Tomato Sambal

Chef Lara Lee's tomato sambal combines fresh long red chiles, sweetly acidic cherry tomatoes, and tangy tamarind paste in a delicious, nearly all-purpose condiment. Sambal, in Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine, refers to condiments — usually ones that pack quite a bit of heat. Chef Lee's version is deliciously spicy on it's own, or slightly milder mixed with creamy mayonnaise. Try it as a dipping sauce for spring rolls or anything fried and crunchy, or as a spread on a sandwich or burger. A spoonful stirred into a pot of soup or stew adds layers of flavor. The tomato sambal will keep for 3 months in the freezer and up to 2 weeks in the fridge.

Tomato Sambal
Photo: Louise Hagger
Active Time:
25 mins
Total Time:
25 mins
1 cup


  • ½ pound long red chiles such as Holland, or 8 large Fresno, deseeded if desired, then sliced (about 20)

  • 6 ounces cherry tomatoes

  • 2 small banana shallots or 4 small Thai shallots, peeled and sliced (about 1/2 cup)

  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

  • 1 ½ inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced

  • ¼ cup neutral-flavored oil, for frying

  • 1 teaspoon tamarind paste (or 1 teaspoon lime juice mixed with 1 teaspoon brown sugar)

  • ½ teaspoon coconut sugar or brown sugar

  • Sea salt and black pepper, to taste


  1. In a mortar and pestle or a food processor, place the chiles, tomatoes, shallots, garlic, and ginger. Mash or pulse until a semi-fine paste forms (you don't want to make a puree — the sambal should have a little texture).

  2. In a medium skillet, heat the oil over a medium. Add the spice paste to the skillet and cook, stirring often, until the sambal darkens, is fragrant, and reduces to a thick consistency, 10 to 15 minutes. Mix in the tamarind paste and sugar, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool.


Adapted with permission from Coconut & Sambal by Lara Lee, copyright © 2020. Published by Bloomsbury. Photography copyright: Louise Hagger © 2020.

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