Beyond Sriracha: Sambal Oelek
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Has Sriracha become the new Tabasco? We're not going to touch that stick of dynamite for two very good reasons — one, because each side has fans that would likely squirt hot sauce in our eyes (Tabasco on the left, Sriracha on the right) if we took a side, and two, because the two condiments have markedly different uses, except perhaps in the case of hot wings and most notably in the case of say, noodle dishes. But, we are here to talk about the new Sriracha — sambal oelek.
If you're already familiar with the stuff, a clear plastic jar with a green cap probably comes to mind, filled with a menacingly red, fairly thick concoction on the inside, made by Huy Fong Foods, the very same company that popularized Sriracha chile sauce. (They seem to have a thing for green caps.) How is it different from Sriracha? Well, besides the size and shape of the bottle, you'll also notice that this sauce has seeds in it. So it's hotter and also tangier. It is, in other words, the next step on the ladder of Asian fiery hot sauces for anyone looking to graduate to the next level.
But, like Sriracha, the condiment on store shelves in the international foods aisle also traces its roots back to Southeast Asia. Sriracha's origin is a region of Thailand called, fittingly, Si Racha, on the east coast of the Gulf of Thailand. Sambal oelek, on the other hand, traces its roots to the Indonesian region of Padang, infamous for its (at least by Indonesian standards) blazingly hot cuisine, which is founded on a homemade version of that chile paste. Sambal in Bahasa roughly translates to "chile sauce" and oelek refers to the act of crushing something with a device very much like a mortar and pestle.
Sambal in general can also be found prominently in the cuisines of Malaysia, Singapore, and some parts of the Philippines. There are many regional variations, and you can find many different kinds of sambal readymade in stores. Sambal oelek is made from different varieties of fresh chiles, most infamously the cabe rawit, known otherwise as the Thai chile pepper. Ingredients such as vinegar, lime leaves, shallots, garlic, ginger, and terasi (shrimp paste) are also often included.
What can you use sambal oelek for? Pretty much anything you would use Sriracha for — everything from stir-fries and noodle dishes to spicing up everyday favorites like burgers, hot wings, salad dressings, and meat marinades. Ready to give it a try? Then check out the recipes in our slideshow.
Will Budiaman is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @WillBudiaman.
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