Sambal petai with prawns

Sambal petai with prawns

Parkia speciosa or more commonly known to Malaysians as petai is perhaps the queen beside the king of fruits. These green seeds, also called stink beans, can be found in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and other parts of South East Asia as well as northeastern India.

Back at home, one of the few ways people get them is to buy them off Orang Asli who go foraging in the jungles for long, nearly translucent pods which contain petai beans. Other easier alternatives include a trip to the evening/morning markets, but that isn’t always successful.

Still, the humble petai bean, which is known to be an excellent detox for the urinary system, is an acquired taste. Much like garlic, the scent lingers in the mouth and body; and much like onions, it causes strong smelling flatulence. So really, it’s not something that one ought to eat on a daily basis.

To be honest, I am not a big fan of petai. One or two beans is fine but I don’t go all out in search of it. Nil does. In fact, it was one of the first things he noticed at the Asian store when we first checked it out. Since then, every time we go there, he keeps eyeing these babies…sometimes I think he drools at the sight of them.

I had been holding back on making this for several reasons – no mortar and pestle was one, not to mention chilli and all. But since we were in the mood for indulging some good old-fashioned cravings (you’ll see over the next few days), I thought to just go ahead and satisfy those cravings.

There were some changes to the recipe, namely concerning the spice paste – sambal belachan was used instead. I basically blitzed red chillies (large and bird’s eye – cili padi)and some powdered belachan – fermented ground shrimp. I know some people add lime and shallots but that’s not how Penang Nyonyas, like my grandma, make sambal. And like her, we don’t use measuring tools either…just our tastebuds. 🙂

Sambal petai with prawns


100 gms petai
400 gms prawns (with or without shells)
50 gms tamarind pulp (asam jawa)
100 ml water
2 tbsp sambal belachan (see below)
2 cloves garlic
A handful of fried shallots
Cornflour & water


  1. In a bowl, mix the tamarind pulp with water by squeezing and mashing the pulp & seed pods. Strain and place aside.
  2. Heat some oil and fry the garlic, shallots and sambal paste until fragrant.
  3. Add in the prawns and tamarind pulp water before bringing the mix to a quick boil.
  4. Toss in the petai beans and add some sugar to taste.
  5. Cook until the prawns are pink (fully cooked) and the gravy is of the right consistency. If it’s too watery, add a teaspoon of cornflour mixed with two tablespoons of water.
  6. Serve hot and with rice.

Sambal belachan


100 gms red chilli (large or bird’s eye or mixed)
Approx 50 gms belachan*


  1. Wash, deseed and cut up the chillies before placing them in a mortar & pestle OR a food processor.
  2. Add some belachan and blitz until the mixture becomes a paste.
  3. Taste – if there is little belachan taste, add more; if it is too salty, add a tiny bit of sugar. Blitz again to mix well.
  4. Pour into an airtight container or tupperware and store in the refridgerator.

* Powdered belachan can be used; if blocks are being used, toast these blocks on a hot pan prior to adding it with the chillies.

NOTE: When serving sambal belachan, scoop with a clean and dry spoon to avoid any cross-contamination. If the sambal is not consumed within two weeks or more, place in the freezer to keep. In the case of using frozen sambal belachan, remove from the freezer and place in the refrigerator to thaw overnight.

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