Belachan Lady Fingers (Sambal Okra)

I actually don’t know why it’s called lady fingers.  I don’t know of any ladies whose fingers look like that! But anyways, this is arguably one of my favorite Malaysian dishes and probably one of the easiest to make.  The only thing that probably will take the longest is creating the paste that flavors the okra only because I like to do things old school.

I got this recipe from Rasa Malaysia‘s website way back in 2007.  Her site was very young back then but already had some great recipes on display, this being one of them.  I was amazed how easy it was.  I was even more amazed how it tastes exactly like in the restaurants.  I always thought this was a tough dish to make every time I ordered it.  Once you get your hands on Belachan, then you are pretty much home free.

Ingredients (modified from original)
15 Fresh Lady’s Fingers/Okras (sliced diagonally)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
6 fresh red chilies, chopped finely
1 teaspoon (5 g) of Belachan (Malaysian Shrimp Paste)
1 red chili (sliced)
Cooking Oil
Salt to taste

Short ingredient list, but probably the most exotic is the dried shrimp paste.  I found it in my local Asian market under the Indonesian/Malaysia aisle.

Here is the paste unpackaged.  The block paste is usually wrapped in a damp paper wrapped in plastic, to keep it semi-moist.  Once you unwrap it, you might want step back a little because the smell can be overwhelming if you are not used to it.  Dried shrimp anything yields strong smells.

Slice the okra diagonally.  Yeah, I know, my okra wasn’t exactly fresh because I waited 5 days after I bought it to finally cook the dish.  I would recommend using the okra at most 2 days after you bought it to be at its very best.

Chop up the chiles and garlic and slice off a little of the shrimp paste.

Here is what I do a little differently than the recipe.  Because I don’t own a blender to blend the chiles as instructed, I crush the chiles, garlic, and paste in a mortar with a pestle.  I love manual labor! Haha!

Crush it until it becomes a paste.

Before you do this step, open all your windows, turn on all your fans, wear some old clothes, because when you start frying up the paste at medium high heat (7 on my stove), that smell is going to be on everything!  In this step, you fry the paste in oil until very fragrant, about 1 minute.

Fry with the okra for another 2 minutes.

It’s turning a bit dry as I stir fry, so I added just a little water to give it some moisture.  Keep frying until the okra has become tender but not soggy.

Plate it up and eat with steamed jasmine rice.

– Did I mention how strong the smell is?  I wouldn’t recommend reheating this at work.  Your boss and coworkers will complain about the smell in the break room.  Seriously.
– To lock in the smell when storing, I did some crazy wrapping with the block. I layered it 4 zip-lock bags after rewrapping it in the damp paper, and in the original plastic with the original label around it.
– Yes, my okra looked bad and is not good for presentation.  But I didn’t want to waste my okra because it is still edible.

Original recipe:

I would recommend looking over Rasa Malaysia’s recipes.  I’ve actually tried quite a few of her recipes and was very happy with the results.  She makes it so easy!  Thank you Bee 🙂

– Max


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