Sambal Asem – Chili Salsa with Tamarind

A sweet and sour chili salsa (sambal) is delicious in combination with vegetable dishes. Today, I make Beb’s sambal asem.

Asem is tamarind. I buy asem already filtered in my local Asian store. I get there gula Jawa too. This is Javanese sugar that is boiled down and formed into sugar blocks.

If you cannot get Javanese sugar use dark brown sugar instead. Tamarind is not so difficult to buy, I presume but you can use lemon juice if tamarind is out of the question ;-). It will make the color of your sambal lighter because the acid will bleach the chilies.

This Sambal Asem is enough for 8 people and is finished in 40 minutes.

Sambal Asem # 27 translated from Beb Vuyk’s Groot Indonesisch Kookboek, pagina 61.


10 chopped chili peppers
100 grams of chopped onions
Asem (tamarind) in the size of 2 walnuts
2 tablespoons of Javanese sugar
1 tablespoon of oil

Soak the asem in 1 dl of water. Rub it through a sieve and gently cook her with the Javanese sugar. Rub chilies and onions together with the salt. Fry it in the oil. When the onions are yellow add the asem-sugar mixture. Let it simmer until the mass thickens.

We’ll organize a party where everyone brings something for dinner. I make sayur lodeh (without trassi – fermented shrimp paste) because most of the party people are vegetarian. I make this sambal asem to give as a small gift. Sambal Asem doesn’t contain trassi, so our vegetarian friends will love it ;-).


I cut the onions and peppers roughly and put them in a plastic jug with a teaspoon of salt. so I can blend it with my emersion blender.

To rub 10 chili peppers by hand is lots of work. In a blender my chili salsa will become smooth and easy to eat.

My supermarket also sells beautiful yellow peppers. I cut them in pieces but do not blend them. Now they will remain beautifully visible in my sambal.

I fry my blended mix in a tablespoon of oil. Frying the onion-chili mix will losen up the flavors.

After a minute or two, I add my yellow peppers. I do deseed the peppers because I want to make a spicy sambal.

Meanwhile, I boil the tamarind (asem). I dilute the asem with 1 dl of water and heat it up with the Javanese sugar (gula Jawa) until all the sugar has melted.

Beb says two tablespoons of sugar is needed. I use a little more than one block of gula jawa.

I taste the ‘sauce’ before I mix it with the chilies. The sauce must be well balanced sweet-sour in flavor. Like a (Thai) sweet-sour chili sauce.

I add the asem sauce to the spicy sambal and I keep stirring until the sambal turns darker and thicker.

I keep the gas on medium heat. Do not let it burn. I keep moving my sauce and after about 15 minutes you see it becoming thick fast. It smells great and I love the layered flavor of this sambal. First it is sour, then sweet and then hot! ;-).

Want to make more sambal yourself? I have lots of Beb Vuyk’s sambals on this blog.

I add my sambal while hot in super clean jars and they can be kept out of the fridge for weeks (even months).

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