Achar (or acar) is a type of pickle popular in Asian cuisine, generally made with vegetables. Different types of vegetables, usually cucumber, carrots and cabbage, are pickled in a vinegar concoction. This sourish pickle is an excellent side dish – it helps to “open up” the appetite (in Chinese we call it 开胃 kai wei) and cuts down the greasy feel of other dishes.
The achar recipe that I’m sharing today is Peranakan-style (aka Nonya-style), which may be similar to many other styles of achar out there. I’ve adapted and simplified the recipe so that it’s easier to make the Nonya achar – perfect for those who are living overseas like me. 😉 There are simply 2 parts to the achar – the veggie base and the pickling liquid.
The Veggie Base
I kept the veggie base simple by using cucumbers and carrots only. If desired, cabbage and long beans can also be added to the mix, but it’s best to keep a high proportion of cucumbers for crunchiness. The vegetables are simply sliced, rinsed, drained and then salted, which helps to soften the vegetables and draw out liquids. After about 30 minutes of resting, the vegetables are squeezed to get rid of excess liquids and tossed into a mixing bowl with the pickling liquid. Canned pineapple cubes are also added (it’s too expensive to get fresh pineapples here) as we love the bite of sweetness with every sour and spicy bite.
The Pickling Liquid
To make the pickling liquid for Nonya achar, a rempah must be made first. Rempah is a spice paste that packs a punch of flavours, and the core ingredients are usually chilies, shallots, garlic and candlenuts. I swapped chilies with chili powder, shallots with a large red onion, and candlenuts with macadamia nuts. The rempah is stir-fried in a bit of oil with other ingredients like ginger and ground turmeric before sugar and rice vinegar is added. The liquid is then cooled down completely before mixed into the veggie base.
This sour and spicy Nonya achar with a hint of sweetness is the perfect dish to go with rice. I made a huge jar which I estimate can serve about 8 to 10, so you can scale down the recipe by half if you want but I don’t think you should – because they will all be gone too soon!
Simplified Nonya Achar
Salt the Vegetables
- Cut the ends of the cucumbers off. Peel the carrot.
- Cut cucumbers and carrots into strips measuring about 2-inch long and about 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick. Note that the vegetables won’t shrink much after salting. Place the strips into a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Toss well with the salt and set aside for 30 minutes.
Make the Rempah
- While the vegetables are salting, combine onion, garlic, ginger and macadamia nuts in a food processor and process away until a fine paste is formed. If you don’t have a food processor, use a pestle and mortar to pound the ingredients into a paste.
- Heat oil in a small pot over medium heat. Add in the onion-garlic paste, chili powder and turmeric powder and stir-fry for 10 to 15 minutes until fragrant, stirring constantly so that the rempah does not burn.
- Add in sugar and rice vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil then remove from heat. Set aside and let cool completely before using.
Finish the Achar
- With the help of a cheesecloth or just your hands, squeeze out any excess liquid from the cucumbers and carrots and place them into a clean, dry bowl. Stir in pineapple dices and sesame seeds.
- Pour in the Rempah and mix well. Transfer to a clean container, cover and set aside overnight to ferment before sticking it into the refrigerator.
- The achar can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
- You can also add cabbage or even long beans into the achar, as long as the total weight of vegetables used is about 700 grams.
- To toast the sesame seeds, spread the sesame seeds on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 175C / 350F until golden-brown. Alternatively, dry-toast the sesame seeds on a non-stick frying pan, tossing frequently until golden-brown. Let cool before using.
- Recipe adapted from Mummy I Can Cook