Filipino cuisine is a colorful blend of Malay, Chinese, Spanish, and even Indian influences. Most meals are served with a wide selection of condiments and dipping sauces, often laid out in little bowls or dishes, so each person can fully customize the meal to his or her heart’s content.
One of my favorite condiments is achara, or Philippine-style pickles. Different regions of the country have their own versions of achara, using different vegetables and slightly different pickling liquids. I prefer the kind of achara served in Aristocrat restaurants—a crunchy, sweet and tangy version using green papaya. And so when my mom mentioned that our family recipe for achara was just like that, I got excited. In fact, I think I might have looked forward to the achara a wee bit more than the Filipino chicken barbecue, because I asked Tom to hunt down a green papaya for me a full two weeks before my planned grilling date.
The recipe is straightforward and simple. The most labor-intensive part of the recipe involves preparing the green papaya. The flesh is usually scraped or shred into long strands, almost like spaghetti noodles. In the Philippines, we use a handheld tool that looks like a larger version of a citrus zester. I imagine a mandoline would also make quick work of it, but since I had neither, I settled for the shredder attachment of my food processor. (Be sure you don’t shred it into small pieces like slaw; we want strands or strings of vegetables.)
The papaya strands are squeezed until they releases their juices or sap, then drained and spread on a baking sheet left out in the sun to dry. After that, everything else is fairly straightforward. You prepare the pickling liquid, mix everything together, and store the achara in clean jars in the refrigerator. Some folks say you have to let it sit for about 4 days, but I started sneaking tastes after just 1 day and it already tasted perfect to me.
Okay, I may have snuck in a taste even sooner than that.
Achara (Pickled Green Papaya)
1 medium green papaya, about 3 pounds, peeled, seeds removed, and julienned, sliced, or shredded into thin long strands
Meanwhile, combine vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small sauce pan and simmer until sugar is completely dissolved. Add pineapple juice and mix.
In a large bowl, combine dry papaya shreds, vinegar mixture, and the remaining ingredients. Mix well. Transfer to clean jars and store in the refrigerator. Let sit at least one day before using.
I’m telling you, this stuff is so good that someone who shall remain nameless used to make a whole meal of a bowl of achara and fried rice.
I love being anonymous sometimes.