Christina Soong-Kroeger recreates her Grandmother’s secret Sambal Udang recipe.
By Christina Soong-Kroeger
I do love a spicy seafood dish.
This recipe – Malaysian Sambal Udang (Prawn Sambal) – was created by my paternal Grandmother (my popo) and pieced together painstakingly by my cousin Carina. I’ve adapted it further, as the ingredients are a little different in Australia, to recreate the taste I remembered.
I only have my memory to guide me as my grandmother passed away a few months ago. She was 93 when she died and had lived a long and full life, with mostly good health. She left behind four children, eight grandchildren, seven great-grand children, and a wealth of memories and recipes.
While it’s never easy to say goodbye to those we love, I am comforted by the fact that people live on forever in your heart and memories. It doesn’t make the absence of them any easier, but it does mean that the most important part of them – their spirit, their essence, their soul – remains and that they can continue to impact on your life in all sorts of good and helpful ways.
In my grandmother’s case, she was an excellent and thoughtful cook. Every time we visited Malaysia we would be treated with a smorgasbord of our favourite foods – fried chicken, sambal hebi (dried shrimp sambal), fish head curry, Penang Asam laksa, pineapple fried rice, yong tofu(stuffed beancurd), water spinach fried with sambal belchan, and fried eggplants stuffed with minced prawn.
It was completely excessive but cooking was her way of demonstrating her love. It’s something my dad learned from her, and something I in turn picked up from my parents.
When I surprised them with this dish last week the look on their faces said it all.
“You’ve just gone to the top of the class,” my dad declared, as he hugged me.
“It’s just like I remember it,” smiled my mum.
Thanks, folks. That’s high praise indeed, but I’m just passing on the love.
- 3 medium onions, peeled, and chopped roughly
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 lemongrass stalks, white part only, chopped roughly
- 2-5 Birds Eyes chillis
- 1 tablespoon belcehan (fermented shrimp paste)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 500 grams (about 18 ounces) raw, peeled prawns (shrimp)
- ⅓ cup water, just boiled
- 3 tablespoons tamarind concentrate
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
- Process onions, garlic, lemongrass and chilli until finely diced. Use 2 chillis for a mild-medium curry, 4 for a hot curry and 5 for an extra hot curry.
- Heat up a wok until smoking and then add oil. Heat for a few seconds until it starts to shimmer then add processed mixture and belcehan.
- Fry over a medium heat for a few minutes, stirring all the time, until fragrant and starting to ‘split’.
- Add turmeric and fry for another minute, stirring briskly, and then add the prawns and ⅓ cup just boiled water.
- Stir to combine, coating the prawns with the mixture.
- Add tamarind, sugar, salt and soy and continue stirring, until prawns are pink and cooked through.
- Serve with steamed rice and fried Chinese vegetables.
Christina publishes The Hungry Australian - a collection of recipes, reviews and stories about food - and is a regular contributor to Sumptuous. Her writing has appeared in the China Daily and That’s Shanghai while her photography regularly appears on Foodgawker, Tasteologie and Photograzing. After eating her way around Shanghai, London, Hong Kong, Leeds and Melbourne, she now calls Adelaide, South Australia, home again.