle and mortar) but you can blitz it in a food processor if you want.

Ingredients: (serves 2, a small bowl or with 200-300g of squid.)

Sambal Paste:

5-10 deseeded chillies, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 shallots, sliced
Belacan (if using)

1 small onion, sliced into half-rings
Tamarind juice from 1 tsp of tamarind paste soaked in half a cup of water, (remove the pulp).
1 tbsp of vegetable oil
Salt to taste.

Additional ‘accent’ ingredient if you want, for example squid, prawns, aubergines, etc.

Sambal Tumis Sotong (Squid Sambal)


  1. Prepare the paste, (in the processor or lesung)
  2. In a hot wok/pan, add the oil. Saute the paste until it the oil creates a film at the top (what we Malays say pecah minyak – the oil breaks).
  3. Add the onion rings and sauté until translucent. If you are planning to add squid or thinly sliced aubergines, add them in with the onions and stir until cooked.
  4. Add the tamarind juice.
  5. Simmer on low heat until sauce thickens. Salt to taste.
  6. Serve with Nasi Lemak! (Or with a plate of steamed rice)

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