Fire & Slime: The Delights of Sambal Okra

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Sambal okra, a vibrant dish featuring okra (ladies’ fingers) cooked in a fiery sambal paste, is a beloved staple in Malaysian cuisine. This dish, found across Southeast Asia with variations, showcases the unique flavors and textures that define Malaysian food.

Spice and Shrimp Paste

The heart of sambal okra lies in the sambal itself. Malaysian sambal belacan, a fragrant and potent chili paste, forms the base. This condiment is traditionally made by blending chilies, aromatics like shallots and garlic, and the key ingredient belacan, a pungent fermented shrimp paste. The belacan adds a deep umami richness that elevates the entire dish. Some recipes incorporate tomatoes for a touch of sweetness and acidity, while others keep it simple, letting the fiery chilies’

Sambal Okra
Source: Food Network

Okra: The Textural Star

Okra pods play a starring role in this dish. Often, okra is briefly blanched or stir fried to soften it slightly while retaining a satisfying bite. Pre salting the okra can also help draw out some of the sliminess. While the core of sambal okra is the marriage of sambal and okra, Malaysian ingenuity shines through in its many variations. Some recipes incorporate additional vegetables like green beans, eggplant, or crunchy kangkung (water spinach). Protein lovers can add shrimp, fried tofu, or shredded chicken for a more substantial meal. For a touch of smoky depth, terasi (shrimp paste) can be used instead of belacan.

Sambal okra is more than just a dish; it’s a delicious representation of Malaysian cuisine. It embodies the love for bold spices, the clever use of textures, and the versatility that defines Malaysian food. So, next time you’re craving a taste of Malaysia, try making sambal okra at home or seek it out at your local Southeast Asian restaurant. This fiery and flavorful dish is sure to tantalize your taste buds and transport you to the heart of Malaysia.

Article by Mika Natalia