The Secret To Chef Malcolm Lee’s Famous Achar

The chef-owner of the world’s first Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant, Candlenut, reveals the secrets of his delicious Southeast Asian pickle

Image courtesy of Candlenut

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 rempahLee’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.

Image courtesy of Candlenut

By chef Malcolm Lee

Ingredients for the rempah (100g)
5g Galangal
12g Turmeric
12g Candlenut
60g Shallot
21g Garlic
7g Belachan
9g Lemongrass
4g Dry chilli paste
50ml Oil

Ingredients for achar
225g Japanese cucumber, deseeded and brunoised
225g Honey pineapple, peeled and brunoised
125g Carrot, peeled and brunoised
80g rempah 
50g White vinegar
30g Sugar
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.

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Heidi Chan

Editorial Intern

Optimistic and jolly, she declares the kitchen her happy place—a space of inspiration, comfort and achievement. Her favourite pastime: feasting on food videos with a bag of Cheetos in hand.

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