Nyonya Achar

Sunday, 9 January 2011

I learnt how to make achar from my landlady's maid who, when she came and cleaned my place every week, occasionally left me little gifts in the fridge.

I'm usually too shy (yes, really!) to ask anyone for recipes but I liked her achar so much that I did. She not only wrote it down for me but also – bless her! – brought all the ingredients to my place and showed me how.

Years later, after I bought The Best of Singapore Cooking, I realized that the written recipe the maid had given me was from Mrs Leong Yee Soo's cookbook. What she actually made, however, was quite different – and better – than Bibik Leong's, with less oil and more sugar. I guess it's important to "season to taste", which was what I did when I recreated the achar recipe I'd forgotten because it wasn't written down. That's why I'm writing it down now!

(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 or rice bran 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!

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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


Blur Ting said...

Thanks for the recipe. I'm going to make this for CNY!

KT said...

Pineapple in Achar is really nice too. Let bite size pieces (not too ripe) dry out for a few hours to get rid of excess moisture. Then, add them to the marinade. No blanching needed. Use less of other veggies if adding pineapple. Total weight of all veggies plus pineapple should be 2.4 kg for the amount of marinade in the recipe. Can be scaled up or down as you like.

If you can be bothered, chop peanuts by hand. A machine's faster but I find that it chops some of the nuts too finely.

Good luck, BT.

Shu Han said...

i'm going to try this but minus cauliflower and cabbage because i don't have them, and using french beans instead! are the cauliflower and cabbage a must?? and do you think dried chilli would work instead of fresh chilli? >< also, is achar nonya or malays?i always thought it was malay!! haha, anyway great recipe as always and thanks for sharing! (:

KT said...

Hi Shu Han

The red chillies are just for colour. If you don't have any, use a bit more chilli powder. It's closer in taste and colour to fresh chillies, compared to dried chillies.

According to the cookbook for the recipe, this style of achar is Penang nyonya.

I've never tried French beans in achar. Let me know if it's good!

Shu Han said...

thanks for all your help! I made achar with success! not as good as it can be obviously with all my shortcut substitutes but i thought they tasted pretty good!


KT said...

Hi Shu Han

Your achar looks good!

Li Ping said...

Tried this recipe yesterday. Delighted with the results. My husband thought it was good, too. This is achar as I like it. What's more, I appreciate that belachan, galangal, and candlenuts (stuff I can't get in my neck of the woods) are NOT needed for this recipe. This is the second recipe I've tried on your blog and both have been successful. Can't wait to try another one.
Li Ping

KT said...

Hi Li Ping

I love this achar recipe, too. Have made it many times.

Jenny said...

I tried making this Nonya achar and love it! It tastes exactly like the one in Singapore ! Thank you for sharing this recipe.

Jackie said...

I love your recipes! I am a big fan.

TCF said...

Hi KT,

Could you clarify please whether it should be 4tbsp of chilli powder or chilli paste? Thanks!

kt said...

It's 4 tbsp chilli powder, which is mixed with 2 tbsp water to form a chilli paste. Instructions have been amended. Sorry about that, TCF.

chefnotbychoice said...

This recipe turns out great even for a novice like me and even with some hiccups along the way. Thanks for sharing a great recipe that works!

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