Master of the Flying Mandoline

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My skill with a kitchen knife is like that of a hobbled Bill Walton with a basketball…

Fundamentally sound, yet incredibly slow.

Yes, I can chop, dice, and slice with the best of them–I’m just chopping, dicing, and slicing at a much slower pace. I’d say it takes me the better part of an afternoon to julienne a couple of carrots.

And when it comes to dishes that require quite a bit of knifework, I’m often at a disadvantage because of the turtle-like pace of my knife-wielding hand and arm (depending on what is being wielded, my hand/arm speed varies. Kitchen knife=slow, typing unfunny jokes=fast).

So thanks to my dawdling and deliberate knife proficiency, I have more than enough reason to use a completely scary and potentially hazardous kitchen gadget: the Mandoline.

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Culinarily speaking, a mandoline has less to do with a crappy Nick Cage movie and more to do with razor-sharp, blood-thirsty blades. A mandoline is designed to make short work in the slicing of fruits and veggies, but in the wrong hands, it’s pretty much a hand-held guillotine for the fingers. Yes, it be a serious contraption.

And if I’m ever pushed far enough, I’d probably use my mandoline to de-digitize my enemies. In fact, if I were a crazy old culinary teacher, and one of my best students were killed by a rival culinary teacher, I’d probably attach my mandoline to a chain so that I could fling it about and seek vengeance! Bloody, finger-chopping vengeance! It’s the most gruesome weapon ever conceived!

Ah, Master of the Flying Guillotine. It’s a classic.

Anyhayhay (you’re tiring of me using “anyhoo” as a contrived and weak segue, I know it), one dish in particular that benefits from the precise cuts of a mandoline is Atchara.

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Atchara (also spelled Atsara) is a pickled Filipino dish comprised mainly of shredded green papaya and carrots. It’s usually served as a side dish, or as a condiment even. For those that have never had Atchara, it’s a bit similar in flavor to the pickled ginger you get at sushi joints. As such, Atchara makes for a great palate cleanser between bites and goes well with just about anything, I think.

A mandoline is not mandatory when it comes to preparing Atchara. If you’ve got some legit hardcore knife skillzzz, you can julienne the produce by hand. A box grater also works fine for shredding carrots and green papaya–but my box grater does more smooshing than shredding. So I just personally prefer my mandoline because I think Atchara looks much nicer on the plate when the green papaya and carrots are cut into nice uniform little noodles. You could also find pre-shredded green papaya at the Asian market, often right next to where you’ll find pre-shredded carrots (the Asian market is perhaps pandering to their pickle-loving Pinoy patrons). In fact, Wandering Chopsticks has a great recipe for a Vietnamese Green Papaya Salad using the pre-shredded papaya.

Although I’ve enjoyed Atchara at my grandparent’s dinner table on many occassions, I’ve never attempted to make it myself (I guess that’s become my MO, hasn’t it?). So I got on the direct line to the family compound and rang my grandmother to glean some Atchara-making kung-fu. Turns out that my grandmother’s sister (my dad’s auntie=my great auntie) is the Atchara maker of that household, resulting in quite the phone conversation:

Me: Grandma, how do you make Atchara?

Grandmother: I don’t know, your auntie actually makes it. Here, talk to her.

Auntie: Hello?

Grandmother yelling in the background: He wants to make Atchara! Tell him how to make Atchara!

Me: Uh, yeah. Hi Auntie. How do you make your Atchara?

Auntie: Well, you first cut the green papaya…

Grandmother yelling in the background: Julienne! Tell him to julienne it, hah! He knows that better! Julienne!

Auntie: And then you put it in boiling water…

Grandmother still yelling: Blanch! Tell him to blanch it! Not so long though! Just blanch it fast, hah!

Grandfather suddenly appearing on the line: Marvin, when you go home to the Philippines, tell them to make this for you over there. They have good papayas!

Me: Uh, ok. Thanks Grandpa. Go Lakers!

Grandfather, et al. yelling in the background: Go Lakers! Click.

As you can see, my grandmother is quite adept at her usage of the culinary lexicon, and at screaming.

My family. Masters of communication we are.

Despite that helter-skelter conversation, I was still able to cobble together a wonderful recipe from my great-auntie. Her tip on quickly blanching the papaya is something I haven’t seen in any other recipes, but the blanching does help to tenderize the green papaya. I also learned from her that using brown sugar, rather than white, in the pickling solution adds a deeper sweetness to the end product. And although I don’t usually like raw carrots in anything, the carrots in this Atchara recipe add a nice snap and a sweetness of their own. Finally, the addition of red pepper flakes are of my own doing since I wanted a bit more color, and a bit more heat, in my Atchara.

