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What Is Acar?

By Eugene P.
Updated May 17, 2024
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Acar is an Indonesian and Malaysian preparation of food that involves pickling vegetables or fish and serving them as a salad or side dish. The food that is used can be pickled in a sweet and sour brine for anywhere from overnight to a week, although there are recipes in which the food is just lightly boiled in the brine and then served fresh and warm. The type of food that is pickled in acar usually includes cucumbers and carrots, although ingredients such as cauliflower, long beans, eggplant, chili peppers and fish also are common. Even though acar can be found premade in Southeast Asian grocery stores, many households prepare their own so they can control the amount of vinegar added.

There are a few different styles of acar that are made throughout the region. One of the more complex versions is known as Nyonya and contains a long list of spices and vegetables in a liquid that resembles salad dressing more than brine. The hu or ikan type uses cucumbers and carrots but also includes fried fish in the mixture. The simplest preparation is called ketimun and uses only cucumber slices pickled in brine that is sweet, sour and spicy.

The first step in making acar is to prepare the vegetables. For cucumbers, this generally means salting them and placing them under a weight until they have lost a fair amount of the water they contain. Other vegetables, such as cauliflower and carrots, are blanched for a few seconds in boiling water and allowed to dry completely. If the dish is using fish, then it is deep fried and then dried.

Next, a frying pan or wok is heated up with oil. A paste made from spices such as turmeric, chili powder, garlic, ginger and coriander is placed in the oil and allowed to cook until the spices are aromatic. The vegetables that have been previously prepared are added to the pan along with vinegar, salt and sugar, and it is allowed to heat through while the liquid comes together. Once heated, but not overcooked, the entire mixture is taken off the heat and allowed to cool.

Most recipes call for the mixture to be poured into a container and refrigerated overnight or longer to allow the brine to penetrate and flavor the vegetables. Other recipes just serve the dish like a salad immediately after it is done, giving it a sharp flavor. Acar is often served with roasted or barbecued meats, as an appetizer or as a condiment.

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