Posts Tagged ‘asian condiments’

It’s full on ramp season right now in Chicago and people are losing their god damn minds. Happens every year for those few weeks. For those that don’t know, ramps are wild onions that are foraged in these parts. They look like a scallion with bits of purple and wide green leaves, taste like a cross between an onion and garlic and are a sure sign that spring has arrived. Every year I get a pound or two from a friend and every year I’m a little stumped on what to do with them. I’ve pickled, I’ve kimchi’d, I’ve pesto-ed and I’ve learned a few things along the way. One, I don’t care for pickled ramps. Two, ramp green kimchi is the best thing ever and is stunningly, shockingly even, pungent. Whew. Three, my friend Joe makes better ramp pesto than I and sells it from his stand at the farmers market for 10 bucks. Worth it. And finally, I’m always looking for new ideas. This year I took about two pounds of gorgeous ramps and made a few things: I grilled a handful and used them on a pizza, made a little pesto (which is how I know Joe’s is better) then I turned the greens into kimchi, because it’s wonderful and I love it, funk and all. But I still had a bunch of bulbs to deal with. What to do. What to do.

So I turned to that helpful little tool we call google and asked: “what do I do with ramps?” I came across an article on the Food & Wine site – “16 Chefs on Their Favorite Ways to Cook Ramps” – super helpful! The very first post from Chef Cedric Vongerichten caught my interest: “Sambal matah is a traditional sauce/condiment that first originated in Bali. My variation of sambal matah sauce uses lemongrass, kaffir, lime, chilies, and I replace shallots with ramps for a seasonal component. The bulb of the ramp is grilled, and the green stem is chopped. I love to pair it with a piece of fish, lamb, or suckling pig.” Ummmm. I could get on board with this one.

I loved this idea and started googling “sambal matah” for a better idea on how to make the stuff. Just reading about the tart-sweet-spicy combination had my mouth watering. It’s all those wonderful southeast Asian flavors that I love. Lemongrass. Lime. Garlic. Makrut lime leaves (previously known as kaffir lime and one of my very favorite ingredients ever). Chilies. Normally made with thinly sliced shallots, I loved the idea of replacing those with thinly sliced ramps as their garlicky flavor would work so well with the other ingredients. I set about rounding things up.

I already had the ramps so that was easy and I opted to use just the bulbs, sliced raw as the shallots would be. What I hadn’t counted on was the challenge in finding the lime leaves. I actually have a small lime leaf tree that I’ve carefully coddled for years but the poor thing had a rough winter, much like us all. It shed all its leaves a few months ago in some kind of protest and I’m slowly nursing it back to health. Since it had no leaves to give, I stalked my local Thai market. It took three trips – three! – to track them down (I discovered that they get small infrequent shipments that are often sold out by noon) but I finally snagged some for myself. I realize this isn’t an option for many but I do encourage you to seek them out; they’re wonderful. Failing that, you can substitute regular lime zest for the makrut leaves. It won’t be quite the same but it will be delicious. 

At the same market I easily found the rest – the shrimp paste, Thai chilies, lemongrass and some fat juicy limes. Finely chopped/sliced and all mixed together with a few other things, it was mighty delicious but there’s one final step that takes it to the next level: hot oil. Heat oil to sizzling then add lemongrass and a bit of shrimp paste, then pour it over the mixture. It pops and sputters and brightens all the flavors. I found a lot of conflicting information on which oil to use; many said coconut, others said vegetable and a few said peanut. In the end, I went with coconut for the flavor but am fully aware of the drawbacks. Coconut oil solidifies when refrigerated; not ideal. I countered this by leaving it at room temp until needed (about an hour) and rather than heating the refrigerated leftovers, I let the container to sit on top of my oven/stovetop to warm ever so slightly and gently. Worked perfectly. 

I grilled off a piece of arctic char and simply spooned the sambal on top. It was utterly delicious. Mouthwatering crazy delicious. So good I thought about eating it twice in one day. I never do that. Bright and fresh and spicy and tart, it was fantastic on that piece of fish, reminiscent a bit of a Southeast Asian pico de gallo. I could easily see it paired with something rich and fatty, like pork or fried chicken as the chef recommends; the acidity would work so well with the rich meat. This was a great find and one I’ll make with the shallots those other 49 weeks ramps aren’t in season.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: OH. MY. As I said, this was a great find. Kudos to the Balinese. Full of wonderful, mouth watering flavors it instantly transports me to somewhere beach-y and beautiful. Damn I’ve missed traveling. For a relatively simple relish, it certainly packs a ton of flavor. A definite keeper. I also think need to spend more time with the cuisine of Bali. Looking forward to seeing what else they have.

