The ideal partner for tinapang bangus [and anything fried, broiled, and barbecued] is indeed the achara. This is a pickled side dish made of green papaya and other vegetables. Some call it green papaya relish, while others call it pickled green papaya. No matter how or what you call it, achara is simply delicious and it takes away the ‘umay‘ of any dish.
Here at home, we make our own achara and our relatives and suki order from us by the bottle/jar. We don’t always have achara, so when my mom says we need to make some for a particular week, we make sure our regular customers are informed via SMS. And many of them stock up by ordering more than 1 bottle/jar.
If you love this papaya relish and would like to make your own at home, here’s our recipe:
- Green or unripe papaya, peeled and shredded
- red bell peppers
- green chili peppers [sili na pang sigang]
- shallots [sibuyas tagalog]
- local garlic [the smaller variety, usually sold in the market; also called bawang na tagalog]
- red chili peppers [siling labuyo/pasete]
- white vinegar [we use Datu Puti brand, but you can use any white/[palm vinegar]
- water for blanching the shredded papaya
You can prep the veggies the night before and just keep them in the fridge; except for the shredded papaya which needs to be shredded on the day of. The red chili pepper can also be chopped and added on the day of.
Make sure the peeled carrots, green chili, and bell peppers are sliced into strips [not julienne strips]. The other pieces of whole peeled carrots can be carved and added as garnish.
Peel and slice the shallots into small wedges.
For the local garlic, since it is quite small and difficult to peel when dry, you can soak them in water for a few minutes. We also used the imported garlic variety, but the local ones are usually more aromatic and flavorful.
Slice the peeled garlic cloves into thin slivers or leave some of them whole. You may also rough chop a few garlic cloves for added flavor.
Peel and shred the green papaya. Set aside in a large container [huge bowl or cooking pot will do] as you boil water for blanching.
Pour the boiled water on the shredded papaya and wait for a few minutes before draining most of the liquid. You can may use a large strainer with fine sieve, but we use cheesecloth [katsa] in draining and squeezing out all of the excess water. You’d only want very dry or well-drained shredded papaya for this recipe because excess water can ruin the flavor and quality of your achara. And make sure not to soak the papaya in hot water for too long. The shreds should be crisp and not soggy.
Transfer the squeeze-dried papaya in a clean bowl. For large batches, it is best to have a separate plastic tub or basin that’s only used for mixing achara. Don’t use stainless steel bowls or tubs and other utensils when mixing because they react with the vinegar and turn the garlic green.
Add in the sugar first and mix well. Then add and mix in the sliced vegetables. Set aside the carrot flowers for garnishing.
Boil the vinegar in a clean pot.
*** Edit: We don’t usually add water to our pickling liquid, but since the vinegar we use is too strong, we started adding a small amount of water (according to taste) just to tone down the acidity.
Pour the boiled vinegar over the shredded papaya with sugar and veggies. Add in the chopped red chili pepper and salt [according to taste only]. Mix well with a plastic ladle or spatula.
Using a plastic spoon, taste the pickling liquid. There should be a balance of flavors – sweet, salty, spicy, and sour. Adjust the flavoring if needed. Add another chopped red chili pepper if needed as well.
The easiest way to bottle achara is to use plastic bottles and even microwavable plastic containers. If you like it the traditional way, use glass bottles/jars that have been sterilized.
Make sure the containers are dry. Put in a few ladles of achara, about half the bottle/container. Place around 3-4 carrot flowers on the side of the containers, making sure they are seen from the outside. Continue ladling the relish up to the brim of the bottles/containers, ensuring there’s enough of the pickling liquid.
There you have it! Your very own version of the Pinoy achara. It is a laborious recipe because of the prep time for the vegetables, but it’s truly worth it.
* You can keep it in the fridge for about a month and it will still taste fresh.
* These are also great as giveaways for any special occasion; so you better start practicing now for the holidays!