Kitchen Tips

The Peranakan Kitchen: How to Make Sambal and Curry Paste With Pearly Kee

Penang cookery teacher Pearly Kee, of Penang Home Cooking School, shares tips on creating authentic Malaysian pastes and sambals, including some handy shortcuts that will help you save time in the kitchen.


Sambal belachan

“For Nyonyas and Malays, sambal belachan is a must-have at every meal. If it’s not on the table, I can’t eat!” Pearly exclaims.

“In the old days, I would make it fresh from scratch every day. I’d have to toast the belachan over a charcoal fire and pound it with a huge mortar and pestle –you can’t find such big ones anymore.”

Sambal Belacan

And while you may think a heavy mortar and pestle is the only way to achieve an authentic result, Pearly is keen to let you in on a little secret:

“To me, there isn’t any difference in taste whether you use a modern blender or pound it in a mortar and pestle. But, I’ll always make my own.”

You can make your own sambal belachan at home using this easy recipe from Asian Inspirations.

Curry pastes

For ingredients such as ginger and galangal many of the nutrients and medicinal qualities lie just under the skin. When you peel these roots and rhizomes, you’re discarding all the goodness! Instead, Pearly suggests washing them very well, then removing any blemishes with a sharp knife or by scraping them off with the back of a teaspoon.

Just like the sambal belachan recipe, Pearly suggests using a modern blender to grind your curry paste ingredients. At her cooking school in Penang, Pearly uses a popular smoothie blender – just before to rinse well before making your breakfast the next day!

For the best results, chop all of the ingredients before adding them to the blender. “The most important thing is to make sure that the paste is as fine as can be,” says Pearly. “Remember, fine paste equals awesome taste!” If you’re adding dry spices to the mix, stir these in by hand once you’ve blended the fresh ingredients.

Cook ahead

If time is on your side, plan to make your curry in advance. “A real Malaysian trick is to cook curries a day ahead, as this really brings out the best of the flavours,” says Pearly. “Just allow the curry to cool down before putting the lid on.”

Using candle nuts

A popular ingredient in kapitan chicken curry and sambal udang, candle nuts aren’t as innocent as they appear: “These are used to make curries and dishes creamy and nutty, but they are very poisonous when raw, they have to be ground as part of a spice paste and then thoroughly cooked,” warns Pearly. “If you can’t get your hands on candle nuts, macadamias can be used as a substitute.”


For more Malaysian cooking inspiration, sign up for a class with Pearly at Penang Home Cooking School, read tips on Nyonya cooking from Pearly Kee, or try five exotic Malaysian sauces.

You May Also Like

Dim Sum Deep Dive

Dim Sum Deep Dive

Dumpling Dos and Dumpling Don’ts

Dumpling Dos and Dumpling Don’ts


Kate Brodhurst

Rosalin Kristiani

Glenda Mc Donnell

Michael J Sabo

Melinda Savage

Lisa-Jane Fudge

Lillie Giang

Justine Withers

Julia Brodska

Josephine Chan

Sally-Ann Haw

Store Locator

Find your nearest Asian Store


Our Newsletter

Sign up for an authentic Asian experience. From exotic cuisines to fascinating destinations to cooking competitions and monthly giveaways - Discover the Authentic