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Malaysian Nasi Lemak Sambal

Stock up on this delicious sambal to go with your Malaysian nasi lemak, or we are quite obsessed with the sauce and use it with everything.
Malaysian Nasi Lemak Sambal
Malaysian Nasi Lemak Sambal

If you are from Malaysia, or if you have ever took a trip to Malaysia, I am sure you have tasted nasi lemak before. And while the whole nasi lemak ensemble is a treat indeed, the one thing that I consider a must have is nasi lemak sambal that comes with it.

So, if you are thousands of miles away from Malaysia (like me) and want to make the delicious nasi lemak sambal at home, give this recipe a try.

This sambal (chili sauce) is good not only with nasi lemak, but with almost any other Indonesian/Malaysian dishes. We use it with so many thing, from pairing it with fried chicken, all the way to dipping sauce for fresh vegetables.

Malaysian Nasi Lemak Sambal
Malaysian Nasi Lemak Sambal

Hot (Original) vs. Mild Versions

The original recipe uses 100 gram of dried red chilies.

I will be the first to admit that my poor stomach cannot handle that spiciness level. So, what I usually do is I dial down the spiciness level way way down to a measly 20 gram (and I remove all the seeds from the chilies too!).

If you want that signature red color in your sambal, you have two choices. First choice, add about 1 to 2 tablespoons of mild/sweet paprika powder (not chili powder, or it will be super hot again). Second choice (which is my preferred version) is to add 1 can (6 oz/170 gram) of tomato paste.

If you choose 2nd option, you will definitely want to increase the sugar (usually double the listed amount) and salt (by about 1 teaspoon) to balance out the tomato paste. If you stick to the first option, you most likely won’t have to tweak the amount of listed sugar and/or salt.

Malaysian Nasi Lemak Sambal
Malaysian Nasi Lemak Sambal

Two Vacations

Now for something completely different. To all my readers, sorry for the super long absence. I took two long vacations back-on-back.

First a 3-week trip to Washington, D.C. with my husband. Then a 2-week road trip with my in-laws from Rocky Mountain and going south all the way to Guadalupe Mountain.

It was super exhausting but very fun. Now that I am back and have taken enough rest, my posting schedule should be back on track. :)

Malaysian Nasi Lemak Sambal

4.9 from 14 reviews

Author: Anita Jacobson




Prep Time: 15 mins

Cook Time: 1 hour 30 mins

Total Time: 1 hour 45 mins

Serves: 3 cups

Print Recipe


  • 100 gram dried red chilies, seeded (*)
  • 200 gram onion, diced
  • 25 gram garlic
  • 3 candlenuts / 6 macadamia
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cup oil
  • 15 gram tamarind
  • 200 gram onion, diced
  • 25 gram shrimp paste (Indonesian: terasi, Malaysian: belacan), toasted
  • 50 gram palm sugar, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
  • 5 kaffir lime leaves, remove the ribs (optional)


  1. Boil chilies in a small sauce pot with water. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until chilies are soft. Drained
  2. Puree boiled chilies, 200 gram onion, garlic, candelnuts/macadamia, and water in a blender until smooth.
  3. Transfer blended chili mixture into a wok or a large frying pan. Cook on medium heat until the chili mixture turns into a thick paste.
  4. Add oil and tomato paste (if using, see *) to the wok/frying pan, stir to mix well. Add tamarind, and stir again. Continue cooking for 30 minutes, stirring every so often.
  5. Add the remaining 200 gram onion, toasted shrimp paste, palm sugar, and salt. Cook and stir for another 30 minutes, or until the chili sauce is dark red, and the oil separates from the chili mixture.
  6. Adjust the amount of sugar and salt to suit your taste. Once you are satisfied with the taste, add the kaffir lime leaves, and stir for 30 seconds. Turn off the heat, and transfer the chili sauce into clean jar(s). If you use sterilized glass jars for canning and store the unopened jars in the fridge, they can easily last for 2-3 months.


  • (*) We prefer a much milder sambal in our home, so I typically use only 20 gram of chilies. And to boost the red color, I add 1 can (6 oz / 170 gram) tomato paste, which makes it even milder and should be very kid friendly.
Indonesian Pantry
Indonesian Kitchen


  • Vaughan Thomas Vaughan Thomas says:

    Welcome back. Here, in a kampung in the south of Java, you're helping my credibility with the local ibu2. They ghink my cooking's incredible!! Huge thanks to you.

    • Anita Anita says:

      Thanks Vaughan! Food is always the best way to win people's heart (and stomach, hehe) and make new friends.

  • Jag Jag says:

    Do you think Lemongrass and galangal would lift the sambal

    • Anita Anita says:

      I think lemongrass can work, but not too sure about galangal though since we don't normally add galangal in this particular sambal.

