Achara/atsara is the Philippine contribution to the world of Asian pickles. There are many versions, and virtually any vegetable can be used for making achara. Any mention of achara, though, will most likely evoke thoughts of this type of achara, which uses green papaya. My father is an achara lover. Open his refrigerator any time and you’ll find something pickling in a bowl or jar, usually carrots, onions, etc., with lots of ginger.
The recipe that follows is a personal favorite, developed from memories of a particular achara my parents loved and usually gave out as gifts at Christmastime. Be sure to use the freshest ingredients possible. I let a papaya sit once in the fridge for a week before using it and…. ugh, forget it.
1 2-lb. green papaya, about 4 1/2 cups shredded
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup red bell pepper, julienned
1/4 cup thinly sliced (crosswise) shallots
1 large clove garlic, sliced thinly crosswise, centers discarded
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup carrots, thinly sliced or cut decoratively, or julienned
1 1 1/2-inch piece ginger, julienned
1/4 cup pineapple chunks, fresh or canned, halved if you want
1 cup vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
Peel the papaya and discard seeds. Shred using the small holes of a six-sided grater or the fine-shredding disc of a food processor. I like doing mine by hand and yes, it takes forever, but do resort to the food processor from time to time. Put the shredded papaya in a bowl, sprinkle with the teaspoon of salt and toss. Let sit for an hour or so, then squeeze the papaya by the handfuls, discarding the juice. Bring vinegar, sugar and salt to the boil in a saucepan. You can use white distilled vinegar, or apple cider, or Filipino vinegar — I use whatever’s on hand — but you do have to tailor the sugar and salt to your taste, depending on which one you use. What you are trying to achieve is a nice balance of sour to sweet to salty, with sweet and sour dominating. When the mixture reaches the boil, stir with a whisk until sugar and salt are dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside to cool while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Put everything in a large bowl, pour the vinegar mixture on top and combine well. Refrigerate, covered, and let cure for a day or so before serving. You can also can this using these basic canning instructions. Though I know some people are comfortable leaving home-canned achara in their pantry, I take the extra precaution and refrigerate my jars, opened or not.
Serve achara just like you would any relish or chutney. It is the perfect accompaniment to grilled meats and sausages, fish or poultry.