Thomas Pisha-Duffly grew up in New England eating fast food burgers alongside home-cooked Malaysian curries, a legacy from Tien Vandenberg, his Chinese-Indonesian grandmother. But, he notes, “I cooked Italian food most of my career in the kitchen.” A month-long trip with his wife Mariah across Indonesia and Malaysia reconnected him with the flavors of Vandenberg, his oma, the grandmother he calls his food muse. When they got home, he started doing pop-ups where he cooked childhood standards like beef rendang, meat slowly braised in coconut milk and served with a spicy sambal.
Nowadays, with a pair of critically acclaimed restaurants - Gado Gado and Oma’s Hideaway - and a 2022 James Beard Award nomination for Best Chef Northwest and Pacific, Pisha-Duffly introduces Portland diners to the joys of Indonesian-Malaysian food. “Fish sauce,” he says, “plays an important role, especially in the condiments called sambals.”
There are dozens of sambals served across the Indonesian archipelago, and the spicy blends of chiles, spices, herbs, and often some kind of fermented seafood get spooned onto rice, vegetables, meat, and fish. Pisha-Duffly shared his version of sambal hijau, a green sambal he serves with his Sumatran-style beef rendang. While he uses a funky fermented shrimp paste called pla ra, we’ve adapted the recipe to use what we consider to be pantry staples, fish sauce and dried shrimp. While it’s great with rendang, this sambal is also right at home on simple grilled vegetables, steamed rice, tacos, and even burgers.
1. Bring a small pot of water to a boil and cook the chiles until soft, about 10 minutes. Lift out with a slotted spoon and set aside; pull off the stems, but leave the seeds and membrane attached. Add the tomatillos, garlic, shallots, and dried shrimp to the same pot and cook for another 10 minutes, then drain.
2. Combine the cooked vegetables and shrimp in a food processor and pulse to coarse paste. Scrape into a heavy skillet, add the olive oil, and cook over medium heat, stirring often, for about 20 minutes or until most of the liquid is gone and the sauce has thickened.
3. Add the sugar, salt, and fish sauce; cook for another minute or two. Remove from the heat and let cool, then stir in the lime juice. Keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.