Sambal Goreng is a delicious, aromatic and protein rich side dish that’s made with green beans, tempeh and tofu. It is popular in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, both in the homes and hawker centres and food stalls.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Table of contents
What is Sambal Goreng?
Let’s take a look at the name first, shall we?
- Sambal – there is no direct translation for the Malay/Indonesian word sambal. It usually refers to a spicy dish, and that can be in the form of a spicy condiment, like the dry sambal here, fresh salsa type of condiment like sambal matah or a side dish like today’s sambal goreng.
- Goreng – simply means to fry or fried. (Fun fact: there are no tenses in the Malay language, we use words to denote past and future.)
Sambal Goreng = fried sambal (in the Malay language, the adjectives are postpositive, as in they come after the nouns).
This recipe is courtesy of my younger sister in Kuala Lumpur, inspired by the way my granny used to make it, I believe. But my sister’s idea of giving me a recipe is without any measurements! She also adds chicken or prawns to hers, which I’ve omitted. I remember my granny’s sambal goreng always had prawns.
If you want to add meat, just fry it before adding with the tofu and tempeh.
Why is it called sambal goreng?
That’s easy. Traditionally, it is a spicy dish, hence the word, sambal. The second part of the recipe name refers to the fact that each ingredient (the beans, tempeh and tofu) are individually fried before it’s all brought together.
But don’t fret, we’re not going to be using too much oil! And if you have an air fryer, by all means, use that to prefry the filling for our sambal goreng.
And I’m also not pre frying the beans, preferring to add them in the last stage of cooking.
The Ingredients, briefly
- Essentially, we have 3 ingredients that make up the body of our sambal goreng: the beans, tempeh and tofu. The beans are the only thing here that is worth a mention, see below. Tempeh and tofu are well known, and easy to get these days, I think, for those of you not in Asia.
- Besides that, we have a paste (rempah, in Malay) that consists of onion, chillies, garlic, lemongrass and optional galangal. You need a chopper, or pestle and mortar. My granny was using the chopper in the 70s, there is nothing wrong in moving with the times!
- Then, we also have tamarind, a little coconut milk, salt and sugar for flavouring.
The Green Beans
Long beans are the beans of choice in sambal goreng. Also known as yardlong beans, asparagus beans and Chinese long beans, they are a staple vegetable all across South East Asia, and slightly longer than a foot.
But I am not a fan. Which is just as well, because they can only be found in stores that sell Asian produce. Having said that, I am very fortunate in where I live now, a 10-minute walk to a Pakistani grocer, a Korean supermarket, Chinese mini market, an Eastern European grocer and a Caribbean one.
And I bet there are others I haven’t discovered. We moved here about 3 months before the first Lockdown, and I only discovered the Pakistani shop last week, a year and a half after the fact!
Anyway, what beans to use in the absence of long beans? French beans or the common green bean are the perfect substitute.
How to Eat it?
Sambal goreng is a side dish, and is always served with rice, alongside other “wetter” dishes like curries or soups, like our Sayur Lemak on this site.
However, you can always just have it on its own with your choice of grain, whether that’s rice or anything else you fancy. A green salad on the side makes a fresh contrast to the heat and depth of the sambal or a fried egg, if you are not vegan.
Sambal goreng also makes a great sandwich or wrap filling.
And there we have it, a long overdue recipe for many of my readers on LinsFood. Shall we get cooking?
Recipe Ideasto Serve with Sambal Goreng
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Sambal Goreng Recipe
- chopping board
- chopper (or pestle and mortar)
- wok or large frying pan
- kitchen paper
Soak the Tamarind (skip if using shop bought paste)
- Put the kettle on and place the tamarind pulp in a bowl.
- Pour about 60ml (¼ cup) boiling water over the pulp and cover with a saucer. Leave to soak while you get the other ingredients going.
- Cut up the tofu and tempeh into 2.5 cm (1") cubes.
- Slice the beans into 5 cm (2") lengths.
- Peel, then quarter the onion. Drop into your chopper.
- Halve or roughly chop the chillies and add to the chopper. If using really small birds eye, just detach the end, no need to chop.
- Peel the garlic and add to the chopper.
- Lemongrass – you have 2. One, we'll be using whole, the other is going in the paste. Slice off the tough bottom end (the root end) of both the lemongrass. And cut off the top part, leaving about 10 cm/4 inches of stalk. Peel off the top layer, if it's particularly dry or dirty, or looking a little yellow. If not, leave it alone. Rinse your lemongrass and dry.Whole – place your lemongrass on a chopping board and bash hard on the thick end with the back of your knife. This is called bruising your lemongrass. Set aside until cooking time.Second lemongrass – slice into thin rings and add to the chopper.You can read more about how to prepare lemongrass for use in this post.
- Cut off the tough outer layer of the galangal and discard. Slice the galangal into thin rounds and drop into the chopper. Skip if you can't find galangal.If using shop bought paste, just add 1 tsp to the chopper.
- Now, chop all the ingredients in the chopper to a fine paste. Add a tiny amount of water if you need it.
Let's Cook our Sambal Goreng
Fry the Tofu and Tempeh
- Heat 2 Tbsp of the oil in a wok or frying pan on medium-high heat. Fry the tofu for 2 minutes, flipping and stirring as you go along. You want to brown the tofu pieces, so don't worry about brown ends.Tip out onto a plate lined with kitchen paper.
- Heat the other 2 Tbsp of oil and brown the tempeh, still on medium-high heat. 2-3 minutes should do. Tip out onto the plate with the tofu.
Cooking the whole thing together
- Add the last Tbsp of oil into your wok/pan and fry the paste, the bruised lemongrass and the chilli powder for 2 minutes.
- Mash the tamarind with your fingers (it should be cool enough now). Then fish out the seeds and pulp, discard, and pour everything else into your wok/frying pan. Or use a sieve with a large mesh. Stir to mix.
- Tip the fried tofu and tempeh and the green beans and give it a good stir to mix.
- No add everything else: the coconut milk, sugar and salt and bring it up to a simmer. Leave to cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes until the beans are done. If you fancy a drier sambal goreng, cook a little bit longer.Check seasoning and add more salt if you want.
- Serve immediately, as described above. Will keep in the fridge, covered, for 2 days. Can also be frozen for up to a month.