Q:

What is sambal olek?

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Quick Answer

Sambal olek is a condiment popular in many southeast Asian cuisines, such as those in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Though preparations differ, sambal olek is usually quite spicy, as it incorporates a number of peppers, particularly red chiles.

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Full Answer

While the word "sambal" is indigenous to southeast Asia, "olek" derives from the Dutch word "oelek," a reference to the stoneware traditionally used to grind the pasty condiment. This apparatus is not dissimilar to the mortar and pestle well-known in the West. Chefs grind the chiles and other peppers together with a variety of other ingredients, including shallots, peanuts, salt and lime juice. The final preparation possesses an extremely pungent and powerful aroma.

Sambal olek commonly appears in preparations of seafood, such as of cuttlefish, prawns and herring. It is also a flavorful addition to rice, noodle dishes, curries and stir fries. Because of its high pepper content, sambal olek is also high in capsaicinoids. Proponents claim that the condiment helps ease rhinitis and cold symptoms.

Sambal olek is widely available in many Western grocery stores or in specialty Asian markets. For best preservation, keep it refrigerated in either a plastic or glass container and be heedful of expiration dates.

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