Penang acar (Malaysian relish)

Penang acar

Peter Penguin says...

I relish the opportunity to make this.

Penang acar is a Malaysian vegetable relish that’s best used as a condiment for rice, seafood, chicken or tofu. It will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

(Serves 8)


  • 1 large cucumber (about 450g)
  • Salt
  • 240ml white-wine vinegar
  • 2 large carrots (200g gross weight), peeled and cut into 1cm x 4cm strips
  • 200g french beans, stem end trimmed
  • 400g white cabbage (ie, around half a cabbage), leaves separated and cut into 2cm x 4cm strips
  • 180ml sunflower oil
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 2 medium-heat red chillies, halved lengthways, seeds removed and cut into thin strips
  • 70g toasted peanuts, roughly crushed
  • 25g toasted sesame seeds

For the spice paste

  • 5 dried chillies of around 8cm long, rehydrated in warm water, drained and finely chopped
  • 2 fresh red chillies, finely chopped
  • 200g shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • ½ tsp shrimp paste
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 15g fresh galangal or ginger, peeled and roughly chopped


  1. Cut the cucumber in half lengthways, remove and discard the seeds, then cut into sticks of roughly 1cm wide x 4cm long. Put the cucumber sticks in a colander, sprinkle with half a teaspoon of salt, stir and leave for 30 minutes to drain. Rinse under cold water, drain and dry.
  2. Fill a medium pot with plenty of water and 140ml of the vinegar, bring to a boil and then blanch each vegetable separately – the cucumber for 30 seconds, the carrots and beans for two minutes each, and the cabbage for one minute. Drain well, pat dry and lay out to dry in the sun for 40 minutes or in an oven preheated to 130C/260F/gas mark ½ for 20 minutes.
  3. Put all the ingredients for the spice paste in a small food processor bowl and work to a uniform paste, adding three tablespoons or so of the sunflower oil to make everything come together.
  4. Heat the remaining sunflower oil in a large, heavy sauté pan or wok.
  5. Add the spice paste and cook, stirring, on medium heat for about 10 minutes, until it’s dark red and the oils starts to separate.
  6. Carefully (it may spit!), add the remaining vinegar and the sugar, and cook, still stirring, for a minute.
  7. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cooked vegetables. Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool. Just before serving, stir in the chilli, peanuts and sesame seeds.