The chef-owner of the world’s first Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant, Candlenut, reveals the secrets of his delicious Southeast Asian pickle
Typically a treasured side of many dishes in Southeast Asia. Achar is made of pickled vegetables marinated in an aromatic rempah (ground spice base). There are no limits to the different combinations of vegetables and spices, resulting in a myriad of variations—each a cultural representation of the region we are so familiar with.
The Nyonya achar is the version most of us are used to seeing. While each Peranakan household has its unique way of preparing it, chef Malcolm Lee, chef-owner of Candlenut, grew up eating the one made from scratch by his mother. This humble appetiser, as Lee calls it, is a perfect balance of sweetness, acidity and spice.
From cutting the vegetables to equal sizes and air drying them under the heat of the sun; to pounding and frying the rempah, Lee’s mother puts time and painstaking effort into each step. Her rendition of this pickled condiment is packed with a variety of vegetables like garlic, shallots, green chilli and even, wait for it, broccoli.
Filled with fond memories of his upbringing and family, here is Lee’s take on the dish.
By chef Malcolm Lee
Ingredients for the rempah (100g)
4g Dry chilli paste
Ingredients for achar
225g Japanese cucumber, deseeded and brunoised
225g Honey pineapple, peeled and brunoised
125g Carrot, peeled and brunoised
50g White vinegar
30g Ground peanut
30g Toasted sesame seed
Preparation of the rempah
1) Blend all rempah ingredients (except dry chilli paste) in the blender with a little oil.
2) Transfer ingredients into a large pot and fry till the oil dries out.
3) Add oil, and continue frying until the mixture starts to split.
4) Add in dry chilli paste, then fry mixture until the mixture is dried and split, takes about 30 minutes.
5) Cool down.
Making of Achar
1) Lightly salt the vegetables and let it sit for 30 minutes.
2) Rinse away the salt after and pat dry.
3) Place evenly on a tray in the oven at low heat (approximately 60°C) for 45 minutes.
4) Once cooled down, mix the vegetables with rempah, white vinegar, sesame seed, ground peanut and sugar.
5) Pack into a container and reserve for future use.