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Green Sambal

My mother learnt how to cook from her grandmother. Being the eldest of three girls, she was allowed into, and expected to help, in the kitchen. It suited her. She had a knack for it. Throughout the years, she continued to cook, and re-create recipe after recipe. Her siblings, her cousins, looked to her when they sought the flavours, the tastes and the authenticity of the food they grew up with.

In the early days, she had no fancy kitchen apparels, one stone sink, no kitchen counters to speak of. That tiny space she called her kitchen was where she made magic. She had no written recipes. Her memory was faultless. Her palate and her instincts always on the mark. We grew up, taking for granted my mother’s extraordinary talent for cooking. She has left this world now, and unsurprisingly, the happy memories we have of her often have to do with food. She would have turned 86 today.

In Malaysia, we had started giving cooking lessons to some expatriates at the suggestion of my American friend Jenny who was unsure of what to do with all the new vegetables she was discovering in Asia. As with most home cooks, my mum’s measurement units were not exactly standard. Agak-agak in Malay can be loosely translated to any of these things: gut-feel, guess, estimate, wing it, more or less. I asked her to start noting down her recipes, and today they are a precious documenting of her recipes and her story.

Today I want to share an agak-agak recipe that was more or less inspired by my good friend Kathy who I had the privilege to meet along my journey. I make a large batch of this and keep it in the fridge, serving it up with poached chicken or pan-fried fish, or a simple fried egg and rice. It is a sambal made from green chillis, green onions and parsley.

They are the best gifts in a jar too, making a nice change from jam. All you need is a blender and you really don’t have to bother weighing anything. Just free style it. Like my mum would have said “Look at the colour. Does it smell aromatic enough? Taste it!” I miss you, mama.

A blender will make your life easier, but a weighing scale won't be necessary. Just agak-agak. Serve with poached or steamed chicken, pan fried fish or fried egg and rice.

Green Sambal


makes about 420 g jar

Prep Time 5 mins/Cook Time 20 mins/Total Time 25 mins

  • 300 g green chillis

  • 200 g green onions

  • several stalks parsley

  • salt

  • 1 tbsp sugar

  • 3 tsbps oil (olive oil or vegetable oil)


  1. Cut chillis in half vertically, remove seeds.

  2. Remove roots of green onions, slice.

  3. Put chilli and green onions with other ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend roughly.

  4. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally to avoid burning.

  5. Is ready when colour looks right, and smells fragrant. Taste for seasoning. About 20 minutes.


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