Atchara: Pickled Green Papaya Salad

2 cups cane vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tablespoon salt
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and julienned
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 firm, medium-sized green papaya (about 1.5 to 2 lbs.), peeled, seeded, and julienned
2 small carrots, peeled and julienned
1 small onion, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)

In a medium saucepan over high heat, combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, ginger, and garlic and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring to ensure sugar and salt have dissolved. Remove from heat and allow mixture to come to room temperature.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then drop the green papaya into the pot for 1 minute. Remove papaya from the boiling water and place them into an ice bath to stop the cooking. Drain the papaya and place in cheesecloth or paper towels, squeeze to remove any excess water.

In a large bowl, combine the papaya, carrots, and onion. Pour the room temperature vinegar mixture over the vegetables and season with salt and pepper and red pepper flakes. Mix well, cover and refrigerate over night.

Serve Atchara as a side dish or condiment. The Atchara will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator.

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  • Manggy May 13, 2008, 9:30 pm

    “… As the Master of the Flying Guilottine encounters the most amazing creatures in this, OR ANY WORLD!”
    Say that again?! What the hell!? That is too funny. Physically inefficient weapons I can handle (uh… ever heard of a SWORD?!), but I draw the line at Arabians with grotesque stretchable limbs.
    Nice mandoline Marvin! How much did you get it for? I loved your conversation with Grandma, ha. Atchara? Best with tapa, heh heh :) I don’t eat it that often because I’m still traumatized by a particular place that served the most awful atchara that tasted like they used toilet water to pickle it. Conversely, though, thank you for teaching me what pickled ginger would taste like 😛
    A week in the fridge?! How conservative! Ha ha ha. Just kidding, listen to Marvin, not me.

    Reply
  • Wandering Chopsticks May 13, 2008, 10:10 pm

    Marvin,
    I bet you could put this in a sandwich and make a Filipino banh mi? :) To replace the VNese do chua (pickled carrots and daikon). Hmm. What Filipino meat recipe could you use for that?

    Reply
  • Mila May 13, 2008, 10:18 pm

    We do have the best papayas! Not those stumpy looking tasteless ones that seem to have taken over. We have the ones that are still reddish orange and long and ha… whoops freudian slip. Anyhoo. We do have the best papayas!
    Reading Wandering Chopsticks recipe last week, I learned that blanching the papaya removes the waxiness of the unripe fruit. Maybe blanching all the gulay bits in the recipe might make for a snappier atchara? A tapa-atchara banh mi, in honor of Wandering! Or pork tocino-atchara banh mi! Stuffed in homemade pandesal!

    Reply
  • dhanggit May 14, 2008, 12:29 am

    I knew i need to buy this thing to do those magical tricks in the kitchen!! btw, i awarded your blog a YUMMY Award, congrats!!
    ps, i love atsara perfect for barbeque and smoked bangus yummy

    Reply
  • Just a Plane Ride Away May 14, 2008, 12:49 am

    Another entertaining post! Wish I had thought to use a mandoline while I was julienning carrots for pancit last night 😉

    Reply
  • Katrina May 14, 2008, 12:49 am

    I must be one of the very few Filipinos who doesn’t like achara…but then, I must be one of the very few Filipinos who doesn’t like vinegar, either. I don’t even like it when they put achara on my plate and it touches my rice…I push that part of the rice away.
    You really are intrepid, Marvin! Most people I know buy their achara, not make it. My parents give away this special acharang ubod every year that people seem to love, but we just order it, we don’t make it at home. And that’s how I know that achara (being pickled) lasts WAY more than a week! I believe it lasts for several months, actually. Unless homemade achara is different?

    Reply
  • White On Rice Couple May 14, 2008, 1:08 am

    Like WC said, this would be a great addition to a banh mi!
    You had me rolling in the beginning. How I see it is, cut at your own pace. Because at the end of the meal, you still want all your digits!
    Mandolines are super duper handy! I always buy the whole papaya’s to grate for my Vnese papaya salad, just like your picture. I love the fresh aroma that the freshly grated stuff imparts!

    Reply
  • Erin May 14, 2008, 5:10 am

    I have actually found that (at least on mine)the finger guard actually makes it more dangerous. I only used it once, but that was the time I cut the dickens out of my hand.
    Great recipe and great story as usual.

