Wednesday 4 September 2013

Sambal Kacang Botol (Winged Beans) With Prawns

You may not have come across this strange looking ingredient. Kacang botol is a more familiar sight back in Southeast Asia than it is in the Western world. They are more commonly known as winged beans due to their unusual ruffled leaves that surround them. When cut into them, these delicate 'wings' forms a four-sided cross sections hence, they are also sometimes nicknamed four corner beans. 

They have a wonderful refreshing crunch when raw. Thinly sliced and they are perfect for making a crisp salad. They can be also used in various stir fried dishes but the most popular way is to cooked them in a spicy sambal (or sauce).

Sambal Kacang botol is not a dish for the faint hearted. But then again, a faint hearted soul can easily deseed the chillies or reduce the amount to cut down on the heat factor. I would, of course, not recommend it. As the heat in the sambal is what give this dish that wonderfully addictive kick that like a tempest temptress, lure you into having more and more. They also coat the dish with the most luscious crimson colour. A beautiful looking dish that packed a fearless punch.

Hot as it may be, the sambal also has a soothing sweetness side to it, achieved by slow cooking the sambal before stir frying. This process is crucial as only by cooking the raw spice paste (rempah) in a low heat gradually, will the shallots loses its moisture and slowly caramelised. This intensified its sweetness and also allows all the wonderful flavours to mingles, yielding a glossy, thick rich paste that forms the cornerstone of this dish.

The winged beans are available in most Asian supermarket but don't worry if you can't get hold of them as you can easily substitute them with okra (ladies fingers) or even green beans.

This is such an easy recipe and a simple way to recreate the distinctive flavours of typical Nyonya cooking.  

Ingredients (Serves 2 - 4)

8 raw prawns, shelled and deveined
about 20 kacang botol/winged beans (or substitute with okra or green beans)
3 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp tamarind puree (you can get this readily available in a jar)
2 tsp sugar
pinch of sea salt, to taste

For the rempah/spice paste:
1 tbsp belacan/shrimp paste, lightly toasted in a dry pan or in a hot oven
10 large dried chillies, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes to soften, squeeze dry and cut into small pieces
2  large red chillies, cut into pieces 
10 shallots or 2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
5 candlenuts (substitute with macadamia nuts if not available)


Trim the tips of the beans and cut into bite size lengths. I normally like to cut them at an angle so they look more attractive. 

Pound the ingredients for the spice paste in a mortar and pestle into a fine paste. Alternatively, blitz them in a food processor.

Heat the oil in a wok over low heat and cooked the spice paste until fragrant, about 15-20 minutes, stirring constantly to stop them from burning. You will need to be patient for this, the spice paste will gradually turn from a pale red to a deep, rich maroon and the oil would have separated from the paste. What you are left with is a thick, shiny Sambal paste ready to transform the most humble ingredients into something spectacular.

Once this is achieved, turn up the heat to medium and add the prawns and the water. Cooked for 1 minutes before adding the winged beans and give it a good stir to mix. Continue to cook for another 3-4 minutes until the prawns have turn pink and cooked through. Add the tamarind puree, sugar and season with salt to taste.

Transfer onto a serving dish and serves with some hot, steaming rice.


  1. Winged beans! I first tried this in Thailand this summer, but I've yet to cook with them... if I can track some down in Chinatown, I'll definitely give this recipe a go :)

  2. You can also make this with green beans if you can't get hold of them but I do love the texture and the look of the wing beans.

  3. This is my first introduction to winged beans - so thank you! And the sambal you describe is right up my alley. I can handle that heat - more than handle it! :) Do you think I could replace the shrimp with something else - I'm vegetarian.

  4. Of course! You can simply omit the prawns or perhaps substitute with some tofu, cubed and fried before adding at the last minute to give a nice, contrasting texture.

  5. my steam rice is ready... i am ready

  6. Haha! This will be great with your steam rice ;-)



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