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Acar Nyonya

I have been neglecting the blog for a while. My excuse? I was recovering from a break-up. It had been almost five years. But some relationships are clearly not made to last. It had been acting erratic and I had my suspicions it was about to leave me. It was difficult to accept that I had a jar of fermented beans in my fridge that’s lasted longer than my laptop computer.

Anyway, Christmas came early for me as the husband ordered me a new notebook and the brilliant guy that he is, spent a Sunday morning transferring all my files from my ex to my current. I quickly got thrown into the busy months of November and December, baking Christmas cakes and building houses of the edible kind for my daughter's favourite yearly decorating project.

We didn't want 2021 to be a complete non-event and so wound the year up with a road trip in Andalucia, a most enchanting region of Spain, with its stunning architecture and landscape, not to mention the tapas and flamencos and the lingering luscious scent of mandarin oranges everywhere.

The churros with hot chocolate for breakfast in Andalucia seem to be a favourite with locals. They reminded me a lot of yu char kueh (also known as yutiao) in Malaysia!

As we welcomed in the new year, making resolutions took a backseat as the entire family tested positive for Covid. Conveniently we were all sick at more or less the same time and the recovery was rather quick and uncomplicated. Then Malaysia announced that post-Covid infected travellers (within a 11 to 60 day period) could enter the country and not have to quarantine. The brilliant guy aka my husband quickly booked me a flight so that I could get back and spend the lunar new year with family and friends (perhaps the 7-day Covid isolation together had to do with his quick action?).

From the moment I landed, I was welcomed with generosity, with a warmth and hospitality that is characteristically Malaysian. I spent precious moments with family and friends who of course always wanted to feed me. I ate something different everyday of the three weeks I was in Malaysia and my suitcase on the return trip was a little grocery store on its own.

Upon my return, I had a week (I needed a whole week, and a bit) to get over the jet lag before zipping off to the French Alps for a week of skiing. I’d like to say that I ski, but um no, not really. I’ve taken lessons (not sure if the adage of "its never too late to start" applies to skiing) and meant to do one again this year but managed to get out of it for a very credible reason. My friend Fabienne who I was meant to be having classes with had knee pains. So skiing was replaced with snow shoe hikes. A week of fabulous weather, cheese fondue, being outdoors, gorgeous landscapes did us all a whole lot of good.

PS. I managed to sneak in a bak kut teh (recipe coming soon).

Now back in Paris spring is starting to beckon but Malaysia seems so far away again. I need a taste of the tropics to get me through this last lap of winter. We were on a bit of a vegetarian streak so I decided to make my mum’s Acar. Truth be told, she only made this for Chinese new year, and in enormous quantities. It keeps well in the fridge, like pickles (and doesn’t need reheating) and also makes nice giveaways bottled in jars.

It is a bit of work, cutting and blanching each vegetable (recruit some kitchen hands!), but its so worth it. I first cut them in what I thought were rather elegant batons. Then I remembered why my mum used to cut them in short lengths (about 3 cm). An Asian table does not generally include a dinner knife so food is cut to bite sizes, easily picked up and eaten with chopsticks, fork or fingers.

The eve before the eve of Chinese New Year, my mum would start to make her Acar. Once cooked and cooled down, it would be kept in the fridge and a portion taken out a few minutes before serving. Slightly vinegary, salty, sweet and spicy, the secret to this deliciously crunchy pickle is in the balance of the flavours. Some traditional recipes may tell you to dry the vegetables in the sun (I would have a problem doing that here in Paris) or soak them in vinegar or salted water overnight. You know by now that my food cravings are often quite spontaneous and I cannot wait that long to eat (the impatience of the greedy). Blanching the cut up vegetables in vinegar and water is a much quicker method, and still leave the vegetables crunchy.

How spicy you want your Acar to be is entirely up to you, so you may add or reduce the number of dried chillis in the paste recipe. Like other Asian curries, the paste has to be stir-fried or what we call tumis until it smells fragrant and starts to release the oil back into the pan.

The recipe calls for toasted peanuts and sesame seeds. Of course if there is nut allergy in your household, leave them out by all means, but they are integral to the recipe. Acar can keep for months in the fridge, but it's highly unlikely you will, or want to.

Acar Nyonya

You can easily halve or double this recipe. Snake beans can be substituted with green beans. Pineapple is optional. I don’t use it because it tends to render the Acar too watery. Aubergine is optional too. It tends to go soft so I only add it when I make a small quantity that will be a eaten up quickly. This is best made a day or two in advance before serving and can keep several months if stored properly.


serves 8 to 12

Prep Time 60 mins/Cook Time 25 mins/Total Time 1h 25mins

Spice Paste

  • 6 to 8 dried chillis, soaked and seeds removed

  • 6 to 8 shallots, peeled

  • 4 to 6 cloves garlic

  • 15 gm fresh turmeric (or 1 tbsp turmeric powder)

  • 15 gm fresh galangal

  • 3 lemongrass, white part only

  • Pinch of salt

  • 1/3 cup oil

Other Ingredients

  • 25 gm tamarind pulp

  • 200 ml water

  • 400 g long beans or green beans

  • 400 g cucumber (1 large cucumber), peeled and seeds removed

  • 400 g carrots (4 to 6 carrots), peeled

  • 2 to 3 red chillis, seeds removed

  • 2 to 3 green chillis, seeds removed

  • 600 g cabbage (half of small cabbage)

  • 4 tbsps rice or cider vinegar

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 250 ml rice or cider vinegar

  • 3 to 4 tbsps sugar

  • salt to season

  • 200 gm toasted peanuts, ground

  • 4 tbsps toasted sesame seeds


  1. Before you get on with the rest of the preparations, cut 6 to 8 dried chillies lengthwise, and leave them in a bowl of warm water to soak. Do the same with 25 gm of tamarind pulp in 200 ml warm water.

  2. Rinse all vegetables.

  3. Snap or cut the beans into 3 cm lengths, removing both ends.

  4. Cut the cucumber, carrots and chillis into similar thickness and lengths of the beans.

  5. Cut the cabbage into small, but not fine, pieces.

  6. Heat about 2 litres of water in a pot. When it comes to boil, add 4 tbsps rice or cider vinegar and 1/2 tsp of salt.

  7. Blanche each vegetable separately (about 1 minute for the cucumber and chillis and 2 minutes for the beans, carrots, and cabbage).

  8. Remove each vegetable and squeeze out as much water as possible, using a muslin cloth or between two bowls.

  9. Set aside.

  10. For blending: Peel and cut roughly the shallots, garlic, turmeric, galangal and lemongrass. The dried chillis would now be softened, and the seeds loosened. Remove the seeds and add the chillies to the shallots, garlic, turmeric, galangal and lemongrass. Add a pinch of salt, 1/3 cup of oil and blend all the ingredients together (if you pound the ingredients using a mortar and pestle, do not add the oil until cooking time).

  11. Heat up large wok and add the spice paste. Stir, tumis until fragrant, about 7 to 8 minutes.

  12. Add 250 ml rice or cider vinegar and sugar.

  13. Loosen the tamarind pulp, strain the liquid only into the pan. Add salt to season, allow to come to the boil.

  14. Add the pre-scalded vegetables. Mix well. Taste, add more sugar or salt if necessary.

  15. Turn off the heat, stir in the ground toasted peanuts and sesame seeds.

  16. Allow to cool, keep in containers in fridge. Take out a few minutes before serving and garnish with more sesame seeds.


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