    Reply
  • dp May 14, 2008, 8:06 am

    Marvin, I love seeing how similar ingredients get similar treatments in different cuisine. I’ve only every eaten green papaya in som tom, but this sounds like a good variation to try. Thanks!
    BTW, the hands-down-best-ever-papaya peeler is the Kiwi brand wavy shredder: http://www.templeofthai.com/fruit_carving/papaya_salad_kiwi_peeler.php
    It can usually be found in any Thai-Viet market for about $2 (or online at a premium!), and you don’t have to worry about loosing any digits. Also easy to clean.

    Reply
  • Fearless Kitchen May 14, 2008, 8:22 am

    If you look carefully at the knuckles of my left hand, you will see a small scar on the second knuckle of the index finger stemming from my first use of the mandoline. I’ve gotten better with it since then, although I’m just as likely to use the food processor now.
    This looks great and will make a great addition to the table!

    Reply
  • Burnt Lumpia May 14, 2008, 9:19 am

    It’s such an awesome movie though, manggy. I’m pretty sure this is where Street Fighter and MK got a lot of their characters from. I got my mandoline for about $40 on sale–it’s actually the top rated mandoline in Cooks Illustrated magazine, so I figured it was worth it. And I know the atchara keeps longer than a week in the fridge, I was just covering my ass.
    Shhhhh, WC! I’ve actually been working on a sandwich already using the atchara as a type of “slaw” on top. But keep that on the DL, just between you and me;)
    Hi Mila! In addition to getting a taste of mangoes in the Philippines, I for sure also have to try the Papayas there as well! I considered blanching the carrots at first, but since my auntie didn’t tell me to I just did the papayas. I like the crunch of the raw carrots though. And yes, a sort of pandesal sandwich is in the works, but let’s keep that between you and me (and WC). Shhhh.
    Awesome! Thanks for the award, dhanggit! And I also love atchara with anything grilled.
    Thanks Plane Ride! And yes, the mandoline would be of good use for carrots in pancit.
    What about vinegar in adobo, Katrina? I actually avoided atchara when I was a kid because I figured it was some sort of gross veggie assortment. But then I had a taste and figured out that it’s just pickles, and I love pickles. And I know atchara lasts longer than a week in the fridge, I was just being overly cautious in case someone ate month-old atchara and happened to get sick from it and blame me;)
    You are right, WORC. I do cut at my own pace and then by the time I look up from my chopping board, an hour has passed! ;P
    Hello Erin. I’ve read reviews about certain mandolines that have more dangerous finger guards. Even with the guard on my mandoline, I still get a little creeped out by the exposed blades.
    Thanks dp! I wish I would’ve known about that peeler sooner! I do love my mandoline though.
    Hi Fearless Kitchen! I hope you like the recipe.

    Reply
  • Julie May 14, 2008, 9:43 am

    It’s beautiful! But the telephone conversation really made it for me! That’s like when I’m talking to my dad over the phone, and my mom’s in the background, interpreting somehow.

    Reply
  • raissa May 14, 2008, 10:28 am

    I love atchara and I eat it with almost everything unless I dont want to eat a lot. Atchara just makes eating all the more eventful hahaha. I think I am the only one in my family who eats atchara with paksiw na pata.
    regarding WC suggestion to put it in banh mi sounds so good. I would strain the vinegar though. I dont like my sandwich all sloppy. =)
    the mandoline always scared me. When I am asked to use it I start off with bare hands then I pick up a fork when the vegetable gets smaller.

    Reply
  • veron May 14, 2008, 12:24 pm

    I’m laughing so hard here. Your grandmother is a hoot! I am slow in knife-work too, if there is some to be done I leave to the skills of the hubby. A mandoline though is a great tool for cut precision. Great achara…now to find some chicken bbq to go with it.

    Reply
  • Chez US May 14, 2008, 8:21 pm

    Great story! We tried using our last weekend – ouch! I will stick to my globals and slicing thinly for the time being!! We are all about asian inspired food lately, will have to give this dish a try, glad I found your site

    Reply
  • Sid Khullar May 15, 2008, 2:50 am

    Have you read ‘The Complete Techniques’ by Jacques Pepin? I just picked it up from Amazon and its great. Everything is illustrated, I got my basics right AND it includes a section on knife work!
    Sid

    Reply
  • oggi May 15, 2008, 8:40 am

    Thank you for reminding me I have a mandoline still in its box unused…I don’t know why I bought it…now I know, it’s to make achara.:)

    Reply
  • foodhoe May 16, 2008, 9:34 am

    I’m with you in the slow moving choppers brigade… and use the mandoline and food processor whenever possible. The recipe sounds really good, I don’t think I’ve ever had that dish, sounds so similar to the pickled daikon/carrot dish in both VN and JPN food, but with ginger and garlic that’s gotta be good!

