Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Heating Up the Palate with Spicy Tofu Sambal

Native to the Malay cuisine, sambal is traditionally made with a fiery paste of ground dried chilli, onions, garlic and belachan (fermented shrimp paste). To enrich the sauce, coconut milk is added to attain a fragrant, creamy taste. 

I remember as a kid, in the late 80s, there was a campaign to reduce the use of coconut milk and instead to substitute with the 'healthier' cow's milk. My mother's pantry transformed simultaneously and the ubiquitous evaporated milk made its home in her fridge permanently. Of course it was a welcomed relief for her as she used to grind and squeeze the coconut manually. 

Since I was not brought up on coconut milk, when I decided to make my own tofu sambal, I decided to use cashew nuts as a substitute. Ground cashews make a thick creamy paste without the strong aromatics of coconut. In addition, cashews don't contain cholesterol as compared to coconut milk :D Of cos' if you are feeling lazy, coconut milk is a zippy alternative.

Tofu Sambal

2 pieces of firm tofu, cubed
1 tablespoon of oil
1 stalk lemongrass
1 medium onion, sliced
2 tomatoes, diced
5 small cloves of garlic
1/2 inch thumb ginger
4 tablespoon chili paste or to taste
1 tbsp salted soy beans
1 small lime size of tamarind, soaked in some water
6 cashews, soaked and ground into a paste
Salt to taste
Spring onions/coriander for garnish


1. Either pan-fry or bake or deep fry the tofu and its crusty on all sides. Set aside.
2. Grind the garlic and ginger together with a little water to form a paste.
3. In a wok, add the tablespoon of oil. One warmed, add the lemongrass and onion. Saute until fragrant.
4. Add the ginger and garlic paste. Continue to saute until fragrant. The mixture might stick a little. 
5. At this juncture, add the diced tomatoes and continue to saute until the tomatoes start to disintegrate.
6. Add the chilli paste according to heat tolerance level. (I like my sambal to be fiery). Saute until the sauce starts to darken and chili is cooked.
7. In the mean time, run the salted soy beans to reduce a bit of the sodium. Mash it up by hand and add them to the sauce. Add the tamarind juice as well. 
8. Taste to check for salt and sourness. If the sauce is not salted enough, add some sea salt. If you find the sauce to be too spicy, add more tamarind juice to reduce the heat. 
9. Add the ground cashew nut paste, stir and add the tofu pieces. Coat well and bring to a boil. 
10. Serve with rice or bread. 

1. Cashew paste can be easily be replaced with a tablespoon or two of coconut milk. 
2. The sambal is suppose to be a little sour, hold back on the tamarind juice if you are not sure and add it little at a time. Tomatoes add to the sourness as well, so you might not need to add the whole amount. 
3. Instead of tofu, you can easily use it to make pototo sambal, eggplant (brinjal) sambal etc. 
4. There is a sweeter version of this sambal, let me get down to creating a recipe for that! :D 

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