Cinco de Mayo celebrations: Avocado Lime Tequila PopsiclesScallop CevicheQueso FunditoSpicy Mango LemonadeHorchata Strawberry Swirl Ice CreamCoconut Tres Leches Ice CreamBacon Fat PolvorónesCotija Churros with Guava SauceMexican Chocolate Pudding PopsMichelada Style ClamsStrawberry Hibiscus PopsiclesWatermelon Aqua FrescaPico de Gallo White Bean SaladSpicy Pineapple PaletasBlender GazpachoWatermelon Jicama SaladMexican Corn SaladHatch Chile Queso DipMachaca – Mexican Shredded Beef, Machaca EnchiladasChicken Sour Cream EnchiladasSweet Pumpkin EmpanadasCotija Cumin Shortbread

twelve years ago: Brown Butter Banana Bread

eleven years ago: Kolacky, Polish Butter CookiesPretzel DogsPeanut Butter BarsHomemade SaltinesKentucky Derby Tarts  

ten years ago: Sticky Bun BreadRoasted Garlic PotatoesHomemade Crème Eggs

nine years ago: Fresh Goat CheeseStrawberries in Hibiscus SyrupPickled RampsPopovers & Strawberry ButterCultured Butter

eight years ago: Classic Yeast CoffeecakeEscargot Roasted MushroomsTomato Soup with Grilled Cheese CroutonsFlourless Peanut Butter CookiesLemon Loaf Cake

seven years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise

six years ago: Flourless Chocolate Cookies

five years ago: Soft Potato RollsCoconut Pound CakeRed Curry Firecracker Shrimp with Sweet Chile Dipping SauceGiardinara Cheese BreadBlueberry Crumb CakeRaspberry Speculoos Frangipane TartTurtleback Cookies

four years ago: Greek Yogurt Cheesecake with Fig-Date CompoteParisian Gnocchi with Asparagus and Brown ButterCreamy Radish SoupHomemade Crème Fraiche

three years ago: Pantry Clam ChowderThe CBJ (grilled cashew butter, cheese and fig jam sandwich), Sweet & Spicy Cashew & Coconut Mix

two years ago: Vietnamese Style Chicken SaladCandied Jalapenos

last year: Roasted Cabbage with Miso VinaigretteSourdough CrêpesSmall Batch Cinnamon RollsCinnamon Roll Bread PuddingChorizo & Cornbread Strada (Savory Bread Pudding) 


Makes about 1 cup

Originally from Bali, sambal matah is a spicy and refreshing condiment that goes well with just almost everything, but most especially fish and seafood. Use more or less chilies depending on how spicy you like things – the 5 thai chilies I used were pleasantly spicy. No ramps available? Use the more traditional shallots. No lime leaves? Substitute lime zest. Make sure you use the tender inner bulb part of the lemongrass, slice it thin then give it rough chop as the pieces can sometimes be a little fibrous.

5 bird’s eye or Thai chilies, finely sliced (about 1 Tablespoon)

¾ cup thinly sliced ramp bulbs (85g/3oz) or thinly sliced shallots (about 5-6)

1 large garlic clove, finely minced 

2 large kaffir lime leaves, stems removed then thinly sliced (about 1 teaspoon) (or ½ teaspoon fresh lime zest)

1 ½ Tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 1 lime)

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon shrimp paste

1 lemongrass stalk, peel and use tender white inner bulb only, sliced thinly then roughly chopped (about 1 ½ Tablespoons)

3 Tablespoons coconut oil or vegetable oil

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the chilies, ramps or shallots, garlic, lime leaves, lime juice, salt and sugar. Set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a small pan over medium-low heat until it’s sizzling. 
  3. To the hot oil, add the shrimp paste and lemongrass and stir until fragrant. 
  4. Pour the hot oil mixture into the chili mixture. Stir to combine.
  5. Serve and store the leftover in an airtight container for up to one week. If using coconut oil, it will likely firm up in the refrigerator. Warm very gently to preserve the fresh flavor.

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