My auntie Minda’s mom and my great-grandmother, Bai Amparing, was rumored to have the best atchara recipe in the family. She would make jars as pasalubong, or gifts, for those traveling back to the United States. Atchara is perfect with fatty grilled foods. It’s extremely rewarding to throw tongfuls on hot dogs or burgers and between bites of smoky rib bones.
Auntie grew up using lasuna, a very tiny variety of shallot. Try to get the smallest shallots you can find and cut them into ½” chunks, keeping the rings intact. Many other recipes will tell you to let the papaya soak for hours, but Auntie says tossing the papaya over the course of 30 minutes will render enough water. Squeezing all of it out with a cheesecloth is akin to making latkes or hash browns. You can keep the salty, papain laden run-off for meat marinades or constituting beans. Minda says the carrot flowers should be strategically placed along the circumference of the jar to invite people to try it.
Don’t throw away the brine when you finish the jar. Use it as a starter for the next batch or dilute it with a bit of water to make a quick switchel or pickle back shot to accompany whiskey.
- Finely shred the papaya with a mandoline or box grater. Place it in a nonreactive bowl with the salt and toss to combine every 10 minutes for 30 minutes.
- Drain the papaya in a colander or strainer. Using a cheesecloth or old, clean T-shirt, squeeze out as much water as you can.
- To make decorative carrot flowers, cut out 4 thin wedges along the length of the carrot. Then slice thinly into coins. Shred any remaining carrot.
- Julienne the ginger, red bell pepper, and chile pepper.
- Cut the shallots into ½” chunks, keeping the rings intact.
- Bring the vinegar, sugar, and pepper to a boil in a small pot. Whisk to completely dissolve the sugar. Using a spider or a metal strainer, blanch the carrot, ginger, bell pepper, and chile for 30 seconds. Add to the papaya bowl.
- Blanch the shallot for 1 minute and add to the papaya. Using tongs or two large forks, toss the vegetables with the papaya to mix thoroughly. Add the cooled vinegar to the bowl.
- Sterilize two Mason jars and their lids by steaming them on all sides for at least 30 seconds to a minute.
- Add a 1”-tall layer of pickle to the jars. Use a fork to place the carrot flowers along the edges so they are displayed as you pack more atchara. Continue to decorate and fill the jars until they are full.
- Wipe the mouth of the jar with a clean towel and seal.
- Atchara keeps for up to 6 months in the fridge.
Jenn de la Vega is TASTE's Cook In Residence and the writer behind the blog Randwiches.