• Vegetable pickle (acar) (China Squirrel)Source: China Squirrel

Acar, pronounced “ah-char”, is a spicy, sweet, sour vegetable pickle that Malaysians love to eat as a condiment or a side dish. You can use whatever vegetables you have; firm crisp ones tend to work best, so think cauliflower, cucumber (no need to blanch) and snake beans in place of any of the below. (Although not crisp, blanched chunks of Japanese eggplant also work well). You can also add some pieces of pineapple or slightly unripe mango for a sweetish edge. Serve acar with grilled or barbecued meat, fish or poultry.






Skill level

Average: 3.4 (36 votes)


  • 400 g green cabbage, trimmed and sliced
  • 200 g carrots (about 2 small), thinly sliced
  • 1 large red capsicum, seeded, trimmed and cut into 1.5 cm pieces
  • 2 x 235 g bunches small radishes, trimmed and quartered
  • 1 large red onion, cut into 1.5 cm pieces
  • 2½ tbsp vegetable oil
  • 150 ml rice vinegar
  • 80 g caster sugar
  • 80 ml (⅓ cup) water
  • 60 g roasted unsalted peanuts
  • 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds


Spice paste

  • 1 tbsp belacan (Malaysian shrimp paste)
  • 10 fresh red chillies
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 6 candlenuts (see Note)
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh turmeric or 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp chopped galangal

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Makes 7 cups  

For the spice paste, wrap the belacan in foil. Heat a small, heavy-based frying pan over medium, add the wrapped belacan, then dry roast for 4 minutes, turning once, or until fragrant. Cool, then transfer to a food processor with the remaining ingredients and process until a coarse paste forms. Set aside.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add the cabbage and cook for 1 minute or until just wilted then remove the cabbage to a colander, using a slotted spoon or tongs and reserving the boiling water. Cool the cabbage under running water, drain well, then transfer to a clean tea towel to absorb any remaining water.

Add the carrot, capsicum and radish to the boiling water and cook until the water returns to the boil.  Drain the vegetables well, cool under running water, then drain again. Transfer to a clean tea towel to absorb any remaining water.

Heat the oil in a wok or large saucepan over medium, add the onion and spice paste and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes or until the onion has softened a little and the spice paste is fragrant. Stir in the vinegar, sugar and water and bring to a simmer, then add the vegetables, stirring to coat the vegetables in the spice mixture. Cook over medium-low heat for about 3 minutes or until the vegetables are just cooked but still a little crunchy. Stir in the peanuts and sesame seeds, then remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. Transfer acar to a container, cover and refrigerate until needed. Acar will keep, refrigerated, for up to 5 days.



• Belacan is available from Asian grocers.


Photography, styling and food preparation by china squirrel.


This recipe is part of our 10 ways with turmeric column. View previous 10 ways with… columns and recipes.


When she doesn’t have her head in the pantry cupboard, Leanne Kitchen finds time to photograph food and write cookbooks. You can view her work on her website.