Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Sambal Matah is a deliciously piquant shallot salsa or from Bali, Indonesia, with beautiful citrusy and umami notes. The former from both the lime juice and the lemongrass.
Originally posted on LinsFood.com.
Table of contents
What does Sambal Matah mean?
There is no direct translation of the Malay/Indonesian word sambal. It usually refers to spicy condiments, both raw and cooked like Sambal Belacan and Sambal Ijo.
However, the term can also refer to mains and sides like Prawn Sambal and Sambal Goreng (a spicy stir fry, recipe soon!).
- Sambal = a spicy condiment, chilli dish
- Belacan = shrimp paste (terasi in Indonesian, kapi in Thai)
- Ijo = green, in Indonesian
- Goreng = fried or to fry, in Malay and Indonesian
- Matah = is a Balinese word adapted from mentah, which means raw
So Sambal Matah means raw sambal.
It started life known as sambel bawang (onion/shallot sambal). But as it moved out of Bali and became more well known, the name gradually evolved into sambal matah, to differentiate it from the more common onion sambal already in existence.
It is raw and reminds me of the Mexican Pico de Gallo or Salsa Fresca. Not surprisingly, you will find it in many guises all over South East Asia.
How to Serve this Sambal
Sambal Matah can be enjoyed in so many different ways.
- Pretty much how we would use any chilli condiment or salsa. Traditionally, this is popularly served with grilled fish or chicken. It goes amazingly with the crispy skin of both, providing a real contrast of flavours and textures.
- I pretty much have it as I would any other sambal, a little of it with every mouthful of rice or meat, whatever I happen to be eating. That’s how we eat sambals and nam priks in South East Asia! (nam priks are Thai chilli pastes/condiments/sauces). Quite often you’ll see me knocking this up in just about 5 minutes to add zing to a seemingly “dull” midweek meal.
- It is also perfect with satay – another grilled food, you see a theme, don’t you?
- And because I need spice in all foods, what better way to zing up my salad than by adding a tablespoon or two of this and tossing it all in.
Sambal Matah Ingredients
Shrimp Paste (Belacan)
Click here to read more. This is probably the only pesky ingredient here. If you can’t get it easily, go online, folks, it’s such a light thing, p&p shouldn’t cost too much! We’ll be dry roasting the shrimp paste and basically just crumbling it up and mixing it in.
If you can’t get shrimp paste, you could use a couple of anchovies in oil or brine, patted dry, mashed up and used in its place. It won’t be the same flavour, but it will be delicious!
Failing that, just leave the shrimp paste out and you will still enjoy all the raw, pungent and citrusy notes of this sambal matah!
Maybe the other ingredient that could be a problem is lemongrass, although I think that it’s easier to come by. Leave it out if you can’t get it.
Kaffir Lime leaves
These are completely optional here, and if you don’t have access to them, the zest of a lime will do perfectly for the sweet, citrusy aroma.
Oil in Sambal Matah
Many years ago, on a dive trip around Bali, I had sambal matah with coconut oil added. This was the first time I had it in Bali itself. I was reliably informed by the old lady who made it that coconut oil is the traditional oil used in it.
On subsequent trips to Bali, I found that not everyone used coconut oil. Some went for just plain vegetable oil, which was a bit pointless, as it didn’t contribute any flavour, just calories!
I have a confession to make: While I enjoy coconut oil, I am not a fan of sambal matah with it. Coconut oil is so overpowering, I felt that it masked the citrusy notes of the lime juice and the lemongrass, which I just love.
So I don’t use any oil in my sambal matah, makes it much healthier too, right? I’ve given it as optional in the recipe.
Torch Ginger Flower in Sambal Matah
On a few occasions, in Indonesia, I’ve had sambal matah with finely sliced torch ginger flower, a very common ingredient in some parts of South East Asia. It adds a sharp, pungent, citrusy and peppery flavour to the sambal. As I don’t have access to torch ginger flowers here in the UK, I don’t have an option.
The image above shows you the flower in full bloom. In the kitchen, the flower is usually used while still closed as a bud, and sliced thinly. It’s known as kecombrang in Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian) and bunga kantan in Bahasa Malaysia (Malay).
How long will Sambal Matah Last?
It will last 3 days in the fridge, covered. The shallots will take on a slightly pinky hue but will be perfectly fine and tasty still.
Quite often, I make a small amount, have half of it and just leave the rest in a bowl, cover with clingfilm and place it in the fridge until the next day or two.
Ok, then, let’s get to it!
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Sambal Matah, Indonesian Raw Spicy Salsa from Bali
- Place the shrimp paste in a small frying pan over medium-low heat and dry fry for about 3 minutes, turning a couple of times, and flattening.
- While the shrimp paste is toasting, let’s get all the ingredients ready. Start by halving, then slicing the shallots fairly finely.
- Chop up the chillies and garlic finely.
- Slice the lemongrass very thinly.
- Chop up the tomato into small pieces, reserving the any juice.
- Place the toasted shrimp paste, the coconut oil if using, the salt, sugar and lime juice in a medium-sized bowl and with the back of a spoon, mash up the shrimp paste and mix everything up until you have a paste.
- Add all the aromatics and vegetables, (including the juice from the chopped tomato) that you’ve chopped into the bowl and toss everything well, making sure that all the chopped ingredients are coated with the shrimp paste and lime juice sauce. Serve as suggested above.