Chile Pepper

Sambal Potatoes With Aioli

October  4, 2022
2 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food Stylist: Adrienne Anderson.
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 40 minutes
  • Serves 4 to 6
Author Notes

I grew up in a home where hot chile sambal took center stage at our dinner table. The fiery condiment, which originated in Java, Indonesia, was lovingly ground into a paste by the sturdy, determined hands of my Indonesian grandmother in a flat stone mortar and pestle known as a cobek and ulekan. The stinging bite of chile filled the air as the paste first kissed the wok’s hot oil, the fragrance of shallot and garlic embracing the room as it softened and caramelized.

My younger self would gaze upon the ruby-colored sambal, my palate not yet conditioned for its enveloping heat. There is an Indonesian saying that a meal is not complete without sambal, and as time went on, sambal became entwined with my culinary existence and identity. Its absence felt like a meal washed of color. For me, sambal has always been a reminder of family and home, and those hot afternoons in the kitchen with my grandmother as she beat the ingredients down to submission.

In Indonesia, a little sambal is eaten with every bite of food. You’ll find it served with noodles, fried rice, plonked into soups and curries, dolloped over fritters, and even eaten on its own with just a plain bowl of rice. So when the idea struck to pair crisp, golden chunks of potatoes with sambal, a nod to the iconic patatas bravas dish revered in Spain, where fried potatoes are served on a bed of spicy tomato sauce and topped with aioli, I ran immediately to the kitchen.

While traditional patatas bravas and most Indonesian potato recipes deep-fry the potatoes, I’ve opted for roasting them in the oven until golden, for ease. This simple sambal begins with a paste of red chiles, garlic, shallots, and ginger, a quintessential base for many Indonesian meals. Pan-fry in oil, then simmer with sweet tinned tomatoes. The sauce, once reduced, reaches a peak of tomatoey umaminess—hot enough to warmly tingle your mouth, without overpowering the lively balance of flavors dancing across your tongue.

A good rule of thumb when buying chiles is to use varieties that are the width of your index finger, with a length of 4 to 8 inches, as these will typically provide a moderate level of heat. Examples that work well are cayenne, aji sivri, dagger pod, Holland red finger, or jwala finger, all around 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Fresno or cowhorn chiles are milder (around 10,000 SHU), but they won't give the sensation of heat that sambal is famous for. If in doubt, nibble the end of the chile and eat one of the seeds. If you’re reaching for milk, deseed. —Lara Lee

What You'll Need
  • 1 whole garlic head, plus 3 garlic cloves, divided
  • 8 tablespoons neutral oil (such as canola or vegetable), divided, plus more as needed
  • 1 2/3 pounds baby potatoes, halved or cut into thirds (about 1-inch chunks)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 to 4 long red chiles, roughly chopped
  • 1 (1-inch) pieces (10 grams) peeled ginger, sliced
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise, preferably Kewpie
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more to taste
  • 3 tablespoons finely sliced chives
  1. Heat the oven to 400°F with the convection setting if you have one; or heat the oven to 425°F without the convection. Halve the head of garlic horizontally so you cut through all of the cloves.
  2. Pour 4 tablespoons of oil in a big baking dish (such as a 9x13-inch) and add the potatoes. Season with salt and black pepper and toss to combine. Nestle the two garlic head halves, cut side up, among the potatoes, then drizzle the garlic with a little oil. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, tossing the potatoes halfway through, until crisp and golden. (The garlic may be ready sooner than the potatoes. Check in after 35 minutes and remove it from the oven whenever the cloves look soft and caramelized.)
  3. Meanwhile, blend the shallot, red chiles, ginger, and 2 of the reserved, peeled cloves of garlic in a small food processor until a coarse paste forms. (If you don’t have a food processor, you can finely chop the ingredients.)
  4. Heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Fry the spice paste for 5 to 7 minutes, until softened and translucent, stirring occasionally so the ingredients don’t catch.
  5. Add the tomatoes and their juices, bring to a boil, and then simmer on low for about 25 minutes until the sauce has thickened, stirring every so often. Season with a pinch of salt.
  6. While the potatoes and sambal are cooking, make the aioli. Place the mayonnaise in a bowl, mince the remaining reserved garlic clove, and add it to the bowl with the lemon juice. Stir together and season with more lemon juice if needed.
  7. Once the potatoes are crispy and fork-tender, remove them from the oven. The garlic cloves should be soft and caramelized (discard any that have hardened or overcooked). Once cool enough to touch, squeeze out the cloves, removing and discarding the skin. Toss the roasted cloves with the potatoes.
  8. To serve, spread the sambal on the base of a serving platter. Top with the garlicky potatoes. Spoon the mayonnaise over the potatoes and garnish with the chives. Serve immediately.

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Lara Lee

Recipe by: Lara Lee

Lara Lee is a Chinese-Indonesian and Australian chef and food writer. She is the author of Indonesian cookbook Coconut & Sambal, and a contributor for Food52, Bon Appetit, the Guardian and New York Times. Her book was named one of the best cookbooks of 2020 by the NYT, Guardian, Eater, National Geographic and more. When she's not cooking, you'll find her teaching Indonesian words to her toddler Jonah.

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