Acar (pronounced A-char) is the name of a vinegary pickled salad. Not too sure what the word actually means (probably vinegary pickled salad!). It is treated as a relish and usually served cold. Like most Malaysian salads, this one doesn’t really bear much resemblance with most “western”/anglo salads. And of course, quite a few additional spices and chillies are involved.
When I flicked through mum’s recipe books, it was amusing to note that the ingredients for this dish were listed by price. For example – sesame seeds 20¢, cabbage 30¢, red chilli paste 50¢ etc. Mum would visit the wet markets (almost) every morning to purchase fresh produce for the day’s meal. Market-goers could buy little handfuls of ingredients as needed. I remember watching as individual squares of tofu were wrapped up in newspaper or handfuls of beansprouts were fished out of the soaking bucket. And sorry squeamish readers – I would look on in fascination as live chickens were freshly prepared for the table.
The days of the wet market are seriously numbered unfortunately, as more and more people rely upon the convenience of supermarkets. Which is sad to see because the local marketplace was such a social hub. Mum was on a first name basis with all the stallholders (probably knew all their children’s names too). It’s pretty hard to get the same sense of camaraderie at the checkouts.
While Mum doesn’t get a chance to visit the markets daily anymore, she does try to squeeze in a weekly shop, so maybe there’s hope yet. Here’s to all markets in their many guises, may they stick around for a long time to come.
By the way, tomorrow’s EOWTTA will be postponed. Let’s just say L is for Laziness. Or Leaving Labour till Later to Lessen Likelihood of Lacklustre performance Level.
(Makes a small quantity, about 2 cups)
A thumb sized piece of belacan (shrimp paste), toasted and ground
A small piece of ginger (about 4cm long) – very finely shredded
2 red chillies – ground (deseed if desired)
A small piece of fresh tumeric – grated and added to the ground chillies
Vegetables: 1 carrot – cut into batons
¼ cup cauliflower florets
½ telegraph cucumber, sliced
1 green chilli – deseeded and julienned
Handful of beans cut into short lengths
3 tsp sesame seeds – toasted (grind 2 tsp and set aside 1 tsp for garnish)
1 eschalot – finely sliced
4-5 cups water + about 5 tbsp vinegar (white) for blanching vegetables
extra vinegar – about ¼ cup or more to taste
Toasted ground peanuts for garnish
salt and sugar to season
Vegetable oil for frying
Bring the water and 5 tbsp vinegar to the boil and blanch each lot of vegetables separately. (There’s no real need to blanch the cucumber). Drain vegetables well, pat dry with kitchen paper.
Heat a little vegetable oil (about 1-2 tbsp) over medium high heat, in a wok or frying pan (make sure it’s large enough to hold all the vegetables). Fry the shredded ginger until fragrant and lightly golden. Remove and drain the ginger. In the same oil, fry the sliced shallots until crispy and remove. Be careful as the eschalots will keep cooking when removed, so remove as soon as they start turrning brown. If there is too much oil in the pan, remove a little then add in the chilli-tumeric paste and fry until fragrant.
Lower heat slightly, add in the shrimp paste, ginger, eschalot and ground sesame seeds, then add about ¼ cup vinegar or more to taste. Stir well, make sure the shrimp paste has dissolved. Add all the vegetables, stir and gently simmer for 2 or 3 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and sugar, taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Remove from heat, stir in the rest of the whole sesame seeds. Leave to cool, then chill in fridge until ready to serve. The acar will keep for about two days in the fridge, store in an airtight container.
Just before serving, sprinkle on some ground toasted peanuts.