Food Talk: Spice Up Your Prawns With Sambal

Jakarta Globe, Petty Elliott

Sambal is a very important element in Indonesian cuisine. As a staple condiment, it is eaten with almost every meal. In its most basic form, it consists simply of ground chilies and salt, although almost all sambal recipes call for other ingredients such as shallots, tomatoes, shrimp paste, raw mango, salted fish, tamarind water, garlic, candlenuts, ginger, lemongrass, basil, dried prawns, keluwak nuts, peanuts and many more.

There are more than 80 different types of sambal in Indonesia.

Sambal terasi is one of the most well-known sambals in Indonesia. It has a strong flavor of fermented shrimp and is made with a mixture of ground red bird’s-eye chilies, salt, a touch of sugar and kaffir lime juice. In some regions, raw or cooked tomatoes are added. This sambal originated in West Java, where it is a traditional addition to Sundanese food.

Sambal balado hijau is a Padang specialty made from large green chilies, shallots, a touch of lime juice and small dried anchovies.

In Manado, North Sulawesi, there are two well-known sambals — sambal roa and sambal dabu-dabu. Sambal roa is made from ikan roa (ground smoked garfish), shallots, chilies and salt. Sambal dabu-dabu is similar to Mexican salsa. It consists of chopped tomatoes, sliced shallots, chilies, calamansi or lemon cui (local citrus fruits) and salt.

The last well-known sambal I simply have to mention is Bali’s own sambal matah. This is traditionally a condiment served with seafood or mixed rice dishes. It has a very refreshing taste thanks to the fragrant lemongrass, lime leaves and lime juice, and goes beautifully with pan-fried prawns. For this week’s recipe, I’m giving you my own take on this delicious combination. I hope you enjoy it!

Pan-fried Prawns With Sambal Matah, Shallots, Chilies and Lemongrass Dressing

I’ve tweaked the recipe for this classic condiment to give it a more contemporary taste and presentation. I hope you enjoy it! Serves 4.


For the prawns: 8 king prawns or 16 medium-size prawns, with the shells removed but tails intact; 2 tablespoons lime juice; 2 tablespoon canola oil; salt and black pepper to taste.

For sambal matah salad: 6 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced; 4 lemongrass stalks, only the white parts, thinly sliced; 1-2 cloves garlic, finely grated; 3-4 red curly chilies, sliced thinly; 2 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced; 3 tablespoons lime juice; 4 tablespoons canola oil; 25 small cherry tomatoes, squeezed to remove liquid and seeds; 1/4 teaspoon cooked shrimp paste (optional); 1 cucumber, cut into cubes; small bunch of basil leaves; salt and black pepper to taste.


1. Mix all the salad ingredients, except the basil, oil and lime juice. Set aside in the refrigerator.

2. Heat a frying pan. Season the prawns with salt, black pepper, lime juice and oil.

3. Fry the prawns in 2 tablespoons of oil for 2-3 minutes.

4. Add lime juice and oil into the sambal matah mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Divide the sambal matah and the prawns into 4 portions. Garnish with basil leaves. Serve immediately