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Sambal oelek (Recipe: Kartoom croquettes)

A week of ingredients featured in kid-friendly recipes from the Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook by Georgeanne Brennan. Parts of this post come from our archives, with new photos, links and recipe. Welcome to Dr. Seuss Week, Day Three.


In a former life, I must have been Asian. Or Cajun. Or Trinidadian.

The proof is in my pantry.

In the cupboards, on the spice rack, and most definitely in the refrigerator, I have every imaginable form of heat: chili paste with garlic, chili sauce, ground chile, red chile, Thai chile peppers, cayenne peppers, dried habanero, sriracha, harissa, sambal oelek and salsa verde, and hot sauces ranging from Rhode Island Red to Dave's Insanity to Hotter Than Hell.


On the warmer end of the heat scale, sambal oelek derives from the Dutch spelling, which in modern Indonesian spelling has become ulek; both have the same pronunciation. According to Wikipedia, ulek is a kind of Indonesian (particularly Javanese) stone mortar (ulek-ulek) and pestle (ulekan) made from a mature bamboo root, used for crushing chiles, peppers, shallots, peanuts, and other ingredients.

Thicker than sauce, thinner than salsa, sambal oelek is a fresh-ground paste made of chile peppers, salt, and sometimes vinegar, lime juice, lemongrass or brown sugar. The heat of the sambal depends entirely on the variety of peppers.

Huy Fong Foods, a California company, makes the brand of sambal oelek in my pantry; they also make sriracha sauce, which is strained, and smoother. Huy Fong is the most widely distributed brand in the United States, available in almost every supermarket and Asian grocery.

Stored in the refrigerator, sambal will last almost indefinitely. Because its main contribution is heat, you can substitute chili paste, harissa, Tabasco, red pepper flakes, chile powder, or fresh Thai bird chiles.

If a *Natch can take the heat, so can you.


Kartoom croquettes

They'll fix up a dish that is just to his taste;
Three chicken croquettes made of library paste,
Then sprinkled with peanut shucks, pickled and spiced,
Then baked at 600 degrees and then iced.
If I Ran the Zoo)

*From the Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook, by Georgeanne Brennan: "A beast called the Natch, who lives in Kartoom, has always stayed in his cave, refusing to come out. But Gerald McGrew, who plans to catch unusual creatures for his zoo, decides to lure him out with pickled, peanut-sprinkled chicken croquettes." These are chicken nuggets any kid would love, but the flavors are for grown-ups, too. The sambal adds a necessary something, but does not make these croquettes spicy. Unless you add more. Which you certainly can! Slightly adapted from the original recipe. Serves 4; can be doubled.


2 cups finely chopped cooked chicken (rotisserie chicken is fine)
4 Tbsp dried, unflavored bread crumbs
2 Tbsp minced scallions
1 tsp sambal oelek
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 eggs
1 Tbsp minced cilantro or parsley
1 cup finely chopped unsalted roasted peanuts (if allergic to peanuts, use bread crumbs)
Chopped gherkin or half-sour pickles, for garnish (optional)


Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a bowl, mix together the chicken, bread crumbs, scallions, sambal, salt, eggs and cilantro to make a thick paste. With your hands, divide the mixture into twelve equal parts, then shape into logs or patties.

Put the chopped peanuts on a plate, and roll each croquette in the peanuts. Place on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper.

Bake 20 minutes or until golden brown and firm to the touch. Serve hot, garnished with pickles.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Spicy turkey rolls
Rotini with spicy meat sauce
Faux pho
Salmon and Asian pesto potstickers
Vegetable potstickers
Spicy chicken balls

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


I think your recipe would draw me out of my cave a lot faster than the one that used library paste! Or, better yet, how about I grab some of your croquettes and retreat to my cave for a snack? :-)

Oh lydia, I love love that sambal olek. I use it a lot. The recipe sounds really and easy to do (no deep-fry!).

I can't live without my chili paste. I use it in everything!

This is great timing because I've been wondering about sambal olek lately. I regularly use Sriracha, but have never tried sambal olek. Is the only big difference in their texture or is there a taste difference too?

I made deep fried chicken last night....this recipe would be perfect for the leftovers. Thanks

Hummm, I have leftover grilled chicken; what a great way to use it up. thanks.

