KitchenTigress: January 2011

Nyonya Achar

I had a part-time maid years ago. One day, she gave me some achar she'd made. I liked the achar very much, so I asked her for the recipe. The following week, she turned up with a written recipe, plus ingredients to show me how to make achar!

Years later, I realized the written recipe the maid had given me was from "The Best of Singapore Cooking". What she actually made, however, was quite different from what was in the cookbook. Her version had less oil and more sugar.
I guess it's important to "season to taste". That was what I did yesterday when I recreated the achar recipe I'd forgotten because I hadn't written it down. This time, I've recorded it for eternity, on this blog right here.

(Recipe for 24 portions)

180 g shallots (18 pieces), peeled and washed
1 piece turmeric, small thumb size, peeled and washed
1 piece ginger, thumb size, peeled and washed
3 red chillies, trimmed and washed
4 tbsp chilli powder, mix with 2 tbsp water to form chilli paste
½ cup unsaturated vegetable oil
1 cup white rice vinegar
1½ cups water
2 cups sugar (400 g)

For blanching
2 cups white rice vinegar
2 cups water
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt

1 kg cauliflower, cut into florets
150 g carrots, peeled, trimmed, and cut into thin batons
300 g cabbage, cut into large bite size pieces

1 kg cucumber, trimmed and cut into batons
3 tbsp salt

300 g peanuts, roasted, skin removed and coarsely chopped
3 tbsp white sesame seeds, toasted

🌹 (1) Use unsaturated oil, such as corn oil, that doesn't solidify when it's cold. (2) You'd need a non-reactive bowl or pot that can hold at least 3 litres for storing the pickle. (3) Don't let the turmeric or chilli stain your clothes!

1. Grind or pound shallots, turmeric, ginger and chillies till fine. Mix thoroughly with chilli paste. In a non-reactive pan/wok, stir-fry spices in hot oil over medium heat till fragrant and colour darkens, about 10 minutes. Add vinegar, water, sugar and salt. Bring to a gentle boil. Simmer gently for 1 minute, covered. Turn off heat. Uncover and leave till cool.

2. Bring ingredients for blanching to a rapid boil. Briefly blanch cauliflower, carrots and cabbage in batches. After blanching each batch, liquid should come back to a boil. Spread out vegetables to cool on large trays.

3. Sprinkle cucumber with salt. Mix well. Leave to sweat for 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry with kitchen towels.

4. In a non-reactive bowl, mix everything except one third of peanuts and sesame seeds. Marinade should cover maybe 70% of vegetables at this stage. As liquid is released from the veggies, the water level will rise.

5. Place achar in the fridge, covered. Stir now and then to mix everything thoroughly during the first 12 hours.

6. After 12 hours, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. It should taste a bit spicier and sourer than how you'd like it. Flavours will be rounder and less sharp in another 24 hours.

7. Pickle may be served after marinating for 24 hours, though 36 hours would be better. It's best in the first few days, but may be stored in the fridge for up to 1 month.

8. To serve, transfer pickle with a slotted spoon to a serving plate, draining most of the marinade. Top with more peanuts and sesame seeds.