Saturday, October 29, 2011

African Carrot Sambal

Plate of Carrot Sambal
Carrot Sambal with Padrone Peppers

Recipe from the Carrot Cookbook

Long about 1978 our Santa Cruz Planned Parenthood self-published (by way of copy machine) an unassuming Carrot Cookbook compiled by PP employees. This volume was a follow-up to their Zucchini Cookbook, which was “considered almost too silly to use as a fundraiser,” yet sold 20,000 copies at $2.50 each. The philosophy of the Carrot Cookbook was “to glorify the carrot—to elevate it from just a stick around a bowl of dip, just a companion to a brown bag lunch, just a curl alongside a hamburger.”

“Carrots are like a favorite aunt or uncle—always there when needed but never the guest of honor. Carrots, like favorite relatives, don’t bruise easily, aren’t perishable, travel well, don’t upset our system, and are never too costly.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The word sambal is derived from Malaysian and Indonesian sambel. Sambals are vegetable or fish salads with hot chile-based sauces or dressings. They can be raw or cooked. I invite my Malaysian friends to post their sambal recipes, which I understand can contain limes, mangoes, and even tomatoes. This African sambal appears to be South African in origin. West Africans also eat sambals, but typically west African dishes do not contain raw ingredients. I encourage my African friends to post sambal recipes that they prepare.

Padrone Pepper Before and After Chopping
Large Padrone = 1 tbsp. chopped
I used semi-hot padrone chiles, because this is what our CSA farm put in our share last week. You could use jalapenos, Thai chiles, or any other hot variety instead, though green peppers look best with the orange carrots. Recipe calls for 1 tbsp., and I tried 1 ½ tbsp., but would spice it up even more, perhaps 2 tbsp. Feel free to add as much or as little as you like.

Salt is used in this recipe to draw water off the carrots, so the dressing will be absorbed into the carrots and no liquid will form to make the carrots soggy. The original recipe calls for 2 tsp. salt. This tasted like a lot when eaten immediately, but tasted better the second or third day when the vinegar and chili tastes became more prominent. We cut the salt in half, and it didn’t taste like quite enough to me, though my husband enjoyed it. Of course, you can always add salt on your plate. I would try 1 ½ tsp. next time, but will leave it to you to use the quantity you think you’ll like.

Dressing Mixed and Ready for Drained Carrots
Using Green and Red Hot Chiles in Dressing
African Carrot Sambal

1 lb. carrots
1 - 1 ½ tsp. salt
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 – 2 tbsp. fresh hot chiles
1 tsp. sugar

Wash and coarsely grate the carrots on a grater or with a food processor. Mix carrots and salt together and let stand ½ hour – 1 hour. Squeeze carrots with your hands to remove excess moisture. You should get about ¾ cup liquid. Discard liquid.

Seed and chop the chiles finely (I wear thin latex gloves). Combine vinegar, chiles, and sugar in serving bowl and stir till sugar dissolves. Add carrots, mixing well with a spoon until ingredients are well-blended. Let sambal marinate for at least 15 minutes at room temperature before serving. You can also prepare it ahead of time and let it marinate for up to a day in the refrigerator.


  1. I make this a lot, but had misplaced the recipe when we moved last month. I fix this every time we have black beans, and something colorful with pork or chicken. Tomorrow is New Years Day, this is part of our celebration meal.

  2. I can't tell you how many times I've made this. It went beautifully with a Sri-Lankan beef curry tonight. An overdue thank you sent your way. 😀