How to Make Authentic Cucumber and Cauliflower Acar
Cucumber and Cauliflower Acar
Acar is pickled vegetables in a spicy flavorful assortment of spices and herbs that is capable of launching a thousand taste buds. It will awaken the taste buds to heighten the taste of other foods at hand, so the food tastes exponentially better. Acar is popular in parts of Asia, usually as a condiment or side-dish and a meal is made more enjoyable with a dollop of it. The word “acar” has its roots in Hindi, Urdu, Assamese and Bengalese culture and it simply means “pickle.” One has to surmise that acar has Indian roots although most parts of Asia have put their own regional influence on it. Even the British, with its colonial connection to India has its own version, British Piccalilli—relish of chopped vegetables in a mustard or spicy brine.
Every once in a while, I get an acar attack—a bout of homesickness for authentic food that is hard to find in America. And because it’s so specific and regional—I grew up on the Nonya (Malay and Chinese fusion) version in Singapore, it’s hard to find them even in authentic Asian markets. Living 12,000 miles away from home doesn’t make it easier either—a plane ride away is no way to get your hands (no matter how desperate) on some acar, just to satisfy this massive foodsickness. So, what do I do? I make my own and because Acar keeps well, I can make a lot and keep some for later when I have another Acar attack.
I make mine depending on what spices I can find and I also make it in such a way that reflect my personal preference, without sacrificing the unique flavor that is characteristic of Acar. You’ll discover that the spices I use are common spices used in Singapore, Malaysia , Thailand and Indonesia.
- 4 to 5 cucumber, seeded and cut into strips
- 1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
- A sprinkling of kosher salt
Put cucumber strips and cauliflower florets in a large coriander, sprinkle some kosher salt, mix well and let it sit for a couple of hours or more. This will effectively draw the moisture out of the vegetables to produce crunchier vegetables. Also, extracting moisture from the veggies will ensure longer shelf life. I also find that if you squeeze out excess moisture with your hands after the sitting out process, it can add even more crunch value.
- 1 stalk of lemon grass, use the first 2 inches just above the root (the rest can be discarded as the flavor is all in the root region)
- 4 to 5 red chillies
- 1 thumb of yellow ginger aka Turmeric (gives it the characteristic yellow tinge that is so beautiful and appetite inducing)
- 5 to 7 shallots
- 3 to 5 garlic
- ¼ cup of white vinegar (or more if you prefer it more vinegary)
- ¼ cup of sugar
- Salt to taste
- Blend first 5 ingredients (lemon grass, chillies, yellow ginger, shallots and garlic) until fine.
- Sautee blended ingredients in canola oil or grapeseed oil until oil separates from the mixture.
- Lower flame and add vinegar, sugar and salt.
- Mix well and allow to cool.
- Put cucumber and cauliflower in a large glass bowl after extracting moisture. Add cooled spice paste and mix well. Feel free to add roasted sesame seeds/peanuts/cashews if so desired. Allow to sit for 2 to 3 hours. Acar is ready to take on any entrée or rice dishes.
Acar is very versatile and is open to experimentation. In fact, many different types of vegetables and spices have been used, depending on regional spices and preferences.
Note: if you can't find fresh turmeric, chillies or lemon grass, substitute them for the powdered form--use about 1/2 tsp of dried seasoning for the above recipe.
Commonly Used Vegetables, Fruits and Spices
Once the Acar is made, you can enjoy it in a variety of ways. You can serve it as a side-dish or use it to cook other dishes...like adding it to fish stew or using it in wraps or in sandwiches.