To make your own sambal oelek, all you need are fresh long red chiles and salt (and, if you like, distilled vinegar, though it’s not necessary). Traditionally, in Indonesia, cabe (chaw-bay) peppers are used to make sambal. They are most closely related in flavor to a cayenne or Holland chile—fairly hot (in the 30,000 to 50,000 SHU range) and sweet, but you can experiment with different chiles depending on what’s available and your desired heat level. Fresno, red jalapeño chiles, cayenne, and Holland chiles are suitable alternatives. Fresnos tend to be milder, whereas cayenne and Holland chiles tend to be hotter, with red jalapeños falling somewhere in between. From there, it’s just a matter of pounding by hand with a mortar and pestle, the traditional method, or pulsing in a food processor.
- Cut the stems off the chiles and halve them, lengthwise. Remove the center veins and seeds and discard. If you like more heat you can include some of the seeds. Roughly chop the chiles.
- Pulse them in a food processor or pound with a mortar and pestle until they become a thick paste. You may need to add a tablespoon or two of water to encourage the chiles to form a paste. Season with salt and vinegar, if using. The sambal will keep for several weeks refrigerated in an airtight container.