Learning > Recipes

Sambal Goreng

Sylvia Tan on 27 Oct 2015

The Straits Times


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Malay food can be healthy. One of my favourite lunches when eating out used to be from the Malay rice stall where I choose only vegetable curries, a slice of fish and this delicious dish, sambal goreng.


For those who do not know, this is mostly green beans, soya bean cake, tempeh (a fermented soya bean cake) and perhaps prawns, fried in a chilli paste.


I generally avoid meat dishes because of the saturated fat found in them, ask for less rice and I am set. I may have perhaps fruit for some fresh crunch at the end.


And long after those days, I still cook sambal goreng whenever I can. It is protein-rich due to the beans and soya bean products found in it. I make it healthier by omitting the coconut milk found in some recipes.


I also use the sweeter sugar snaps rather than the usual long beans or French beans, so the amount of added sugar can be reduced.


Finally, I substitute fish cake for the prawns to cut down on the dietary cholesterol content in the dish.


And if I cannot be bothered to make the fresh spice paste or rempah for it, I resort to my reliable standby, bottled sambal chilli.


This is just chilli, onions and shrimp paste, available under many brands. I like Singlong or Glory. But you can also make up a batch and freeze it for use whenever you need it.


Despite the spicy, oily character of Malay food, many dishes are also boiled and you can cut down on the oil used for frying and rely on healthy monounsaturated oils such as canola, peanut or olive oil.


Nutritionally, there are many reasons to recommend the soya bean.


While much literature can be found on these benefits, they can be summed up this way: Soya bean is rich in protein, vitamins, minerals and insoluble fibre.


Asians are even luckier in this respect because we can consume soya beans in so many forms.


These include tofu and taukwa (firm soya bean cake), a fermented paste as in miso and taucheo, and tempeh, a cake of fermented soya beans.


They all deliver rich proteins to the diet and complete proteins at that. They contain all nine essential amino acids found primarily in meat, fish, poultry and eggs, as well as some interesting phytochemicals such as isoflavones and saponins.


Indeed, the soya bean contains a wealth of nutrients and phytochemicals that are tied to an impressive array of medical benefits.


These include decreasing the symptoms of menopause, lowering the risks of certain types of cancer, reducing cholesterol and building stronger bones.


Two kinds of soya beans bear some closer inspection.


Tempeh has gone through the process of fermentation, which makes the soya beans more digestible and softer, as enzymes produced by the mould pre-digests a large portion of the basic nutrients.


The other is fresh edamame beans or young green soya beans, not found in the traditional recipe, but are sweet and nutty.


Other nutrients aside, they are also a rich source of the B-complex vitamins folate, niacin, riboflavin and thiamine, and vitamins C and K, as well as the minerals calcium, phosphorus and potassium.


But I never think of these things when I decide to cook this dish.


I think of the lovely taste of sambal in my mouth, how delicious it is and how healthy.



  • 1 piece large tau kwa (firm soya bean cake) cut into squares
  • 1 piece tempeh (fermented soya bean cake) cut into squares
  • 300g sugar snap beans, trimmed and cut into two or three pieces
  • 1 cup fresh soya beans or edamame beans, available in frozen packs from the supermarket
  • 1 large piece of fish cake, cut into squares
  • 3 tbs vegetable oil


Spice paste

  • 1/2 cup dried chilli, de-seeded and softened in hot water, snipped into smaller sizes
  • 1 onion, medium-sized, cut into pieces
  • 2 garlic cloves, cut into pieces
  • 2 lemon grass stalks, cut into short lengths
  • 1 tbs belacan (shrimp paste)
  • OR: 2 tbs of bottled sambal chilli (if you are not making the spice paste from scratch)



1. To make the spice paste, place all the ingredients into an electric chopper and process till fine.


2. Divide the paste into desired amounts, store in glass jars and freeze, if needed.


3. Heat 2 tbs of vegetable oil in a pan and, when it gets hot, brown the tau kwa and tempeh pieces in the pan. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.


4. Heat another 1 tbs of oil in the pan and saute 2 tbs of the fresh or bottled spice paste.


5. Add the sugar snaps and edamame beans to the pan, followed by the fish cake.


6. Finally, return the tau kwa and the tempeh to the pan.


7. If using the fresh spice paste, season with 1 tsp salt (and ½ tsp sugar, if desired).


8. Toss to mix before serving.


Serves 4 to 6


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

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