It is prepared with mixed diced vegetables in a pickled sauce that combines sweet, sour and spicy flavors. It is often served as an accompaniment to a rice main dish such as nasi goreng (stir-fried rice).
Sri Lankan cuisine has been influenced by many of its neighboring countries during years of colonization. Dutch and Indonesian cuisines are especially prevalent. Malay achcharu originated from the Malay community in Sri Lanka. Malays are a minority in the country, and are descendants of the Indonesians and Malaysians who moved there during Dutch and British rule.
Malay achcharu, also called acar (pronounce “ah-char”), is now a widely popular relish across all ethnic groups and communities in Sri Lanka and it always has a place at celebrations and gatherings. Traditionally, Sri Lankans use fruit in their pickles and chutneys, such as mango and pineapple, but the Malays prefer theirs to be vegetable based.
Malay achcharu is a bright and colorful relish, using a variety of fresh ingredients. It has a powerful and distinctive taste that adds interesting variations to main dishes. The ingredients in the malay achcharu are easy to source and readily available in superstores. Beyond unique flavor profiles, the malay achcharu also combines different textures. The crunchy carrots, soft onions and grainy dates bring variety to what could be considered flavorless rice dishes.
The sweet flavor of the malay achcharu comes from the natural sweetness of the dates, which are blended with garlic, vinegar, mustard seeds and pepper flakes to make a thick sauce with which the vegetables are coated. Dates are thought to originate from what is now know as Iraq, and they have been a staple in the Middle Eastern diet for thousands of years.
Over the years, they have been exported and introduced to countries around the world, where they have been incorporated into dishes. Dates are a good source of various vitamins and minerals, including potassium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin K. They also have high levels of soluble fiber.
The heat and spice of the malay achcharu comes from the peppers, red pepper flakes and mustard seeds. The heat is perfectly balanced by the sweetness of the dates, and the coconut vinegar adds the sourness to the chutney.
Coconut vinegar is similar to other fermented vinegars, such as apple cider or balsamic and is a staple condiment in South East Asia. It is a natural product made from fermented coconut sap. It is a cloudy white liquid, and like other vinegars, it has a sharp and acidic taste.
The preparation of malay achcharu is relatively straight forward. Patience is the only skill you will need when making this tangy pickle. It is very important to make sure that the chopped vegetables are free from excess moisture before combining them with the pickling sauce so that they stay nice and crunchy.
Once you have chopped the vegetables, spread them out on a towel and allow them to dry for around an hour and a half, changing the towel after and hour. Don’t be tempted to skip this step!
Once you have combined the vegetables with the sauce, you need to store the chutney in an airtight glass jar at room temperature for five days, before moving to the refrigerator for an additional 10 to 15 days. This way, you really allow time for all of the flavors to develop.
Malay achcharu will keep in the fridge for around two weeks, so make a big batch and enjoy with your favorite rice dish.
- 8 oz. shallots , peeled
- 6 oz. red onions , cut into large pieces
- 2 cloves garlic
- 5 oz. small red and/or green peppers , sliced
- 5 oz. carrots , cut into rectangular sticks
- 4 green hot peppers , diced
- 10 oz. dates , pitted
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 oz. mustard seeds
- ½ cup coconut vinegar
- 2 tablespoons mild red pepper flakes
- Rinse vegetables and drain.
- Spread them on a cloth to remove extra moisture and put another cloth over it. Let dry for one hour.
- After one hour, change the cloth and allow to dry again for 30 minutes.
- Before proceeding with the preparation of the recipe, make sure that the vegetables are free of moisture.
- In the bowl of a blender, place the pitted dates, garlic, vinegar, mustard seeds, sugar, mild red pepper flakes and salt. Mix until they turn into a very thick sauce.
- In a large salad bowl, place the vegetables and pour the prepared vinegar sauce.
- Using a wooden spoon, mix well until everything is incorporated.
- Store in a clean, dry, sealed glass jar and store at room temperature for 5 days.
- Refrigerate the jar for 10 to 15 days before tasting.
- Can be served with rice or biryani.
During preparation, make sure that everything is free of moisture, including your hands, blender, jar or bowl.