Sambal Pecel: Peanut Sauce with Lime Leaves and Kencur (Vegan)

Sambal pecel is a spicy peanut-based sauce that’s creamy and slightly tart, usually enjoyed with a boiled vegetable salad known as pecel, but can also be used as a dip for fried snacks.

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Nunuk Sri Rahayu
Nunuk Sri Rahayu
Nunuk hails from Solo, the historic royal capital and cultural centre of Java, Indonesia. She has been cooking since the age of 12, and also performs and teaches traditional Javanese dance. Her dream is to eventually write her own Indonesian cookbook.

Sambal pecel is one of the many types of peanut-based sambals (spicy sauces) in Indonesia, enjoyed throughout the country. It’s creamy, sweet, savoury, spicy and a tiny bit of tartness (from the tamarind pulp). It’s also a versatile sambal, great for fried snack accompaniment. Though popular, people don’t usually make it at home. A packet of ready to use sambal pecel is available in most places (online or offline) and it’s usually a preferred option to save time and energy.

Unfortunately, sambal pecel is not always available overseas, and in order to enjoy the sambal, we have to make it ourselves. Making sambal pecel is relatively easy and it’s quite a fun activity, especially when it’s done traditionally. In this recipe, I made it from scratch, even pounding it diligently using a stone mortar and pestle I bought from a local store around Magelang, where the famous Borobudur temple is located (the area is crowded with shops selling stone carvings and other souvenirs, such as a high-quality mortar and pestle). The pounding process was such a good workout and stress reliever.

Sambal pecel has a distinctive texture, aroma and flavour. The two key ingredients which set it apart from other peanut-based sambals are Kaffir lime leaves and kencur (kaempferia galanga), which is similar to galangal but with a unique taste. Sadly, kencur is difficult to get outside Indonesia, and it cannot be substituted with other spices. In that case, it’s better to omit it. The sauce will still taste delicious, though less authentic. 

Smaller variety of peanuts (such as Spanish peanuts) are better for making this sambal. You can buy either raw peanuts and deep-fry them, or just buy ready-to-eat peanuts.

Instead of the traditional mortar and pestle, an electric food processor can also be used to blend the ingredients. Grind the peanuts in batches first, followed by the other ingredients. Don’t blend it too fine though – leaving tiny bits of peanuts will give the sambal more texture and crunch. When done, mix all the blended ingredients thoroughly. The sambal can now be stored for later use. Sambal pecel can last for months in the fridge. 

Use only fresh ingredients to obtain a flavourful sambal. Good sambel pecel is usually eaten with pecel, a simple boiled vegetable salad, and is the key to delicious pecel. This peanut based sambal can also be served as a dipping sauce for fried food, such as bakwan, tahu goreng, and tempe goreng

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Sambal Pecel: Peanut Sauce with Lime Leaves and Kencur

Sambal Pecel: Peanut Sauce with Lime Leaves and Kencur (Vegan)

  • Author: Nunuk Sri Rahayu
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: 6 1x
  • Category: Sauces & Sambals
  • Method: Frying
  • Cuisine: Indonesian
  • Diet: Halal


Sambal pecel is a spicy peanut-based sauce that’s creamy and slightly tart, usually enjoyed with a boiled vegetable salad known as pecel, but can also be used as a dip for fried snacks.


  • 250 gr peanuts
  • 4 red chillies, remove the stalk
  • 5 red bird’s eye chillies, remove the stalk
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 cm kencur (kaempferia galanga), peeled
  • 1 tsp tamarind pulp
  • 100 gr palm sugar shaved
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves, remove the spine and thinly slice
  • Salt to taste
  • 5 tbsp cooking oil
  • Oil for deep frying


  1. Clean the peanuts from any impurities, wash, and pat dry.
  2. Heat enough oil for deep frying over medium heat, and deep fry the peanuts until golden brown (be careful not to overdo it, or it will be burnt and taste bitter). Set aside.
  3. Heat 5 tbsp cooking oil over medium flame and fry the chillies, garlic and kencur for about 4 minutes. Remove from the frying pan, set aside.

    fry the chillies, garlic and kencur

  4. Using mortar and pestle, pound the fried peanuts into a fine paste, set aside.

    pound the fried peanuts

  5. Pound the fried chillies, garlic and kencur into a fine paste, then add the shaved palm sugar, tamarind pulp and salt. Continue pounding until it forms a fine paste. 

    Pound the fried chillies, garlic and kencur

  6. Add the thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves, lightly pound to mix it.

    Add the thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves

  7. Add the pounded peanuts, and mix it with the spice paste thoroughly. You can also pound everything together to nicely mix all the ingredients.

    pound everything together

  8. Transfer the sambal into an airtight container for later use.

    sambal pecel is ready


  • For a healthier version, all the ingredients can be pan roasted, instead of deep-fried. This will also ensure a longer shelf life, as cooking oil will make the sambal rancid. 
  • As usual, the amount of bird’s eye chillies can be adjusted according to your preference.

Keywords: vegan, spicy, chili, garlic, lime leaves

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  1. Really like your recipes.My wife and I miss our travels to Indonesia;-maybe one day we will be Covid free!!I want to make Sambal Pecel but the only kencur I can get in Australia is the dried powder.I have tried to use it but it seems very strong .Can you advise or is it better to omit.

    • Thank you Glenn, glad you folks like the recipes! We are all hoping travel opens up soon. As for the kencur, it’s best to omit the dried stuff it if it’s too strong, the sambal pecel will still taste just as good.

  2. I was wondering if I can mix the fried/ roasted peanuts with the rest of ingredients in a food processor or blender since I don’t have a mortar and pestle?

    • Hi Tee, yes you can use food processor or blender to make this sambal. Blend the peanuts separately until fine, put it in a bowl, then blend the spices. Add the spices to the ground peanuts and knead all the ingredients to mix them. Hope that helps!


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