KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 3 — Some weekends we prefer to play it safe, with lighter fare. A nourishing "soul soup” with mushrooms, siu bak choy and fried shallots, perhaps. Or something to beat the heat with, such as a refreshing coconut chia cooler.
Then there are weekends when we feel the urge to liven things up, to add some vim to our weary steps. A little oomph! to ensure we make the most of our two precious days off before the work week begins anew.
For me, such weekends call for the fiery flavours that only a good homemade sambal can provide. Yes, it can be a bit laborious and the temptation to buy the off-the-shelf version will always be there (think of the convenience!).
Yet there’s nothing quite like sambal that you make yourself, if only for adapting its spiciness and savouriness to your own personal liking. Plus: you can make extra and store the rest in the fridge/freezer for meals in the future; that’s convenient too!
Sambal, however amazing, is but a foundation. They provide the base notes. You need layers of other ingredients for different textures and tastes.
Aromatics and chillies are the backbone of a good 'sambal.'
A spicy stir fry can benefit from the pungent perfume of petai, our favourite stinky beans, and the fresh crunch of green beans. The former gives it an unmistakable local touch whilst the latter adds more body to this dish... and extra fibre.
We need protein too. Prawns come to mind immediately because they go so well with sambal and petai. Some pork too, sliced not too thinly to prevent them from becoming tough from overcooking.
Prawns for protein, but also because they go so well with 'sambal' and 'petai.'
Simple and satisfying: a spicy stir fry of petai, prawns and pork. Now this is a dish that will awaken your senses this weekend and excited more of such meals to come!
SAMBAL STIR FRY OF PETAI, PRAWNS AND PORK
The recipe for the homemade sambal is straightforward so don’t skimp on any of them. Aromatics and chillies are the backbone of a good sambal.
Make the sambal as it is the first time, and adapt the recipe based on your own preferences when you make the sambal again in the future.
But what if this sambal is too spicy or not spicy enough? Well, simply adjust the spiciness of your final dish by how much sambal you add. There’s room to correct for seasoning at nearly every step of the cooking process.
As for the petai (also known by its scientific name, Parkia speciosa ), here are a couple of tips. One, to release more of their "fragrance”, try lightly pounding the petai halves without crushing them before cooking. Two, don’t add them too early otherwise they will end up overcooked.
Known as 'petai' in Malay, there’s no mistaking the pungent aroma of stinky beans!
Lastly, I’ve included the lime juice as an option. It’s not strictly necessary but I feel its tanginess balances the spicy oils of the dish, bringing out more of diverse flavours present — salty and savoury, spicy and slightly sweet (from the oyster sauce).
Ingredients: Sambal paste
5 dried chillies
5 fresh cili padi
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons dried shrimps, soaked in water for 30 minutes and drained
2-5 red onions (or shallots)
2-5 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon white pepper powder
Ingredients: Sambal petai prawns and pork
2 tablespoons neutral oil
1 tablespoon sambal
100g petai, halved
100g green beans, cut into sticks
3-4 cili padi, sliced
150g lean pork, sliced
12-15 medium prawns, shelled and deveined
½ tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
Juice of 1 lime (optional)
Green beans add more body to this dish... and extra fibre.
To make the sambal paste, add the dried chilies, cili padi and salt to a mortar. Pound with a pestle until well combined.
Add the rehydrated dried shrimps, red onions, garlic, turmeric powder and white pepper powder. Keep pounding until you get a uniform paste. Set aside.
Warm the oil in a wok over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the sambal. Sauté until it releases its aroma and the colour darkens.
Next add the petai, green beans, cili padi and pork. Continue sautéing until the pork is nearly fully cooked.
Now you can add the prawns. While the prawns change from translucent to a barely cooked pinkish hue, season with the oyster sauce and fish sauce.
Adjust the spiciness of your final dish by how much 'sambal' you add.
Remove from the heat before the prawns become too opaque as they will continue to cook in the residual heat of the dish. Squeeze some lime juice over the dish, if desired.
Serve immediately with hot steamed rice, noodles or pasta.
For more Weekend Kitchen and other slice-of-life stories, visit lifeforbeginners.com.