Achara, acharra or atsara…whatever the spelling, I love it. Pickled green papaya is a one of my all-time personal favorites. As a kid, I was told that when visiting other people’s homes I just had to eat whatever was put in front of me without making a fuss. This was a tough rule considering the only vegetable I consumed before ten years of age was sliced cucumber with a vinegar and sugar dressing! At any rate, on provincial sorties with my parents, I learned to be polite and place rice on my dish, a little of the viand (even if it was bat adobo!) and lots of achara if it was on offer. Then I would slowly move food around, eat all of the rice and all of the achara and wait for dessert. I did many a meal this way and look back fondly at the stuff that saved my rear end — those pickled papayas. For someone who absolutely adores the taste of achara, I am amazed to say that I have never made it from scratch…
Turns out achara is incredibly simple to do. Take some unripe papayas and peel and de-seed. I grated the papayas on my trusty mandoline which resulted in absolutely perfect strips that were consistently thin and relatively long. I understand a grater will do just fine but the strips will be less consistent. Slicing a thin julienne would take you the better part of the afternoon unless you are a CIA graduate (Culinary Institute of America, not Central Intelligence Agency, silly). I then sprinkled the papaya with salt and let it stand for 2-3 hours and squeezed the liquid out of it. Next, grate some carrot; I used perhaps ten times the amount of papaya compared to the carrot. I julienned some young ginger and sliced some (don’t overdo it) garlic as well. Add some thinly sliced red bell pepper for color. I put all of these ingredients in clean (boiled) jam jars and filled them almost to the top. Meanwhile in a pan, heat up 2 cups of apple cider vinegar, ¾ cup sugar (more if you like it sweeter than tart), about 1/4 cup (or less) rock salt and heat this up until sugar and salt are dissolved. Pour this over the shredded veggies in the jar. Make more of the vinegar marinade if necessary, using the same proportions. Allow to cool, cover, let it marinate in the refrigerator for 4-5 days before eating.
The resulting achara was superb. Slightly crunchy and nicely tart. Excellent with fried food such as fish or barbecued pork. I was really amazed how easy that was and incredibly economical. I do not particularly like the achara that is made by boiling the green papaya as it results in incredibly limp pickles. By the way, have any thoughts where the name is from??? It’s the Marketman quiz of the week. Here is the answer — I spent over 5 years in Indonesia and Singapore eating great food (when not toiling in the coal mines) and always present on the table were chilli and pickles, the latter also known as acar (pronounced ACHAR) in Malay or Indonesian so achara is probably a derivation of this Malayan root word. Pretty neat, huh? And Marketmanâ€™s final homage to achara? I served it in a little Baccarat crystal jam dish in the first photo above that’s why it looks so high brow…heeheehee.