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Spice Blend: Sambal Terasi

Not long ago, I published a foodstuffs post about a Dried Shrimp Paste widely used in the cuisines of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines. In Indonesia, the dried paste is known as ‘Terasi’ and it is commonly included in a variety of chili based culinary blends known as Sambals. These preparations are widely used as condiments but are also incorporated into curries and other dishes.

The very basic Sambal Terasi is just a raw paste consisting of fresh red chilies ground to a paste with salt and dried shrimp paste. However, there are many variations on the basic theme and some preparations are cooked. Additional ingredients can include garlic, shallots, onions, sugar, tomatoes and a variety of nuts such as Candlenuts or Macadamias and, in cooked versions, the ingredients can be fried after being ground to a paste, or else cooked individually beforehand and then ground together. For this experiment I am going to cleave fairly close to the original in terms of ingredients and leave it raw…

The Ingredients

  • 1 cup hot Red Chilies
  • 1 cube Belacan/Terasi (about 2 tbsp. when crumbled)
  • 6 cloves Garlic
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 1 tbsp. Oil (for blending)

By the way, the Thai variety of chili pepper known as ‘Bird’s eye’ is very commonly used in the preparation of Sambals and other Southeast Asian spice pastes and I was lucky enough to come across some in a local store this past week. As you can see in the above picture, they are quite tiny but they pack a definite punch.  They come in at around 50,000 units on the Scoville Scale , which makes them about ten times hotter than the average Jalapeno.

The Method

The process here is really straightforward. Coarsely chop the garlic and peppers, crumble up the Belacan (Terasi) and add these ingredients to your food processor along with the salt. Blend well, adding the oil to keep the blades turning, until you have a nice smooth paste.

Once you are finished, transfer the contents of your food processor to a small jar or other receptacle for storage in the fridge. With the salt, it should last many weeks even without having been cooked.

Using the Paste

Basically, you can use the paste as you would any other chili paste or hot sauce. The dried shrimp flavor won’t be glaringly apparent unless you use a lot, but the Terasi (Belacan) does add a great umami depth. I made this current batch just before lunchtime and used about an eighth of a teaspoon mixed with mayonnaise for a sandwich of sliced duck breast and onion. It was good, but if you want to try a more traditional use, blend some of the paste with lime juice for a terrific, and quite fiery dipping sauce. You can also put a dollop on the side of your plate when eating rice along with other small side dishes and use it as a condiment. In an upcoming post, I will be using the rest of the chili I purchased, along with Belacan once again, to prepare a slightly more complex variation on the above theme…


14 Comments Post a comment
  1. That’s a spicy sambal there but some like it hot. We definitely do. We typically make the sambal olek. I will have to give this one a try.

    September 21, 2012
    • I usually have chopped salted chilis on hand … not quite a sambal olek since it is not a paste, but you can always grind them smooth if needed.

      September 29, 2012
  2. Hm, I wonder if I can find Terasi (Belacan) in our Asian grocery store. Must look for it next time I am there. There is a Malaysian noodle dish that I love an I think it uses this type of spice blend – time for a new experiment!

    September 21, 2012
    • You may even be able to find a pre-made sambal belacan as well 🙂

      September 21, 2012
  3. For those who want a taste of home…ABC sambal terasi, sambal bajak and hijau

    June 28, 2015
  4. ron dehring #

    what substitutes for terasi cubes

    May 20, 2016

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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