Sambal Okra

Posted on December 13, 2012


I recall in my younger days being woken up in the mornings by the familiar sound of mortar pounding. There in the kitchen, by the back entrance to our house, Kuku  would sit in a small stool grinding away at the chilli, eschalots and garlic – the sharp spicy aroma wafting through the atmosphere. When she gets tired she would signal me over. As a child I dreaded that. I still dread using the mortar and pestle, even if the sambal tastes better than grinding in a food processor. Kuku always prepared in bulk because frozen sambal can be kept for two to three months.

Sambal to me is the most important inter-cultural culinary contribution. It is an extremely versatile Malay/Indonesian concoction that can be used as a sauce or dressing for all kinds of meats, seafood and vegetables. Here the sambal is used together with okra, green finger-like seed pods.

Okra is also called ‘ladies fingers’. In Malaysia these ‘ladies’ have long and slender fingers whilst in some countries they have short and chubby fingers. Its mild flavour makes it a good combination with the spicy and aromatic shrimp sambal.


1 cup boiled water
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ teaspoon sugar
500g okra, sliced slanted

Ingredients for sambal

30g dried shrimps
4 large chillies
6 eschalots, peeled
2.5cm square belacan (shrimp paste)


  1. Soak dried shrimps in boiled water for 15 min. Remove and keep half the water. Grind the shrimps in a food processor coarsely. Set aside.
  2. Cut other sambal ingredients to small pieces and grind to a smooth paste.
  3. Heat oil up in a pan and sautee sambal paste for 3-4 min till fragrant.
  4. Add and stir-in ground shrimps, water from soaking shrimps and sugar.
  5. Add okra and stir-fry briefly (2 min).

Serves 4 (as a side dish)

Note: The ingredients used to prepare the sambal (spiced sauce) for different dishes may be slightly varied. Dried shrimps can be found in Asian grocers.

Sambal Okra2