When a colourful plate of crunchy pickled vegetables hit the plastic tablecloth in a no frills – but full of thrills – Nonya restaurant in Singapore a few months ago, I had a feeling a love affair with this Malay-Chinese cuisine (often known as Peranakan) was due its moment. What followed was a flurry of new-to-me dishes; fish head curry, a fragrant brothy prawn number, dollops of fiery sambal to accompany them all, but the most memorable of the lot was this colourful condiment that kick started the taste buds into submission.
I made a mental note to have a homemade stock of it in the fridge forever more. Like any self-respecting pickle, it livens up even the most dismal leftovers or just simple steamed rice making it an essential ingredient in the fridge if you, like me, a worrying quantity of your meals are essentially built on leftovers. You could just fish them out of the jar with a pair of chopsticks fridge-side. Not that I do that, ever.
I can’t claim this is authentic, I can’t even work out if it has an ‘h’ in it or not, but pickle fanatics will love it.
For the acar:
200 g carrots, peeled
2 tbsp salt
200g romanesco, cut into bite sized florets
100g green beans, trimmed
1/4 head savoy cabbage, shredded
For blanching the veg:
200 ml rice vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
For the marinade:
100g shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
40g turmeric, peeled and roughly chopped (or 1 tsp ground)
2 cm ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
3 chilis, top removed (I left the seeds in)
3 tbsp groundnut oil
20g tamarind pulp soaked in 75ml boiling water for 10 minutes
200ml white rice vinegar
120g caster sugar
50g sesame seeds, toasted
100g peanuts, toasted
Preheat your oven to 90c. Start by prepping your veg. I used Lebanese cucumbers, sliced lengthways, seeds scooped out with a spoon and discarded. I then sliced them into 5 cm batons about ½ thick. Place them in a colander sprinkle with salt and toss to coat. Prep the carrots into similar sized batons.
Place the water and rice vinegar in a medium saucepan with the sugar and salt and bring to the boil. Once the sugar and salt have dissolved, blanch the beans and cauliflower in the water for about 45 seconds. Drain thoroughly, pat dry and spread them out on a rack in the oven along with the carrots. Leave to dry out fully in the low oven while you are making the paste.
Bung the shallots, turmeric, galangal, chilis and peanuts in a food processor and grind down to a paste. Heat the groundnut oil in a large frying pan on a medium heat and once hot, add the paste. Cook it for about 5 minutes over a medium heat, releasing all the aromas.
At this point, you can rinse your cucumber and place on a clean tea towel. Pat dry and leave to dry out fully laid out on the tea towel.
Add the rice vinegar, sugar and sesame seeds to the pan with the paste, follow with the tamarind, which you will strain through a sieve directly into the pan. Press the remaining pulp through leaving behind any seeds. Cook for 2 minutes over a medium heat. Add the peanuts and leave to cool down fully.
Once cool, transfer to a massive bowl and toss all the vegetables (adding the cabbage raw at this point) in the paste. Make sure they are all fully coated and transfer to a jars. I filled 2-3 medium ones with this quantity. Let it sit for a day before munching.
A simple serving suggestion: Oat-crusted whiting with cauliflower rice and acar (coming soon, pictured below).