Saturday 14 April 2012

You Ain't Seen Nothin' Till You Seen This Pickle - Nyonya Achar (Vegetable Pickle in a Spicy Peanut Dressing)

With my current obsession with making pickles (as seen in my last post on Korean Kimchi), this is the one that I truly felt is my duty to introduce it to all pickle lovers out there. Achar is not that common to come across outside of Southeast Asia, which is a real shame. It is brimful with aromatic fragrant from the roasted peanuts and sesame seeds which make it absolutely delicious and moreish.

Achar formed part of the two cornerstone in every Nyonya meal, the other being Sambal belachan (Spicy chilli paste). It is served as a key side dish and the Peranakan has such high regard for it that it is also given out as a cherished gifts to friends and family during festive seasons. Achar was traditionally served in brightly coloured and decorative china pot known as Kamchengs which always looked rather grand on a dining table.

Like Korean kimchi, this pickle are best left to ferment slowly at a cool temperature as this helps to develop a richer flavours and will taste much crisper. The turmeric give it a beautiful sunset glow and the chillies provide the piquant kick. By blanching all the vegetables in vinegar before mixing, it helps to take the raw edge off the vegetable and also kick-start the 'pickling' process. You don't really need to add any liquid to the pickle as they tends to release lots of moisture as they mature.

If you are a huge pickle fan and are dying to try your hand on something new and different, give this crisp, nutty and piquant recipe a go. I can assure you that you won't regret it and pretty soon you will find yourself nibbling at this constantly like I do.

Once made, this can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to a month or in the refrigerator or up to six months.

Ingredients (makes enough to fill 2 x 2L jars)

250g cauliflower, breaks into tiny florets
600g cucumber, soft centre removed and cut into 2.5cm batons
150g snake/long beans, cut into 2.5cm length (substitute with french beans if not available)
250g carrots, cut into 2.5cm batons
150g white cabbage, cut into 2.5cm strips 
4 large red chillies, cut into 2.5cm strips
4 large green chillies, cut into 2.5cm strips
200g peanuts, roasted, skinned and roughly chopped in a food processor
100g sesame seed, toasted
600ml white or rice vinegar
100g sugar
1tbsp salt or more, to taste
sunflower or vegetable oil

For the rempah/spice paste:
20 dried red chillies, soaked in warm water to soften
5 candlenuts (substitute with macademia nuts if not available)
2 stalk lemongrass, cut into fine rings
2 tsp ground turmeric
5 garlic clove, peeled
15 shallots, peeled
2cm square piece or 1 tbsp belacan (shrimp paste), toasted on a dry pan or in a hot oven


The day before you are making the achar, prepare all the vegetables. Spread them out in a large tray and leave in a warm room or alternatively, in the sun, for a day until they are dry to touch and slightly shrivelled. 

Bring the vinegar to a boil in a deep pan or wok, blanch all the vegetables, a small batch at time, for a few seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain and transfer onto a large tray to cool. Make sure to bring the vinegar back to the boil each time before the next batch is added in. 

Leave the vegetable to dry for 2-3 hours.

Pound all the ingredients for the spice paste into a smooth paste with a mortar and pestle. Alternatively, blitz in  a food processor. 

Heat up some 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. Transfer to a large glass/ceramic mixing bowl and leave to cool completely.

When the spice paste is cooled. Add all the vegetables, chopped peanuts, toasted sesame seeds, sugar and salt and stir to mix thoroughly. Taste and adjust the seasoning to taste, you may wish to add more sugar or salt.
Pack tightly in a clean and sterile jar and store in a cool dark place for at least 2-3 days before serving. 

This will keep the the fridge for weeks.


  1. ACHARRRRRR. just got my aunt's famous achar recipe, handwritten scan haha, but been abit lazy to get going on it.

  2. You should do it, it's so useful for when you are peckish. I have been literally munching my way through it non-stop ;)



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