Friday 14 February 2014

Nyonya Acar Awak (Malaysian Spicy Vegetable Pickle)

Visually vibrant to the eye and refreshingly piquant to the taste, acar awak is a traditional cold Malaysian pickle bursting with a lip-smacking blend of sweetness, tang and spice as well as a spectrum of textures and crunch levels. A joyride for your tongue, if you will, especially when served alongside hot rice and as an accompaniment to cut through heavier curries.

Some recipes omit the pineapple; I personally find it adds a juicy, succulent sweetness that really elevates this dish. The blending of the paste takes a bit of work, so feel free to double or triple the quantities and make a large batch at one go. Be sure to top liberally with more chopped peanuts and roasted sesame seeds just before serving.

Nyonya Acar Awak (Spicy Mixed Vegetable Pickle)

Serves 12 as a small side

Chop the following into 2” sticks:
1 medium-large cucumber (about 300g), pulp removed
1 medium carrot (100g), peeled
A handful long green beans/French beans (100g)
¼ of a white cabbage (150g)

*You can also use cauliflower or other crunchy vegetables. Measurements are approximate, adjust to taste

Stir in 1 tbsp salt.

Slice 200g pineapple into small chunks.

Line a baking sheet with paper towels and spread everything except the pineapple onto it. Bake on very low heat (about 100C) for about 25 mins to dry out (or if you live in Malaysia/somewhere very hot, feel free to lay it out in the sun for a few hours!)

  • Spice paste:
Grind the following together and fry in oil over medium heat for 10 mins until fragrant:
5 shallots/1 large cooking onion
5 cloves garlic
5 dried chillies, deseeded and soaked
2 candlenuts
1 tsp turmeric powder (or 1” fresh turmeric )- if you are multiplying this recipe, do not increase turmeric quantity too much as it can taste bitter. Just add a bit more than 1 tsp.
1 stick lemongrass, white part only
1” galangal
Optional for non-vegetarians: a bit of belacan, dried shrimp

Stir in and bring to a boil:
¼ cup rice vinegar
2 tbsp sugar

Stir in and immediately turn off heat:
Prepared vegetables
2 tbsp roasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup (about 50g) roasted ground peanuts

Allow to cool completely and refrigerate in a glass jar overnight (or for up to 4 weeks) so flavours can intensify. 

Before serving, leave at room temperature for a short while (so it's not stone cold) and top with extra ground peanuts and sesame seeds. 

Devour with hot steamed rice!