Indonesian Pickle

Very simple recipes for a versatile pickle
and a vegetable side dish

Acar is sort of a more versatile, Indonesian version of Branston pickle. Acar simply means ‘pickle’. Like Branston it’s made from chopped vegetables, including carrots and onions, pickled in vinegar sweetened with sugar, and zhooshed up with spices. The difference is that it is served as a side dish, and is eaten with just about any main dish you could imagine, including barbecued meat, satay, and grilled fish.

Here are recipes for two variations. One, very simple, is for acar sayur. Sayur means ‘vegetable’. The only cooking is to boil together the ingredients for the pickling liquid. I mentioned it recently in my post about nasi goreng, which it goes with like

Branston goes with a ploughman’s lunch. It often finds its way onto my dinner table—and, simple though it is, my guests always seem to love it.

The other recipe is for acar kuning, a dish that is more like a vegetable dish than a relish. Kuning means yellow, so it’s ‘yellow pickle’—more reminiscent of piccaIilli than Branston. I personally find piccalilli too sharp, too vinegary. In that respect acar kuning is quite different. It is sweeter, and more gently pickled. For catering jobs I sometimes serve a fish dish which is cooked with the same ingredients. It’s called ikan acar kuning. You guessed it, ikan means ‘fish’.

A word about pronunciation

‘Acar’ is pronounced ‘achar’. In Indonesian c is always pronounced ‘ch’—as in cheese. Without exception. If you want to get a hard c sound, as in cow, you use a k. And a soft c sound, as in nice, is always an s. Pronunciation rules are really very simple in Indonesian!

The vegetable quantities are not at all critical. I’ve shown enough to go with a meal for four people, but these are pickles that go with lots of dishes and they will last a long time in the fridge. If anything the flavour gets even better over time.

Acar sayur

Vegetable pickle


  • Carrots | 3
  • Cucumber | 1
  • Shallots | 4
  • Chillies | 1 or 2
  • In the photos I used one red finger chilli and one green one; you can use whatever is available, and make it as hot as you’re comfortable with—just remember the smaller the hotter!

  • White wine vinegar | 100 ml
  • Sugar | 50 g
  • I use unrefined, golden caster sugar, for a bit more caramel flavour, but you can use whatever you have.

  • Salt | 2 tsps


  • Carrots
  • Peel and cut into 1 cm chunks.

  • Cucumber
  • Seed and cut into same size chunks.

  • Shallots
  • Cut into quarters.

  • Chillies
  • Slice thinly. If you’re concerned about it being too hot you can also seed the chillies.


  1. Boil the vinegar, sugar, and salt, together with 20 ml of water until the mix thickens slightly.
  2. Put the prepared vegetables in a bowl and pour over the pickling liquid, topping up with a little water to just cover the vegetables.


Keep the bowl in the fridge for a day or two to let the vegetables pickle before serving.

If you have liquid left over after the pickle has been eaten you can just add more vegetables, and maybe a little more salt.

Acar kuning

Pickled vegetables with turmeric


  • Carrots | 3
  • Cucumber | 1
  • Shallots | 3 or 4
  • Chillies | 4 or 5 small green + 1 red
  • As I’ve written before, the description of chillies in supermarkets and greengrocers is totally random. The ones I use most often are shown in the ingredients photo: they are thin, about 5 cm long, and can be quite hot.

  • Red onion | 1 medium
  • (not shown in the photo)

  • Garlic | 5 or 6 cloves
  • Candlenuts | 5 or 6
  • These are one of the ingredients that crop up in Indonesian food that can only be found at Asian supermarkets, or online. It has an oily flesh, and has to be cooked before eaten. In this recipe it can be happily substituted by 6 or 7 blanched almonds

  • Lemongrass | 1 stick
  • Ginger | 2 cm slice
  • Lime leaves | 4 or 5
  • Rapeseed oil | 30 ml
  • This is my go-to cooking oil for Asian food, where the flavour of olive oil would be incongruous. You can use other types of vegetable oil, but rapeseed is considered to be the best for frying.

  • Turmeric powder | 2 tsps
  • White wine vinegar | 40 ml
  • Sugar | 3 tsps
  • Salt | 2 tsps
  • Ground white pepper


  • Onion
  • Cut into chunks

  • Lemongrass
  • Cut stick in half, then slice thinly

  • Ginger
  • Slice thinly

  • Carrots
  • Peel and cut into thick, 3 cm-long strips

  • Cucumber
  • Seed and cut into same size strips

  • Shallots
  • Cut into quarters

  • Red Chilli
  • Slice thinly. (The green ones are used whole)

  • Lime leaves
  • Remove the stalk and centre vein, then slice into thin strips


  1. Put the onion, candlenuts (or almonds), lemongrass, and ginger into a chopper. Chop to a paste.
  2. Heat a wok (or large frying pan). When hot add the oil, then the chopped paste.
  3. Cook gently for 4 to 5 minutes, till fragrant.
  4. Add the turmeric powder, vinegar, sugar, and salt.
  5. Reduce a little until the taste of vinegar has calmed down.
  6. Add the carrots and cook for about 4 minutes.
  7. Add the cucumber, shallots, and chillies, and cook until the vegetables are al dente—soft, but with a bit of crunch.
  8. Mix in the lime leaves and a generous amount of pepper.


Acar kuning is normally served immediately, warm, as a side dish, especially with grilled fish. But like acar sayur it will last a long time in the fridge, and can be eaten at room temperature or reheated.

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