The second day of pickling the Filipino “achara” (say ‘ah-cha-ra’) is always the best. The tangy, tart, sweet and slightly spicy flavors are sharp and perky. This is the perfect stage when the sourness of the achara is great for pairing as a relish or side to barbecued or grilled pork, chicken, beef, seafood, vegetables or just anything your tummy desires.
The Filipino achara is made from green papaya. Papayas are a tropical fruit and are abundant in warmer climates. We had an oversupply of papayas from our backyard fruits, growing up in the Philippines. I remember, I used to see unripe, multitudes of green papayas fall to the ground, looking forlorn and abandoned. But not for long. My Mom always had use for anything – whether fruit, or vegetable. Achara, the Filipino pickle relish was always the best thing to do with a green papaya, in mom’s opinion. My parents never discarded any produce without first exploring the possibilities with it.
The Filipino achara is not just a pickle relish. It is a great side. In just a few tablespoons you’ll find the combined flavors of tart, sweet, salty and spicy. How is this possible?
First, start with a green papaya. Once you slice through the tough dark green exterior, you will feel a firm texture and see the insides are even lighter green than the exterior. You’ll be curious and try to taste it. Do not be discouraged by the bland, tastelessness. Grab a grater and watch this plain, unripe fruit transform into one of the most spectacular relish sides anywhere in the world.
The sharp grater worked overtime for me. The large green papaya yielded an overflowing 3 cups of light green translucent tendrils. Then I peeled and grated the carrots next, in uniform slivers. I mixed it all in together with thinly sliced red onions and red pepper slim strips. I blended them well with a little raisins, then covered the whole thing and kept it in the refrigerator for the next day.
Separately, I boiled the brine. It was a simple solution of rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt, minced garlic, fresh ginger slices, black pepper. The aroma from the boiled solution was sweet. It was an exciting promise of what was to come. Once this vinegar mix cooled, I covered and refrigerated it.
The following day, the strong, heady aroma of onions and vinegar plunged at me when I removed the cover from the green papaya-carrot mix. I squeezed any remaining liquid out of the green papaya solution. Then I took out the refrigerated vinegar mix, blended it all together into the green papaya and finally had my achara. The pre-sterilized mason jars were ready to be filled. I poured the newly made achara into the jars. They looked shiny and gorgeous. Once done, I realized I had made two enormous containers of 16 ounces each. Even if I knew achara tastes better a day or two, or several days after, I couldn’t resist a little bite.
I got a fork, plunged it through the maze of transparent green-orange-red tendrils, even included a raisin waiting by the wayside, and sampled my relish. Aaaaaah, achara ! It was amazing. How did a relish with such spectacular combined savory tastes come from something so ordinary looking, and so unripe? Try a few morsels with anything you grill. Take for example this Filipino Grilled Chicken BBQ. Watch and enjoy the magic of this delightful side relish. You’ll always want a couple of tablespoons with any entrée you make from now on!
Here are some marvelous recipes you can serve the Filipino Achara with :
Inihaw na Baboy : Grilled Pork Shoulder with Garlic Fried Rice , which even the NY Times Diner’s Journal mentioned in their “What We’re Reading” section:
The Filipino achara was and always will be the perfect pairing for anything grilled, fried, roasted meat, seafood or vegetable. Even if it isn't Filipino food you're serving, serve a bowl of achara next to anything and watch everyone enjoy the meal. What makes the achara so special ? The achara is made of very firm, extremely green papayas, carrots, ginger, onions, red peppers, in a brine of rice vinegar, sugar, salt, garlic and peppers.The Filipino achara is not just a pickle relish. It is a great side. In just a few tablespoons you’ll find the combined flavors of tart, sweet, salty and spicy. This recipe was taken from the second, updated edition of "Memories of Philippine Kitchens" by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan. This makes about 2 quarts or 2 large jars.
- rice vinegar - 4 cups
- sugar - 1 1/2 cups
- salt - 3 Tablespoons
- garlic cloves - 4 pieces, thinly sliced
- fresh ginger - One 2-inch piece, peeled, cut into matchsticks
- black pepper - 1 teaspoon freshly ground
- green papaya - about 2 pounds, peeled, seeded and grated
- carrots - 1 large, grated
- red long chile peppers - 2 large, cored, seeded and thinly sliced
- red onion - 1 large, cut in half and sliced thinly
- In a large nonreactive saucepan, over high heat, combine the vinegar, sugar, 1 Tablespoon of the salt, the garlic, and ginger. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the flavors are well combined, 15 to 20 minutes.
- Add the ground black pepper. Cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate overnight.
- In large nonreactive bowl, toss together the papaya, carrots, peppers, and onion with the remaining 2 tablespoons salt. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Line a colander with a double layer of rinsed cheese-cloth. Place the papaya mixture in the coriander and rinse well under running water. Pull up the ends of the cloth and squeeze to remove excess moisture. As Amy suggested “You may need to do this in two batches”.
- Transfer the papaya mixture to a bowl and pour enough of the pickling solution over to cover it. (Reserve any excess solution for marinades, dipping sauces, or similar uses.) Achara keeps for up to 6 months stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.
- COOKBOOK AUTHOR’S NOTE: Look for green (completely green and unripe) papaya in Southeast Asian markets.