How to make the best tomato sambal…

pelecing kangkung- spinach with tomato sambal
pelecing kangkung- spinach with tomato sambal

So anyways, last night we decided to attempt to recreate the grilled fish extravaganza we had at Tanah Lot the other week…minus the cliffs, the romance, the waves, the bintang and the really bad singers. If you asked my husband, he’d also say minus the dodgy tummy the following day- although I remain convinced that was a result of dehydration…but I digress…

I’d made up a batch of bumbu bali last weekend, so, with the help of a friendly fishmonger to butterfly the red snapper, the fish part was easy. I simply mixed some of the bumbu with some lime juice, a little rice bran oil, and brushed it over the fleshy part of the fish. Hubby did the rest on the barbecue.

As for the accompaniments, at Tanah Lot our fish was served with water spinach in tomato sambal- pelecing kangkung- and a lemongrass, garlic and shallot dressing.

We had each of these also at Bali Asli– the kangkung in our megibung, and the lemongrass and shallots with the crackers beforehand. If memory serves me correctly, I’m pretty sure the tomato sambal was in that box as well…


So, how do you make it? The Pelecing Kangkung, that is?

Essentially you need water spinach, tomato sambal, kecap manis, kaffir lime leaves and some fried shallots or ground peanuts. Too easy?

Hard as it may be to believe, but water spinach isn’t readily available at our local supermarket. Who would have thought it? Luckily normal spinach is a reasonable substitute. Anyways, here’s the recipe…It comes courtesy of Bali: The Food Of My Island Home, by Janet De Neefe.


Tomato Sambal

The key to a great Pelecing Kangkung is the sambal.

This sambal keeps for weeks in the fridge and is amazing with boiled eggs, for breakfast with an omelette, or with grilled fish, chicken or even the humble sausage. The spiel in the cookbook says that it’s also great with tofu or tempeh…whatever. I’m yet to try it with barbecued prawns, but they’re on my list!

What you need:

4 long red chilli, seeded and chopped roughly

2-3 small red chilli- depending on how hot you like it…remember size and colour matters…

3 shallots, hacked about a bit

6 garlic cloves

slice of belacan equivalent to 1 teaspoon

4 candlenuts

80ml coconut or vegetable oil

sea salt to taste

fried shallots and lime wedges to serve

What you do witb it:

Blitz it. Yep, that easy….well, everything down to (and including) the sea salt.

Don’t worry if there’s chunky bits in it.

Heat the coconut oil in a wok or pan over medium heat, and fry the tomato mixture off until it reduces by nearly half. The oil should rise to the surface. This will take about 5 minutes. Don’t be afraid to add more oil if you need.

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Putting it together

Blanch about 200g spinach in boiling water- just long enough to make sure that the stems are soft- and drain it thoroughly. We use one bunch for the 3 of us.

Pop it into a bowl with:

  • About 4 tablespoons of tomato sambal
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded
  • 3 teaspoons kecap manis (sweet soy)
  • a few tablespoons of fried shallots or ground peanuts.

The term pelecing, means to mix by hand…that’s your call…but mix it all together you do.

The Balinese eat these side dishes at room temperature much of the time, but if you want yours warm, simply toss it all together in a wok.

Serve with some extra fried shallots and lime wedges.

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

2 thoughts

  1. I haven’t actually heard of candlenuts before….

    PS. What is in the top dish? (The long squiggly things? Meat or noodles?)

  2. They’re fried shallots. It’s a great vegetarian side dish, that goes well with grilled fish. The sambal contains coconut oil though, so the points can get a tad out of hand unless you measure it out. Candlenuts are available in asian supermarkets, but macadamias are a good substitute. I use the sambal in the mornings with an omelette when I’m trying to have carb free days…

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