indonesia travel magazine

Sambal Kemiri, Candlenuts Sambal

Sambal Kemiri, Candlenuts Sambal


Kemiri or candlenut (Aleurites molucanna) is common ingredient to be used in Indonesian cooking to enhance flavour and thicken Indonesian curries (gulai, kari or kare) and sambals (Indonesian style chili paste or relish).

A candlenut is a waxy nut that look similar a large hazelnut. Shelled candlenuts are commonly sold in Asian food markets.  Although they superficially resemble shelled macadamia nuts, they should not be eaten raw because they contain a strong purgative.

The seed of candlenut contains about 50 percent oil.   This is why it ignites and burns like a candle.  The ancient Polynesians brought this tree to the Hawaiian Islands where it has become naturalized.  The Polynesians used them for candles that burned for about 45 minutes.   Hawaiians also extracted the oil for many other uses: to shine and waterproof wooden bowls, to mix with charcoal to make black canoe paint, to burn as torches, and to burn in stone lamps for light.

In the Hawaiian Islands candlenuts are known as “kukui nuts” and are polished and made into shiny dark brown or black bracelets and leis.  Hard-shelled kukui nuts take such a brilliant luster that they resemble polished gemstones.

If you can’t find candlenuts for purchase, they can be substituted for raw brazil or macadamia nuts.

Back to my Sambal Kemiri recipe here, I made the one that is specialized for soup or soto.  There is another recipe of Sambal Kemiri that is used for nasi uduk (Betawi Scented Coconut Rice).   That sambal kemiri contains peanuts while this one doesn’t have to.

Some people may remember when I tweeted about how hot my hands feel like after making this sambal. Well, the reason is these unusual chili peppers.   I added red savina habaneros while most Indonesian would apply bird eyes chilies and long red cayenne peper.   To balance out the heat, I used red pepper and skipped the sugar that most sambal kemiri recipes call for.

Sambal Kemiri
– Indonesian Candlenuts Sambal –

4 red savina habanero, washed
1 large red pepper, washed
5 candlenuts
4 cloves garlic
EV coconut oil or olive oil

1. Prepare a baking sheet and spray both red savina habaneros and red pepper with olive oil.  Follow these roasted red pepper steps to give more flavour to both habaneros and red pepper.

2. Once you’re done roasting, allow them to cool off.  Start peeling the skins off, but don’t be silly like me.  No gloves on when I peeled the habaneros.

3. Process roasted red pepper and habaneros, garlic, candlenuts and seasalt in a food processor or use your mortar and pestle until smooth.

4. Heat up 2-3 tablespoon EV coconut oil in a skillet, add sambal mixture and stir fry until fragrant.  Add a small amount of any soup broth that you made for.  In this scenario I added kikil (beef tendon) soup broth. Stir and remove from heat.  Ready to enjoy with Lontong Kikil (Surabaya-Style Beef Tendon Soup with Rice Cakes)

Cook’s Note:

  • For those who live in Indonesia, you can always substitute habaneros and red pepper with regular cabai merah keriting (long red cayenne pepper) and cabai rawit (bird eye chilies).
  • Approximately, you will need about 100-150 grams bird eyes chilies and 4 long red cayenne peppers for the same recipe as above.

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