The quintessential Malaysian condiment given a twist by the resort's executive sous chef who wants to share his recipe in celebration of Malaysia Day

Malaysians love their sambal. It goes well with everything, from curry mee (for added heat) to toasted bread for a comforting snack. And of course, no nasi lemak deserves to be called such if sambal is missing from the plate. Sambal, without a doubt, has found its way into every kitchen and pantry in Malaysia.

It is because of the country's close relationship with this humble condiment that caused Chef Kelvin Lee, the executive sous chef of One&Only Desaru Coast, to think of it immediately whenever he thinks of a quintessential Malaysian ingredient.

See also: 7 Must-Try Asian Condiments: XO Sauce, Sambal, And More

"Sambal is so beloved by Malaysians. Though its roots are Malay, you can sit down in a Chinese restaurant and order a plate of sambal kangkong, or have roti canai with dhal and a spoonful of sambal at your local mamak. It has featured in ice creams, burgers, waffles, cocktails... I honestly cannot think of anything more representative of our beautifully multicultural country," he declares.


The funny thing is Lee, a Malaysian who grew up in Australia, can't bear spicy food. "My tolerance for spice is pretty low," he admits. "Even a dollop of bottled chilli sauce is enough to make me sweat. This dampens my enjoyment of sambal, unable to appreciate the complex balance of flavours."

No problem, he can make his own sambal. Lee, who oversees the resort's Mediterranean restaurant Ambara, sets out to create a paste that would have a broader appeal without sacrificing sambal's multifaceted character.

"Sambal is really a masterclass in balance. Every ingredient has a role to play from the pungency of the aromatics, the sour notes of tamarind, the sweetness from palm sugar, the deep saltiness of belacan and of course, the heat from chillies."

To turn down the heat, he used "dried chillies that has been carefully selected for their flavour, colour and mild heat. Even then, there is a wonderful complexity of flavours that can—and should—be enjoyed by everyone regardless of their tolerance for spice."

See also: Malaysia Day 2021: 5 Cookbooks That Celebrate Malaysian Cuisine

This is the same sambal that pairs with the resort's various culinary offerings. "No matter where you are in the world or how adventurous an eater you are, comfort food will never go out of style. We will always return to what is familiar and that which reminds us of home. As a Malaysian, nothing more so than sambal," Lee says.

Now you can enjoy his creation at home using this recipe:


  • 200g chilli paste (deseeded)
  • 500g shallots or red onions
  • 250g garlic
  • 50ml canola oil
  • 200g tamarind juice
  • 300g palm sugar
  • 150g shrimp paste (belacan)
  • 100ml water
  • Salt to taste


Using a food processor blitz the onions, garlic and belacan until smooth. If you do not have a food processor or prefer a more textured sambal, use a mortar and pestle, and pound away.

Heat your saucepan over a medium heat and add canola oil to the hot pan. The surface of the oil should shimmer. If the oil begins to smoke, the pan is too hot. Add in the pureed ingredients and sauté for two and a half minutes or until the kitchen smells glorious.

Add the chilli paste*, tamarind juice, palm sugar and salt to the pan, and stir till combined. Then add 100ml of water, bring it to a boil and reduce to a low flame. Cook until the sambal darkens and the oil separates.

Once cooled, portion into sterilised jars. If you do not intend on using immediately, store in the freezer for up to a year.

*For the chilli paste: Soak dried chillies (deseeded) in warm water for 15-20 minutes. Drain, leaving about a tablespoon of soaking liquid and then blitz it all in a food processor.

See also: Sri Lankan Pol Sambol & More Recipes To Try During Lockdown

"My Malaysia Day wish is for good health. Everyone needs to do their part and get vaccinated to keep ourselves and others safe and healthy. When that has been accomplished, I very much look forward to welcoming guests back to One&Only Desaru Coast to have them enjoy the full experience of the resort, especially our culinary offerings."
Chef Kelvin Lee
  • ImagesCourtesy of One&Only Desaru Coast
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