  • Lance Tavani Lance Tavani says:

    I followed the 100gr dried chillies recipe exactly and got a great result. Takes me back to Batu Ferringhi, Penang where the hawkers food is so good. It has outstanding flavour but I would take the advice of the author and tone down the dried chillies a bit next time, this batch is very hot.

    • Anita Anita says:

      Yes, the 100 gram dried chilies version will indeed be very hot, but my Dad (who can eat insane amount of chilies) loves this super hot version, so definitely reduce the amount of chilies to be on the safe side. ;)

  • Sara Welch Sara Welch says:

    Wow this looks amazing! I can practically smell the aromas through my computer! Adding this to my dinner line up, indeed!

  • Katie Katie says:

    Looks so good! I know my family would go nuts over this.

  • Cindy Cindy says:

    I wish I could rate this higher than 5 stars. This was a delicious recipe. My family loved it! We LOVE trying new recipes with "new to us" flavors!!

  • Sally Sally says:

    Love trying new dishes, and this one looks really tasty! Gotta make it soon!

  • Christie Gagnon Christie Gagnon says:

    Thanks for the mild options, I have a sensitive stomach! Looks delicious, can't wait to try!!

  • Soraya Soraya says:

    I put too much tamarind. What can I do to make it less tamarind-ny?

    • Anita Anita says:

      Try adding sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the sourness from tamarind is reduced. Another drastic way is to make another batch, this time with less tamarind, and then combine the two batches. Hopefully it will balance out.

  • Grace Grace says:

    So I made this nasi lemak sambal and sambal bajak on the same day. I saw a few recipes on the sambal but decided to try this and it turn outs really good. My whole house smell like sambal after I'm done. I followed the recipe as the family has a high tolerance of spiciness. I might have not use enough oil however it still turns out okay (maybe a bit drier but it's fine with me). I am actually thinking of using this sambal to make sambal teluk. Thank you for the recipe! <3

  • Jeff Jeff says:

    my mom usually add tomato paste and ginger in her sambal, and before packing it in the fridge, she will add fried sliced onions and fried dried anchovies, love the crunchiness texture

  • Jani Jani says:

    Hi Anita I have made this sambal a few times already and I absolutely love it. Didn't know it's that easy and oh so versatile. You're right, it goes with almost anything! Thank you very much and I will be trying more of recipes soon-- I seem to usually choose yours (like Cheong fun) over others without realising it :-)

  • Lany Susanto Lany Susanto says:

  • Esther Esther says:

    Hi, love your recipe, I made it and it taste yummy! May I know how long can I keep the chilli in the fridge or frozen?

    • Anita Anita says:

      Hi Esther, if you use sterilized glass jars and store the unopened jars in the fridge, they can easily last for 2-3 months.

      If you want to freeze, I suggest cooling the sambal completely, then transfer to a freezer safe ziplock bag. Try to fill the bag completely and eliminate air pockets, then freeze the sambal. Frozen sambal can last for up to 6 months.

  • May May says:

    Made this for the first time and was pleased with the result. As I can’t tolerate too much chillies I made it with 20gm of dried chillies and tomato paste. Thank you very much for your recipe. Have confidence now to try your other sambal recipes. Can you please tell me the difference between sambal goreng and sambal terasi matang and how to use the two sambals. Can lemon grass (? amount for blending) be added to the sambal goreng recipe? Thanks Anita

    • Anita Anita says:

      The biggest difference between sambal goreng and sambal terasi is the amount of terasi (shrimp paste) as a percentage of the sambal.

      Sambal terasi should have a very pronounced taste of terasi and it is not an option to skip the terasi (shrimp paste) at all. Sambal goreng usually uses less terasi, and vegetarians can even omit it and it will still pass as sambal goreng.

      Also, in my family, we use sambal terasi as a chili/dipping sauce, while we use sambal goreng as a cooking ingredient to prepare sambal goreng dishes.

      If you have lemongrass, you can add it to your sambal goreng too. I would say about 2 stalks of lemongrass should be enough. Be sure to use only the inner white portion for blending purposes. You can add the outer leaves while cooking and remove them after the sambal is finished cooking.

  • sc sc says:

    Help!!! I love this recipe but this time I make it too spicyyyy....I added 150 gr palm sugar and 3 tomato paste to reduce the spiciness...It still spicyyyy, what should I do to make it milder sambal...

    • Anita Anita says:

      Hi SC, I will try to cut up some more onion (say another 200 gram) and cook it in a new frying pan until it wilts and even slightly turns golden brown (a bit caramelized). Then I'll add this newly fried onion to your original chili sauce and cook them together to combine. Hopefully, this will help reduce the spiciness level of your chili sauce. Once you are happy with the spiciness level, you may want to adjust the amount of salt and sugar to suit your taste.

  • Rita Rita says:

    I have tried this recipe. The recipe turned out very nice. And I suggest whoever like spicy food must make this sambal.

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