Sunday, April 26, 2009

My Mother-in-Law's Nonya Acar Recipe

I must admit that I still find it difficult to replicate this Nonya Acar (pickle) dish that my late mother in law had perfected together with her other signature pickle dishes such as bokwa sui(papaya pickles) and Acar Hu (fish pickle).

For a start, we are still juggling with the “agak agak” (rough estimate) measurements she used in her cooking. To make matter worse,the weight measurements were given in kati and taels (old Chinese weight measure). Although we have been analytical on how to create the balance of flavours from the combination of the various spices to the drying process of the vegetables, we are still miles away from its original taste.
Nevertheless, we call upon you to try out this Acar dish with our “new” recipe in metric conversion and perhaps, share with us your own result when preparing this dish.

Nonya Acar Recipe.


1 kg cucumber
500g cabbage, cut into 3cm square
200g carrot cut into 3cm strips
500g snake beans (long beans/ chai tow) If unavailable use French beans
200g cauliflower, cut into small florets
250g pineapple, if unavailable use canned pineapple

Spices paste:

75g dried red chillies / 3 tbsp chilli powder
200g onion
100g garlic
30gm fresh turmeric / 1 tsp turmeric powder
10g galangal / 1 teaspoon galangal powder
40 gm lemon grass if unavailable use 1 tbsp of grated lemon outer skin
30 gm balachan (prawn paste)
50g coriander seeds / 3 tbsp coriander powder
½ cup peanut roasted and coarsely pounded
¼ cup sesame seeds, roasted
¾ cup sugar
4 tbsp salt
¼ cup vinegar

For scaling fruit and vegetables:

1 litre water
1 litre vinegar
¼ cup salt
¼ cup sugar


Prepare cucumber by removing core and cut into 3cm strips. Rub 2 tbsp salt into the cucumber strips and leave aside for 1 hour. Place marinated cucumber strips on a piece of muslin cloth and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Spread the cucumber out on a try and sun for 2-3 hours.
Sun other vegetables separately in trays for 1-2 hours.
Bring water, vinegar, salt and sugar to rapid boil. Blanch the sun dried vegetables separately.
2-3 seconds for cucumber and cabbage.
8-10 seconds for the other vegetables
Drain the blanched vegetables dry.
Heat oil in pan to fry spices till fragrant. Add ¾ cup sugar and 4 tbsp and leave to cool before adding ¼ cup vinegar. Combine all vegetables and mix well. Add sesame seeds and peanuts and leaves overnight to allow flavour to develop before serving. Keep refrigerated.


  1. Yipppee...acar recipe..thanks uncle Phil!!!

  2. Hi Danny,
    Unless you are going to eat Acar for the next weeks please adjust the amount of the recipe accordingly. My MIL's recipe in for a family of 15.

  3. lucky u warn wonder the cucumber is 1kg ...LOL

  4. Wow, your acar pic has really made me "drip-saliva". Yum yum! OK, mission Thursday is to take long drive to AsianMart for fresh galangal & tumeric. Can't wait to smell the rempah. Thanks for reminding me of acar. Mine will be beginner's standard but beginner's acar is better than no acar, right?

  5. Hi Nonya Vin di Florida,
    Lagi baik ada jual Kunyit dan galangal di Florida, kalau tidak.. mesti ayer pasang di Sebastian lah ( from the saliva)Haha..
    Please share with us your acar experience :)


  6. wah i also want to taste this!

  7. Uncle, advice needed. I've just realised the cucumbers here are different, they are dark green and thick-skinned (not kidding!) with thick seed area. By the time I skin them and cut seed area off, hardly any pulp left to dry. Macam mana ni? Just put in loads extra or is there another kind of cucumber to use? Aussie cucumbers like Singapore's? Cabbage also different but usable I guess as it's leafy.

  8. Hi Nonya Vin,
    In OZ, we use the Lebonese cucumber aka Jap cucumber to make the acar. If you are using the dark green species over there, do not peel, just discard the core. Why dont you try it and let us know.

  9. richard in rhode islandMarch 7, 2010 at 10:47 PM

    recently i've been craving singaporean food and for some inexplicable reason...ARCHAR in particular, but not the nonya version your wonderful recipe produces, but that sweeter version with just cucumbers, carrots and pineapple...and afterreading a ton of recipes, i decided to wing it...salting english/seedless cucumber strips and carrot strips, then dunking them into white vinegar infused with ample amount of sugar, crushed peanuts, white sesame seeds and several tablespoons of a jarred indonesian blachang and then adding fresh pineapple chunks...marinated for two days, it tasted like the archar i remembered from my childhood days!

  10. Hi Richard,
    Isn't that wonderful that you have found the taste of achar you have remembered and experienced from your childhood while trying your own version by using what are available locally.

  11. This is a very good recipe. I skipped the sunning process since I put everything in a salad spinner, then towel dry. It works pretty good.
    I didn't have enough vinegar for the blanching, I used the same ratio, works good. The smell reminded me of my mother's house back in Singapore. the taste is very close to the acar that my auntie used to make. I can't wait the acar is seasoned. I had to skip the blanchan since I am making this for a party and we have a few vegans. I do miss the taste. I will for sure try this again . Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  12. Hi JW Kulia,
    We hope that your acar is a great hit among your friends. Thanks for visiting.

  13. I tried your acar last week and it was easy and fabulous. you have a new nonya bro fan.


  14. Hi Anonymous,
    Glad you to know that you like the recipe. It tasted even better, especially you have prepared it at home and become your own version. Happy cooking.
    Cheers Bro,


  15. Hi Uncle Phil,
    Your Achar recipe is really good.Thanks! I made a batch 10 days before the CNY and it was still crunchy and fragrant when served. As I do not get direct sunlight from my house, I left the vegetables overnight in the fridge to dry, after squeezing out the liquid and it still came out ok.

  16. Hi jadelee,
    Thanks for sharing the tips with us.I may have to use it now as sunlight is a bit lacking during the winter months.


  17. Hi uncle Phil,
    I'm thinking of replacing my cook range hood and just wondering, based on your cooking experience; if you know of any good ones for Asian cooking. Good to get recommendations from fellow Asian foodies.
    Txs a mil.

  18. Hi Trye,
    Thanks for visiting my blog.We had our cook range hood replaced ten years ago when we renovated our house. Our model is Qasair and we are happy with the result. Buy one with a powerful exhaust fan to suck up the fume and smoke from the cooking and is piped to the outside of the house. Many older houses in Sydney have their fume directed into the roof space above their kitchen!. I have seen modern kitchen in an apartment which has a rangehood that only serves as a filter without directing the fume to the outside. If that is the case, the blachan smell will linger for days in the apartment.
    Cheers, Phil

  19. Much as I adore belachan, the lingering smell is something that my visitors might not understand. I'll check out that brand and see where that leads me.
    Many txs

  20. I am going to try to make the achar today will let you know the outcome. thanks for sharing the receipe.