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  • Writer's pictureTina Brand

Ikan Bilis sambal

The packet of ikan billis (dried anchovies) was taunting me on the kitchen counter....reminding me of mum's sambal which was fiery and addictive. So I tore it open finally this afternoon during a lull and decided to have a play with mum's recipe and tweak it to suit me....

However you make ikan bilis sambal, the first few steps remain the same: rinse the little buggers under a tap to get rid of excess salt. Then wring the anchovies dry between paper towels.

Heat a saucepan with enough frying oil to shallow fry. Bring the oil slowly to a high heat.

Pop the anchovies into the oil and a quick stir will render them cooked. (they're only little, so will cook through quickly).

Drain on paper towels. Now, you are ready to make a sambal!


1 packet ikan bilis or dried anchovies, fried and set aside

2 tablespoons cooking oil like rice bran oil

5 dried chillies, seeded and soaked in hot water

2 large fresh red chillies sliced

4 cloves garlic

1/2 bombay onion, sliced fine

4 stems of fresh lemongrass, the white bottom half of the stem chopped, rest discarded

1 tablespoon tamarind paste, diluted in half cup hot water

2 teaspoons sugar


Drain the dried chillies and together with the fresh chillies, lemongrass, garlic, and half the fried anchovies, blend together in a food processor.

You may need to add a tablespoon of water to bind the ingredients.

Heat the oil in a skillet with a heavy base.

Add the paste and cook over a medium heat, stirring continually so it doesn't burn.

Lower the heat, and when the paste becomes fragrant and starts to change colour, add the onions.

Stir well until the paste and onions are well blended and the onion softens.

Now add the tamarind mixture and the sugar.

Finally throw in the rest of the anchovies and stir well to blend everything together.

Serve the sambal with rice and curries as a side. This is the traditional accompaniment to a nasi lemak.


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