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Arnold Arboretum

Sambal kemangi

March 31, 2014 by Cam Webb

Sambal kemangi

Sambal kemangi

And now for something completely different! Sambals are the Indonesian chili-based condiments that accompany all good meals. They enliven a rice-heavy diet, sometimes to the extent that just rice and a good sambal feels like a complete meal. There are, as you would expect, thousand of sambal recipes. An important, recurring dish on our field trips has been Endro’s mind-blowingly spicy sambal brengsek, first introduced in 2011 on the Kalimantan trip. After Endro introduced it to Flores on this recent Wai Dongkong trip, Ibu Asti, our cook, started making a big bowl of sambal brengsek most nights. For some reason, perhaps because the sambal was disappearing immediately rather than lasting a more economical 2-3 days, she kept upping the number of chilies she added to it, and thus also the challenge in the emergent dinner-time competition. Each evening, the meal would proceed in silent concentration (as is usual in Indonesia) until someone (often me) would “lose” and admit to the first cough. This would be accompanied by a roar of laughter and widespread coughing, as all were then able to acknowledge how very hot the sambal was. She admitted to adding half a kilo of chilies to one particularly dangerous dish! An interesting cultural hypothesis emerged as we discussed the sambal each night: it is suspected here that using an even number of chilies produced an especially spicy sambal!

Aside from just making sambal brengsek, Ibu Asti introduced me to another fantastic sambal, of a very different type: whereas most classic sambals are fried, this new one (let’s call it sambal kemangi) is a simple, uncooked combination of fresh ingredients, more like a Mexican salsa. Here’s the recipe:

For a small bowl, enough for two persons, finely chop:

Add a dash (or more) of salt, and, if you dare, a pinch of MSG. Mix and grind in a wooden mortar and pestle (cobek kayu) until well mixed, with the leaves torn, and the tomato pulped. This sambal kemangi is so good that I’ve already made it several times since leaving Flores; I’ve discovered it is an excellent topping for fresh bread and butter! Sambal kemangi is also reminiscent of another favorite of mine: dabu-dabu, which I learned in Palu, Sulawesi. Dabu-dabu is a coarse-chopped mix of chili, shallot, tomato and lime-juice, onto which one pours boiling-hot coconut oil. Mmmm!

Next post… back to science!

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