Sambal oelek might sounds like something new to you because it gained popularity just a few years ago. Back in the day, it was mostly used in Asia.
Nowadays, more and more recipes call for sambal oelek. However, do not worry, it is not something out of the ordinary. It is an Asian spicy chili paste you can add to your dishes if you need a strong flavor.
It is made with crushed raw red chiles and only flavored with vinegar and a little salt. These are the ingredients of the original sambal oelek. However, you can use other variations with garlic or lemon juice.
Also, there are many different types of sambal oelek available, using various peppers, with different textures, and made in different regions.
You can buy sambal oelek mostly in Asian stores although if you are lucky you might find it in the grocery store too. But if you do not find it or do not want to buy it only for one recipe you have many alternatives to use.
The best substitutes for sambal oelek are chili garlic sauce, sriracha hot sauce, tabasco hot sauce, harissa chili paste, gochujang chili paste, crushed red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper flakes, fresh jalapeno, or make your homemade sambal oelek.
In this article, you can read about these substitutes to find out how to use them properly in your next recipe that asks for sambal oelek.
Sambal Oelek Substitutes
Apart from the hot and spicy taste, sambal oelek does not have a very special flavor that makes it very easy to substitute. Here are some options you might want to try.
1. Chili garlic sauce
Chili garlic sauce is not the same as sambal oelek but they are similar. Thus, you can easily exchange them in almost every recipe. And just like sambal oelek, the key ingredients of chili garlic sauce are also chiles, vinegar, and salt, but it also has some added sugar, garlic, and other seasonings.
So if you do not mind that extra flavor, you can use it as a sambal oelek substitute for stir-fries, noodles, grilled meat, fish, and tofu. Add the same amount of chili garlic sauce and you won’t even feel any difference.
2. Sriracha hot sauce
Sriracha hot sauce is also a very good flavor profile match to sambal oelek. It also has a vibrant red color and the same level of hotness. The key difference is that the sriracha hot sauce has usually less vinegar and some extra garlic.
They also have a slightly different texture. Sriracha is a sauce. Sambal oelek, on the other hand, is more like a paste. So use it only for the recipes where you can use a sauce instead of a paste. It can be a good option for example for noodles.
Also, you can adjust the flavor by adding a bit of vinegar. However, if your recipe asks for garlic, you can remove it. Or add less as sriracha hot sauce already has.
3. Tabasco hot sauce
If you need that vinegar taste that sriracha sauce can’t deliver then you might want to try tabasco hot sauce to replace sambal oelek with. It is made with peppers, vinegar, and salt which makes it a suitable substitute.
When using tabasco sauce instead of sambal oelek, keep in mind that it has more vinegar in it. Therefore, the best is to use only half the amount than you would with sambal oelek.
Otherwise, you might add too much acidity and sourness to your dish. Tabasco hot sauce goes well with many salads, garlic bread, pizza, and you can even use it for barbecue.
4. Harissa chili paste
If you need a sambal oelek substitute that has the same texture consider using another chili paste such as harissa. It has the same texture and level of heat as sambal oelek but there will be a bit of a difference in terms of flavor.
Harissa chili paste adds a caraway and cumin flavor to your dish. So, it might not work well in all kinds of dishes. It is a great alternative to use as a meat rub applied to beef, lamb, pork, or poultry. As it is quite flavorful add little by little to your recipe until you get the flavor you want.
5. Gochujang chili paste
Another chili paste that provides the same consistency as sambal oelek is gochujang chili paste. Again, the flavor will be a bit different because gochujang chili paste has a rich fermented sweetness in it.
But you can still use it instead of sambal oelek for burgers and meat marinades. As it has a strong flavor profile I suggest using only half of the amount recommended for sambal oelek.
6. Crushed red pepper flakes
If you don’t have any of the options from above you might consider using a condiment like crushed red pepper flakes. It won’t give you the consistency or flavor of sambal oelek but it replaces its heat.
If sambal oelek is not used as a binder in your meal, you can try to use crushed red pepper flakes instead. You can use it for example with beef steak or as a pizza topping.
As it is very strong I suggest using 1/4 tablespoon of crushed red pepper flakes instead of 1 tablespoon of sambal oelek. If you need a silky texture, add some fish sauce or oyster sauce.
7. Cayenne pepper flakes
Just like crushed red pepper flakes cayenne pepper flakes can also replace sambal oelek. Again, it will only give your dish strong heat but it does not provide the same consistency and flavor.
However, it still works well with some recipes like chili con carne, cheese omelet, or Indian curry. Just like with crushed red pepper flakes, when you use it as a substitute use only a quarter amount and compensate the texture with fish sauce or oyster sauce.
8. Fresh jalapeno
If you have no other hot sauce or condiment on hand you can also substitute sambal oelek with jalapeno. Besides the heat, it will give meals an extra crunch which can be an advantage in some recipes. You can use it as a substitute in burgers, salads, and savory pies. To replace 1 tablespoon of sambal oelek you can use 1 small jalapeno.
9. Homemade sambal oelek
If you don’t want to use another ingredient instead of sambal oelek you can make it at home in just a few minutes. It is quite simple and only needs 3 ingredients 1 pound of chili peppers, 2 tablespoons of vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of salt.
All you need to do is put these ingredients into a blender and grind the mixture until it becomes a paste. Add the paste into a jar and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours before you use it.
Interesting Information About Sambal Oelek
Sambal oelek is a great condiment, however, it is most commonly used as a cooking sauce. If you add sambal oelek to your dish it will taste like you are cooking with fresh chiles.
It will make your food hot and spicy without adding any extra flavor. But it might not be the best idea to use it as a direct sauce because it tends to be overpowering. This product is very popular in Indonesian and Malaysian cuisine.
It is the secret ingredient in pimiento cheese grits. However, you can also use it to make various noodles, curries, stir-fries, chili soups, and stews. For a stronger flavor, add it at the start of cooking, otherwise, just add it at the end of cooking for some surface heat.
It can also be used to add flavor to dips, sauces, and marinades. You can even mix it with ketchup or mayonnaise if you want your burger or hotdog to be spicier.
Sambal oelek does not only gives your dish a nice flavor but it is many health benefits too. As it is not strongly processed it keeps the nutrients and antioxidants of the chiles. It assists with weight management and also prevents diabetes.
Can I use ancho chili sauce to substitute sambal oelek?
Yes, ancho chili sauce is milder and smokier but it works well as a sambal oelek substitute.
Can I use Fresno chilies to substitute sambal oelek?
Yes, if you like spice but prefer a little less heat Fresno chilies can be a good option.
What does the world sambal oelek mean?
Sambal means condiment and oelek is an Indonesian pestle used to make a paste.