This sambal keeps well in the refrigerator.
250 ml/8 fl oz/1 cup oil
sprig of curry leaves
500 g/1 lb finely sliced onions
2 tablespoons chilli powder
125 g/4 oz Maldive fish
2 cardamom pods, bruised
2 whole cloves
1 small stick cinnamon
strip of fresh, frozen or dried pandan leaf
3 tablespoons vinegar
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
Heat half the oil in a heavy pan and fry the curry leaves and onions until onions are soft and golden brown. It is important to fry the onions slowly for this sambal to have good keeping qualities. Turn them into a bowl and add chilli powder. Pound the Maldive fish with a mortar and pestle until finely ground. Heat remaining oil in pan and fry the Maldive fish, cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon and pandan leaf for a few minutes, stirring. Add vinegar, return onions to pan and simmer until the mixture is thick and almost dry. Stir in salt and sugar, allow to cool completely and store in a clean glass jar in the refrigerator.
A quicker method is to use a tin of 'prawns in spices' or 'minced prawns' instead of the Maldive fish. These are sold in most Asian stores, a product of Malaysia.
Recipe excerpted from Encyclopedia of Asian Food by Charmaine Solomon (Periplus Editions, 1998)