If you live in Southeast Asia, specifically Singapore or Malaysia, you will be familiar or you might love the Nonya Achar. Achar aka acar, is a type of preserved vegetable pickle popular in Asian cuisine. Typically considered as part of the Peranakan or Nyonya cuisine, a type of cooking from the Peranakans, descendants of early Chinese migrants who settled in Penang, Malacca, Singapore and Indonesia, inter-marrying with local Malays. The Peranakan cuisine is a fusion of Chinese, Malay, Javanese, South Indian, and other influences, and is my favourite type of cuisine with exotic flavours and typically made-from-scratch rempahs (pastes) and recipes. The Nonya achar recipe is traditionally pickled meats and vegetables such as fried fish, salted fish, cucumbers and an assortment of vegetables.
What is Achar made of?
The achar recipe usually consists of two main components: the vegetable ingredients, and the pickling rempah (the spice paste).
I usually use cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, french beans and pineapple. For tougher vegetables such as carrots, cabbage and french beans, you might want to blanch the vegetables quickly in boiling water and then quickly dip it into ice cold water to maintain the crunchiness. Some recipes will ask you to add salt to soften and squeeze the water out of the vegetables but I’ve tried it and the difference is very little. The original recipe uses peanuts but I prefer cashew nuts.
For the pickling rempah in the achar recipe, simply blend shallots, candle nuts, chillies, turmeric powder into a smooth spice paste, aka a rempah. Also extract tamarind juice from tamarind (the locals call it assam). Take care not to add too much turmeric, I added a bit too much one time and the rempah is a little bitter. Turmeric also tends to stain quite a bit, whether it’s on fabric or some kitchenware so do take note.
The whole cutting and preparation of the vegetables does take up a bit of time while the cooking is really quick.
How long can Achar be kept?
I keep my achar in the fridge at least overnight before serving it. It’s best kept in an air-tight container. If kept well, it can last up to 4 weeks in the fridge. However our achar rarely lasts more than a day in our family. Whenever I make it, our family will finish a big pot of the Nonya achar within a day. We simply just love eating it.
Which vinegar is used for Achar recipe?
Using vinegar to me is optional, I do add a bit of vinegar to enhance the taste at times. Many recipes I found suggested using distilled white vinegar, while I usually use rice vinegar as I always have a bottle of it in my kitchen.
What is Achar called in English?
Achar is called the pickle in English. It’s made in a similar way by adding pickling liquid to preserve the vegetables.
What do you eat Achar with?
The Nonya achar is full of flavours, crunchiness, freshness with a hint of hot and sour. I love it with the nasi lemak, laksa, curry or even on its own since it’s considered an appetiser and is a great starter to any meal. It’s also very healthy with it being vegetable based, and contains healthy spices such as turmeric.
Want another Asian recipe? Do check out my post on Mapo Tofu.
Nonya Achar Recipe
- 3 carrots
- 2 Japanese cucumbers
- 150 g cabbage
- 12 stalks french beans
- 1 cup pineapple chunks
- 3 big red chillies
- 2 candlenuts (buah keras)
- 5 shallots
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
Cooking & Seasoning
- 250 ml water
- 1 ping pong sized tamarind (assam)
- 4 tbsp cooking oil
- 3/4 cup ground nuts (I used cashew)
- salt add to taste
- rice vinegar add to taste
Prepare the pickling rempah
- Peel shallots.
- Cut off stem from chillies. Optional to remove seeds if you prefer less hot.
- Place shallots, chillies, candlenuts and 1 tsp turmeric powder into food processor. Blend into a smooth rempah paste.
- Mix tamarind (assam) with 250ml water. Remove seeds from the tamarind juice.
Prepare the vegetables
- Peel carrots and cut into strips (around 8cm x 0.5cm).
- Cut the ends of cucumber, remove the seeds and cut into strips (around 8cm x 0.5cm).
- Cut the ends of the french beans and cut into strips (around 8cm lengths).
- Thinly slice the cabbage.
- Cut pineapples into cubes.
- Blanch the carrots, french beans and cabbage into boiling water, then quickly dip into ice cold water.
Cook the Nonya Achar
- Heat up cooking oil over medium fire.
- Add the pickling rempah and stir fry until fragrant.
- Add tamarind juice and mix well.
- Lower fire to simmering and let it boil.
- Add salt to taste.
- Turn off fire.
- Add all the vegetables and pineapple chunks and mix well.
- Add ground nuts and mix well. Optional to add vinegar according to taste.
- Store into air-tight container.
- Chill in fridge.
- Nonya achar is best served overnight.