Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Acar / Achar - Sweet, Sour and Spicy Pickled Vegetables

Acar is quite a well-known condiment/appetizer with malay origins commonly found in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. When I was still living in Singapore, acar was one of my favourite malay dishes. I remembered my mum buying acar from a malay stall in the pasat or wet market, and it would never last long in the fridge cos it would be gobbled up in no time by all the kids. We would eat it with white rice or porridge and nothing else. Very economical or rather frugal, I would say. But those were the days when we were still living in a kampung (Yes, I lived in a zinc-roof house in a kampung until the year 1989 when we had to move to a HDB flat). After I grew up, whenever I had a craving for malay food, I would always order nasi with beef rendang or curry chicken together with acar from a malay rice stall. Singapore is so hot and humid that if you have to sit in a hawker centre eating malay rice with acar, you will start sweating profusely and literally spewing fire like a a dragon in no time. That was what I always did, sweating and spewing fire after every malay lunch. But it was worth it, cos acar never failed to spice up my appetite and the rest of my day. 

I love the sweet, sour and spiciness of acar, it is very kai wei (开味), it not tickles your appetite, but also makes you wanna eat more especially when you are not feeling well. There are different variations of acar, there is malay acar, peranakan/nonya acar, Singaporean acar as well as Malaysian acar. One thing is certain, I have never tasted acar with long beans or cauliflower, that apparently is the way they make nonya acar. I prefer my acar to be plain and simple, just carrot, cucumber, cabbage and pineapple. I forgot to add pineapples this time round but I think I would definitely add them the next time.

One word of caution when you are frying acar paste ingredients, the smell of belacan can be quite overpowering. If you live in an appartment, make sure your kitchen range hood is at full blast, the kitchen windows are wide open and there are no freshly washed clothes hanging dry in the vicinity of the kitchen. :)

Recipe adapted from Kuali

Vegetables to be pickled:
1 cucumber, soft centre removed, cut into 3cm strips
150g cabbage, preferably chinese cabbage, cut into 3cm strips
3 carrots, cut into 3cm strips
1 can of pineapples

To grind into paste :
2 fresh chillies, deseeded
5 dried chillies, deseeded
5 shallots
3 cloves garlic
2 cm tumeric root or 1 tsp tumeric powder
2 cm of belacan or 1 tsp belacan powder
3 candlenuts 
1 tbsp sliced galangal (I left this out)
1 stalk sliced lemon grass (I left this out)

For blanching/scaling the vegetables :
600 ml water
400 ml vinegar, preferably chinese rice vinegar
2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp water

Vinegar Mixture 
1 cup vinegar, preferably chinese rice vinegar
2 cups water
1 tsp salt
5 - 6 tbsp brown sugar or gula melaka
5 tsp roasted sesame seeds
100g roasted peanuts, skinned and pounded (optional)

1. Rub cucumber slices with 1 tbsp salt and set aside for one hour. Wrap in clean towel and squeeze out excess liquid.

2. Bring water, vinegar, salt and sugar for scalding vegetables to a rapid boil. Blanch the vegetables, except for cucumbers, one type at a time : dip cabbage in boiling mixture for max 5 seconds; scald the rest of the vegetables (carrots) for max 10 seconds. Drain vegetables at once in a colander.

3. Grind the acar paste ingredients (chillies and spices) using a food processor. For those who dont want it to be too spicy, go easy on the amount of fresh and dried chillies and reduce the amount if necessary.

4. Heat up 2-3 tbsp oil in wok and fry the acar paste until fragrant and the oil begins to separate. Stir in vinegar and water. Add sugar and salt and bring to a boil, then leave to cool completely.

5. Stir in all the prepared vegetables and roasted sesame seeds in the cooled mixture in step 4. Remove and store in sterilized glass jars in a fridge.

I made quite a big pot today, after putting aside a big bowl for tomorrow, I stored the rest in 3 sterilized glass jars. This is the first time that I am making acar and storing them. I reckon they can keep well for at least 2 weeks in the fridge. With that much of vinegar, sugar and spices, I am sure they wont turn bad so quickly. To prepare a sterilized glass jar, just wash it with warm soapy water, drain off the water and pop it in a microwave oven, and let it heat for just 1 minute under the highest heat. Don't heat too long else the glass will break! Allow the sterilized jar to cool down before storing anything with it. Never store anything warm in a cooled sterilized glass jar or anything cold in a warm sterilized glass jar, you will be inviting bacteria to the acar party if you do so. :)


  1. I love this acar as well. It is very easy to get from Malaysia, that's why I always do not make my own. I shall your great recipe one day!. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi thanks for stopping by my blog and your kind comment. I like to make a big batch of acar to give it away to friends and also keep some in the fridge so that I can have it anytime when craving strike :)

  3. Thanks for this recipe. I think I must have eaten acar before but not knowing what it was specifically. Looks good!

  4. We lived in Singapore for two years and I'm back here for work. I love this stuff and finally figured out what it was called. All the local outdoor eateries we love serve this when you sit down to order. I'm gonna email this to my hubby so he can get it perfected by the time I get back home. Hope we can find all the ingredients. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Hi, sorry to trouble you on this, but I hope u can help me. My family sent me shop bought achar and it is way too spicy for me - is there anyway to 'recook' it and tone down the spiciness?! many thanks in advance for your kind reply n help!


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