Over the past few years, as I’ve become more and more acquainted with Nepali food, I’ve developed a growing love for spicy and sour things, in particular achaar.
Achaar is roughly translated as “pickle,” “relish” or “chutney,” the British English word adopted from Hindi to describe a similar type of dish eaten in India. But none of those words capture the variety of ingredients that can go into making this delectable Nepali side dish.
Achaar is usually eaten along with the Nepali staple, daalbhaat (lentils, rice, and vegetables). It often consists of tomatoes, radishes, or hot peppers, which can be eaten raw, cooked or fermented. It can even be made of meat.
All achaar that I’ve ever eaten is very strongly flavored with spices, oils, and herbs, including but not limited to khorsaniko dhulo (powdered hot pepper), timur (there’s no English equivalent but it’s similar to sechuan pepper), toriko tel (mustard oil, a highly flavored oil), sometimes toriko geda (mustard seeds), dhaniya (coriander), and the list goes on…
While I know a few people who are simply good at cooking all Nepali food, I more commonly meet those who can cook a certain type of dish really well. For instance, Tri’s brother loves to cook meat dishes and is constantly trying to perfect his style. I have met others who make delicious daal and others who cook a few vegetable dishes really well. But me, I want to perfect my achaar-making skills.
I’ve been working at it and can now make a pretty mean golbhedhako achaar (tomato achaar). There are a few ways to make this side-dish. One involves cooking the tomatoes and one does not. I’ve eaten cooked tomato achaar, but it’s just not as good as the raw kind, so that’s the kind I’ve been making. Buwa taught me how.
You need a bowl or container and something heavy to mash with. We have a big mortar and pestle that’s perfect for the job, featured in the picture above.
To start, cut up a bunch of tomatoes. The finer you cut them, the easier it will be to mash them. I’ve only found small tomatoes in Nepal, so I have to use quite a few, but if you get big ones, then 3 or even 2 would probably be enough to make achaar for 3-4 people. Put the chopped tomatoes into your bowl or container.
Tomato achaar has two special flavors. One comes from timur, a spice I mentioned above. The other is a burnt flavor that’s produced by crisping up the outside of something going into the achaar. Many people burn the skins of the tomatoes they are putting into the mix, but Buwa taught me to take a dried hot pepper, like the one in the picture, and singe it in the flames on the stove until black. It’s easier then trying to blacken the skin on the tomatoes, and I think it tastes just as good. Once the pepper is singed, add it into your container.
Then add some salt (a little bit to start but add more later if needed), and make sure you add the timur (If you really like its flavor like I do, add about a spoonful). Also mix in a couple of chopped cloves of raw garlic and a little bit of raw ginger as well. Then mash and mash until the mixture turns into a liquidy mush.
Another type of achaar that I’ve been eating lately is the fermented kind. Tri’s mom was the one who knew how to make fermented achaar, so because she’s not around, there hasn’t been any fermented achaar made in this household in a while. But people often bring us small bottles of fermented achaar when they visit, so we have it around.
Recently, I’ve been enjoying some lapsiko achaar, which, as the name suggests, is made from lapsi, a small, very sour green fruit. I don’t know exactly how to make this, but it involves spice and lots of sugar, to counteract the lapsi‘s sour nature. You end up with a sweet and sour, tangy and spicy dish that goes great with any kind of daal and vegetables. You can see from the picture that it’s quite gooey.
I’ve also been snacking on spicy and sour kankroko achaar (cucumber achaar).
Unfortunately, all of this achaar eating is getting me into trouble…
The other night, as I was enjoying another meal with mulako achaar and lapsiko achaar, I said to Tri, “All I’ve been wanting to eat these days are spicy and sour things.”
Tri’s dad looked up suddenly from his food, scanning both our faces and asked, “Bachha paauna laageko, ho?” roughly translated as “Are you pregnant?”
“Hoina! Hoina!” “No! No!” I said in surprise. I’m definitely NOT pregnant, but apparently Nepalis say that pregnant women crave spicy and sour things. The next day both Tri and his brother told me separately that right after I said that I’ve been wanting to eat spicy and sour food, they knew what Buwa was going to ask me. haha. I should have known better.
Eit: I forgot to mention two essential ingredients you need to put in the tomato achaar: garlic and ginger! I added them in above.