We are scarily into the New Year, pivoting from Christmas to Chinese New Year within a month. It was hilarious to see Chinese New Year goodies appearing in the supermarket even prior to Christmas but I suppose that’s only expected in a country that celebrates both these occasions with great enthusiasm!
This past Christmas was definitely more muted than previous years, and even last year in the midst of the pandemic. I think the restrictions are definitely tighter with the Delta and Omicron variants in the community. Plus I was kind of exhausted from a very busy 2021 so I kept the hosting to a minimum. So for someone who in the past would host several 20-30 pax per dinner events in the festive season, the hospitality plummeted to 2-3 small group invites at the end of 2021. It showed because I only roasted one small turkey and one ham (with lots of leftovers).
Chinese New Year 2022 also promises to be a quiet event. Unlike 2021 where we were allowed 8 pax gatherings, I suspect we won’t see the restrictions lifted in time for CNY. Dang Omicron. There’s a part of me that understands completely as I have oldies in the house that I don’t want to fall sick, but another part of me is sulking quietly in the background. Still, in blind faith I went to Ghim Moh market last weekend to buy buah keluak (an Indonesian nut that is essential for a Nonya curry dish I love), as well as dried oysters, prawns and fatt choy. I have no idea if I will even host a meal for people at CNY but regardless I’m prepared for it!
Anyway I decided to start getting the wheels rolling for CNY. Last year I had gotten a really good deal for a Panasonic blender. I have lived with a hand blender for the past 15 years (yup! No kidding). But I was getting fed up with having lumpy and coarse rempah (spice paste) for the curries we were cooking at home. The last time I made thunder tea paste I also had to run the paste through my tiny cuisinart grinder…it was not funny at all. So I finally gave into getting a blender for the sole purpose of being able to make fine rempah. And finally since we were switching from cooking western meals to Asian food again, it was fitting that we got the new blender off and running with a batch of sambal belachan (South East Asian chili paste).
This is my mum’s sambal belachan recipe – I remember the helpers faithfully pounding the shallots and chilis in a heavy mortar, but doing it in the blender was a whiz. The spice paste was smooth and yet retained a few pieces of chili still that gave enough of a texture that it wasn’t like baby food consistency. Every family has its own favorite sambal recipe; I remember years back going to a retreat in Kuching where the participants came from every part of Sarawak. It was crazy amazing to discover that each lady had come with a large jar of their own sambal and it was an unforgettable experience trying some of the samples. They whipped out their bottles of sambal at every meal so we had ample opportunity to try out their treasured condiments. Mum’s recipe is something I grew up with and I remember she would have to host monthly meetings of committee members and so this sambal belachan would make its appearance every month. And there were many who loved the belachan – one batch would disappear within the one meal.
I don’t anticipate this batch of sambal to move that quickly, but I will probably start making sambal eggs and sambal prawns as well to use it up quickly. The batch of sambal can probably last about a week in the fridge but can probably be kept frozen safely for longer.
Mum’s Sambal Belachan
- 1 cup shallots, peeled
- 1/2 cup garlic, peeled
- 1 cup fresh chilies, deseeded
- 1/2 cup dried chilies
- 2 tbsp dried belachan
- 2.5 tbsp sugar substitute
- 3/4 tsp salt
- Juice of 10 small calamansi limes
- 3 tbsp peanut oil
- With a non-stick skillet over medium heat, dry fry the belachan for about 2-3 minutes till crumbly and toasted.
- Finely chop the shallots, garlic, fresh and dried chilies and the toasted belachan in a food processor or blender. Add 1-2 tbsp oil into the mixture to help blend into a paste
- Heat up 1-2 tbsp peanut oil in a wok over low to medium heat. Stir fry the belachan and chili mixture for 5-10 minutes till the belachan is slightly darker and fragrant.Just as the sambal belachan looks darker and is more fragrant, Add the lime juice, salt and sugar substitute to the mixture. Taste and adjust seasoning according to your preference.
- Serve with your favourite local dish.