It’s leek season! I absolutely love them, don’t you? They’re related to onions and scallions, but have a mild, sweet and sophisticated flavor that just makes any dish fancy. We usually make leek and potato soup with them, but I wanted to know how they would go in a traditional Sambal dish.

I remembered my Mum’s shrimp sambal usually made with stink beans, called “petai”. Petai is a terrifyingly odiferous bean that we grew up eating in Malaysia – it’s so stinky, it’s like dirty socks, farts and cat pee combined. I’m not even joking. And YET, it’s one of the tastiest things I’ve ever eaten. Just ask any Malaysian! Yes, we Asians eat a lot of weird things. Let’s just say, shrimp sambal with petai is NOT a dish you should serve to someone you’re hoping to make your Valentine.

However, shrimp sambal with leeks is definitely a dish you should serve to anyone you’re hoping to impress. I taught a dear friend of mine this recipe awhile ago, as he was prepping to cook for a young lady he’d just met. I’m happy to say she was more than delighted, and four years later he still cooks this dish for her. I call that “the sambal effect!”

If you’re not a fan of leeks, or have something else on hand, feel free to substitute them with your choice of veggie. I also like asparagus, green beans, yardlong beans (aka snake beans aka asparagus beans), broccoli or cauliflower and so on. Remember to adjust cooking times to your vegetable of choice – some cook faster than others and you want to avoid veggies that are undercooked or even worse, wilted away to mush.

Notes on a couple of the ingredients – Sambal Oelek is not a good substitute for Hot Chilli Sambal.The former is a raw chilli paste with salt, vinegar and other additives. Hot Chilli Sambal is a cooked chilli paste flavored with fermented shrimp paste that adds heat, umami and tons of flavor without any chemical additives. In quick recipes such as this one, the short cooking times don’t give a raw chilli paste enough time to cook and develop so a cooked chilli paste is preferred. It makes a huge difference.

As for the crushed tomatoes, I use the plain old canned variety. My mum never added this ingredient to her sambal dishes, which were tasty, fiery and made you sweat. After nearly killing some dinner guests with Mum’s version in my early days here in the US, I’ve learned how to tone things down a little. Keeping your guests in mind, you can decide to omit this ingredient or add more or less to suit your taste. I find the amount used in this recipe satisfied my need for heat while graciously allowing guests at my table to live another day. 

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