Sambal oelek is a traditional Southeast Asian condiment made from a base of ground chili peppers. While there are many different varieties of sambal, the Indonesian sambal oelek is the most widely known version and most commonly available in United States grocery stores.
"Sambal" refers to the condiment itself; "oelek" refers to the mortar and pestle that is traditionally used to make it in Indonesia. The most basic versions of sambal oelek are made by grinding together chili peppers and salt, but there are myriad versions from different regions. The sambal oelek that is commercially produced and available for purchase in the United States is significantly more elaborate. Along with the standard ingredients of ground chili peppers and salt, there are ingredients like lime juice, lemongrass, sugar, garlic, onion, oil and vinegar. Many sambal oelek recipes also feature fish sauce or shrimp paste.
To make a quick, easy sambal oelek at home, begin with 1 pound of hot red chilies. Good chilies include red jalapenos, thai chilies and red serrano chilies. Remove the stems, and add them to a food processor. Add 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar and 1 teaspoon of salt. Pulse until a paste is formed, and serve.