Sambal eggplant is a common, and beloved, dish in Malaysia and Singapore. Made with a handful of ingredients—eggplant, sambal belacan, dried shrimp, and some oil—it’s brilliant served over rice for a simple yet satisfying dinner.
Adapted from Sarah Tiong | Sweet, Savory, Spicy | Page Street Publishing, 2020
Spicy, sweet, and deliciously silky, sambal eggplant is an iconic dish of Malaysia and Singapore and one of the first dishes I learned to cook with my sambal belacan. The eggplant is stir-fried over extremely high heat and then simmered in the sauce, which gives it the most amazing texture as it soaks up all the flavors. Sambal eggplant is a testament to some of the best home-style cooking in Southeast Asia: simple yet powerful in flavor. Piled into a bowl of steaming white rice, this recipe is so moreish!–Sarah Tiong
For the sambal eggplant
- Fresh cilantro leaves with stems
- Steamed rice
Make the sambal eggplant
- Add the sambal belacan and toss to thoroughly coat the eggplant. Pour in the water and stir the eggplant again.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the eggplant has softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Taste and season with salt if needed.
Serve the sambal eggplant
- Serve the eggplant with cilantro and steamed rice.
*How do I keep my sliced eggplant from turning brown?Once that supple eggplant is exposed to air, it’ll oxidize pretty fast, turning brown if you leave them in the open air for too long. To prevent this, you can prepare a large pot of water with 1 teaspoon of salt in it. Cut up those eggplants with abandon, then dump into the water. This is especially helpful to cut down on discoloration if you have a lapse between slicing and cooking. But honestly, what are you waiting for?
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Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This sambal eggplant is such an easy dinner or side dish, cooking in minutes (especially if you have either prepared or bought the sambal belachan in advance). Even with globe eggplants, cut into nice chunks (I made mine 1-1 1/2 inch cubes, some with and some without the skin), not needing to pre-salt the eggplant and taking advantage of the wok heat makes this quick yet satisfying. The dried shrimp offer little nuggets, slightly chewy, and yes, “shrimpy”, in good ways.
The only reason I didn’t immediately prepare this dish (our house is an eggplant-fandom) was that I needed to find the sambal belachan and had struck out locally. I ended up ordering the sambal online, and since I’d never tried it, I ordered a pair of small pouches. Turns out we quite like it, and the remainder will be used either as a repeat or with a wide noodle dish.
I used Italian globe eggplants, and a few things I’d mention: 1) you’ll want to be actively stir frying them right from the start (I always heat my wok BEFORE swirling in oil), tossing and getting all sides actively cooking so as the oil doesn’t all get soaked up as eggplant can be greedy that way, 2) if you’re using globes, they’ll take a minute or so more to cook than smaller Indian eggplants or slim Japanese ones. Even less if you’re lucky enough to find fairy tale eggplants (the tiny teardrop ones), 3) you probably will need to rinse and blot the dried shrimp (my package directed me to be sure and do so), and I used a stone mortar and pestle to crush the shrimp as they were no longer crispy.
I served this with basmati rice and wedges of lime, and had wished for more. I’d been generous with the eggplant (7 1/2 ounces for half a medium globe eggplant), and this served two for a light, meat-free dinner that was a winner.
Vegan notes: if you want to prepare this as a vegan dish, use sambal oelek and skip the heibi. For a more complete meal or to add some protein, I made it a second time, adding 5 ounces each of oyster mushrooms and Yuba (tofu skins), torn/cut into long “rags” which worked very well.
Although there are a couple of fairly unique ingredients in this recipe, this sambal eggplant is a simple foray into Asian cooking. Fortunately, the special ingredients all come in smaller quantities so there is minimal investment. Total time from start to finish was only about 15 minutes. Get your rice started before you begin to assemble the ingredients for this dish and they will both finish about the same time. The initial fry needs to be tended to constantly so the eggplant doesn’t burn and the shrimp scorch. Once you add the sambal, again, close attention is required so it doesn’t burn. The sugars in the sambal will caramelize quickly so have everything ready to go before you start and turn the heat down quickly. I did not add salt as I felt like the sambal and shrimp provided enough salt flavor.
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
This was an absolute joy to shop for, make, and to eat! I love exploring Asian markets and this was a solid excuse for me to pop into our local Asian grocery where I walked in looking for three ingredients and then left with at least ten. This made for a deliciously quick and warming lunch assuming you have rice already made.
I’ve always stayed away from sambal eggplant dishes in restaurants because they are so sweet but I loved that this recipe didn’t include sugar. I used small Indian eggplants where three of them measured six ounces. I also used a store-bought sambal oelek paste rather than making my own. Upon tasting the paste, I figured this recipe would be way too spicy but it really wasn’t. With sambal, the spice hits you at the very end making you crave a bit more. It’s not at all overpowering.
My oil smoked in about 2 minutes. The eggplant was browned around 3 minutes. I definitely didn’t need salt with the dried shrimp. Also, if you want more of a shrimp flavor, the shrimp can be soaked in hot water for a few minutes prior to sautéing them. This was a tasty lunch for one with jasmine rice. Highly recommend!