By Gian Franco 2021-07-11

How to Make Atchara at Home

The Philippines is a country of condiment-loving people. Besides soy sauce, vinegar, and banana ketchup, atchara is the most used condiment sitting on the shelf of every Filipino pantry. There is no right and wrong way to make it taste. You can have it either on the sweeter or obviously tart side as long as you follow the precise method.


Atchara (spelled achara or atsara) is a popular Filipino green papaya pickle made and offered to complement traditional dishes such as grilled chicken recipes or fried pork chops. If technicalities interest you, atchara is considered a type of escabeche, typically consisting of an acidic marinade and vinegar as a souring agent for meat, fish, and vegetables. The recipe may vary depending on which vegetable ingredients you use (carrots, onions, daikon radish or bell pepper) to add extra flavor and zing.


Atchara may include pineapple chunks which provide texture in addition to sweetness. Raisins are mixed in to add fruity notes and some tartness. All other vegetables are either grated to produce juice or julienned to retain crispiness. The heated marinade can often be found with vinegar, sugar, ginger, garlic, salt, and peppercorns before pouring over the vegetable pieces where all the flavors and juices come together. It takes around 1-2 days for the fermentation process to complete inside the refrigerator. After that, atchara can usually be preserved well up to a month inside.


History of Atchara


Like any other Filipino dish, atchara is a product of foreign culinary influence through centuries of contact with seaborne traders coming from different parts of Asia. Particularly, atchara originates from a popular middle eastern side dish with Indian and Southeast Asian influences called achaar. The process of pickling food has been used for centuries to preserve excess produce when there are limited opportunities in the growing season.


Fermented vegetables go back at least some thousand years old. The side dish is mainly consumed by wealthy families who could afford spices like cinnamon or cloves that appeared in it. Today, however, you can find all kinds, from sweet versions made primarily from mangoes and carrots to umami variants.


Like the more familiar fermented side dishes in Asia, making atchara is laborious and time-consuming, mainly due to the washing and cutting of vegetables to be fermented in a sterilized jar. In general, atchara is meant to be both an appetizer and palette cleanser when enjoying fatty and greasy Filipino dishes.


Some Notes When Making Atchara…


The critical ingredient for this recipe is fresh green papayas, as ripe ones will not have their characteristic crunchy texture and flavor once pickled. It takes time to cut the peeled fruit into short and thin strips before it is ready for pickling, so make sure you leave enough time when prepping them ahead of your next meal or event.


Without including some extra spices from diced onion, carrot greens, or red pepper strips mixed in together, atchara will seem tasteless after they have rested overnight. But with just a few more things in it, you get this flavor-packed slaw that goes perfectly well as an appetizer for any of your dishes. First comes cutting up all these vegetables to look attractive before adding salt rinsed papaya slices on top, which are then combined with these flavorful bits you have prepared beforehand.


Heating the pickling liquid made with vinegar solution at a boil then cooling it is just one step closer towards creating a perfect sweet-and-sour pickle. Add a combination of salt and sugar until fully dissolved before pouring over pickling liquid, submerging papaya and vegetables in jars with whole peppercorns. The jars then must be fully sealed. The longer it ferments, the better the medley of relish flavors. 


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