I have sambal oelek in the fridge, very sme brand as you have here, but I don't know if I've ever used it! I think I'm scared of it, because I'm kind of a wimp on hotness, but I love sriracha, so maybe I can handle this better than I'm thinking?

Oooh I would do most anything for those croquettes.

I used to love chicken croquettes when I was a kid. Of course, they were from a box and yours are probably ten times better. But, funny, my mom made them from scratch sometimes and I liked the frozen ones better!

That book sounds amazing!! And your croquettes LOOK amazing! I'm the same exact way with all the hot sauces and spices. Yumm!

Now these are chicken nuggets that I wouldn't feel guilty serving to my nieces. Thanks, Lydia!

Since I don't care for really spicy stuff I kept seeing sambal oelek, but was not sure of where it is on the heat scale.
I'll now give it a try
Thanks Lydia

I love this chili paste. ;-)


I have sambal oelek and need to use it. These croquettes look wonderful and I do think I could take as much heat as the Natch ;)

Well, it tastes very nice. I think the chicken was too dry, but thats my fault for using leftovers HAHAHA.

p.s. make sure your guests dont mind food on the hot side or you;ll be ordering pizza too


When I was younger and before I realized I could cook, I begged my mum to make nasi goreng, which being a good mum, she promised to make.

She never got around to it before she died, I'm guessing that the sambal oelek was a bit much for someone of her generation.

I've still not ever had the dish, funny, with Indonesia being such a close neighbour.

TW, these posts have reminded me of how much I loved Dr. Seuss books when I was a kid, and how enduring those books are.

Anh, Melynda, Jamie, Maris, Susan: no deep frying! These really are chicken nuggets for everyone. They'd be fun as small chicken balls, served on toothpicks, too.

Pam, Paz: I'm pretty much addicted to any kind of hot sauce or paste. Once you develop a taste for it, you crave that taste in everything.

Katie, texture is the big difference between the two. Heat-wise, they're about the same.

Milton, thanks for giving the recipe a try, and for your feedback. Of course you can adjust the heat to taste (next time!), and as for the dryness of the chicken, mine was from a freshly-cooked rotisserie chicken, and it was fairly moist. Good to note for the future, though.

Kalyn, Kim: when I first tasted something made with hot sauce, I thought my head would explode. But I very quickly got used to it, and found myself adding more and more to my food. Now I have high tolerance for heat, but I wasn't always able to eat any spicy food. It's really a matter of training your palate. So start with just a drop, and work your way up. And PS -- if you love Sriracha, you'll love this.

Sues, I knew I had to have this book as soon as I saw it -- it brought back all the fun of the original Dr. Seuss books. Many of the recipes are easy enough for kids to make, with or even without adult help.

MyKitchen, sambal keeps for quite a long time in the refrigerator, but when you're ready to use it, try this recipe. It was fun, and tasty.

Neil, I can't imagine my mother having any Asian condiments, other than soy sauce, in her kitchen. Her cooking was incredibly bland compared to the more global way we eat these days. Sambal? Never!

I'm the same way with the spices, I love trying new chili pastes, hot sauces, marinades from ethnic places.

I love your recipe!

Very grown up chicken nugget indeed! They look great, I love the chili sauce.

Jenn, I've hardly ever met a hot sauce or chili paste I didn't love!

Natashya, who ever thought we'd eat chicken nuggets as adults? But these are much better than the ones from the fast-food places.

These croquettes look earth-shatteringly awesome. Every flavor in them is perfect! Thank you for bringing them some attention; I can't wait to make them.

Dear Lydia,

These look great! I, too, love spicy condiments, and I'm happy you find such good use for them. I recently discovered a Thai spice paste (and I'm away from my home fridge and so can't get you the exact name), containing a simple fiery mix of hot red chiles and garlic. It contains such heat and fantastic flavor, I wanted to put it on toast every day when I first bought it.

Also, I wanted to thank you for the amazing webinar you did at sixapart.com concerning increasing readership and usefulness to one's blog. It was very helpful, and I'm looking forward to trying your ideas. Thank you.

Banu Ogan

these look great! i love sambal olek....and use mine for almost everything pasta, soup dipping sauce.
i think it has a bit of fish oil in it which does smell a lot- but the taste is heavenly!

Those look tasty!

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