    Reply
  • bernadette May 17, 2008, 5:02 am

    love your mandoline segment segue to achara making peppered with conversations with lola and auntie! Double A for creative writing :-)! I too am a slow knife chopper moreso a mandoline-user at that so chopping veggies is kinda like a meditative exercise for me. Slooow and easy…
    I once was given a divine achara made by a Kapampangan friend (from the province of Pampanga). She says she spin-dries the grated papaya (after blanching? I dunno) Then aside from your achara ingredients, she adds raisins and pineapple tidbits—divine! You can even eat it alone!

    Reply
  • Babette May 18, 2008, 8:16 pm

    Your conversation with grandma et al. was hilarious! :) I love atchara, I have a big jar in the basement fridge. I got it from my mom’s friend last year when I went back to Manila. She makes the best atchara and she always gives me a big jar as pasalubong everytime someone from Manila comes for a visit. Can you believe it keeps in the fridge for a looooong time! Hey, I’m still here! LOL I keep it in a Food Saver jar and it still tastes great. Btw, 2 more weeks and we’re off to Europe. I hope we find that restaurant in Florence.

    Reply
  • Lori Lynn @ Taste With The Eyes May 18, 2008, 9:13 pm

    Those are some cool mandoline photos, especially the colors and shapes!
    MY OXO mandoline is functional, but not nearly as photogenic.

    Reply
  • Pat May 19, 2008, 9:56 am

    Hey Marvin, I always thought my family was out of this world but yours takes the cake :). So we Indonesians also have a pickled dish called achar. There are several different versions– carrots, cucumber and cauliflower are common. Sometimes my mum adds turmeric to the pickling spice, sometimes not.

    Reply
  • elmomonster May 20, 2008, 3:32 pm

    I don’t know if anyone’s mentioned it yet, but we Indonesians call our pickles ‘acar’. So many similarities! No wonder I love Filipino food!

    Reply
  • Deborah Dowd May 21, 2008, 7:38 pm

    I can’t help it, but I have an irrational fear of mandolines. I know as a food blogger I should get over it.This looks tempting enough that I might have to get one.

    Reply
  • Burnt Lumpia May 22, 2008, 9:59 am

    Thanks Julie. conversations like that are the norm for my family.
    The mandoline is pretty scary, raissa. But you should try using the handguard instead of a fork;)
    Hi veron! Atchara and bbq chicken are awesome together.
    Thanks for stopping by Chez US. Sounds like you’ve got a sweet set of knives!
    Hello Sid. No, I haven’t read that but it sounds perfect for me. Thanks for the tip.
    You should definitely dust off your mandoline, oggi.
    Hi foodhoe! Atchara is very similar to those other pickled dishes, and just as tasty.
    Hi bernadette! Spinning the atchara in a sala spinner is an awesome idea! I’ll definitely give that a try next time.
    Thanks Babette! How very exciting about your upcoming trip. I’ve got my fingers crossed that Terra Terra is still in business! I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
    Hello Lori Lynn. Thanks for stopping by!
    Pat and Elmo, since you both are Indonesian, I’m assuming “achar” and “acar” are interchangeable? Filipinos and Indonesians have such good taste:)
    Hi Deborah! You should get over your fear. And there’s a lot more you could do with a mandoline besides this one dish, so I think they are worth the investment.

    Reply
  • Jescel May 22, 2008, 12:21 pm

    hmmmnn… atchara..blanching is new to me, my mom never did it. she just squeezed the papaya (in the cheesecloth) to death, to wring out all those water… serious muscle exercise! anway, the atchara lasts for more than a week, as it’s pickled. i think the more they sit, the better they taste because then the flavors have already melded together… i love atchara with my tocino, or anything grilled/ bbq’d.

    Reply
  • Tom Aarons July 28, 2008, 4:35 am

    Even when you can wield a cleaver like a scalpel, and chop faster than the karate kid, there’s a time and a place for a mandoline. And that time is when you’ve got green papaya to shred! It just makes it so much easier, doesn’t it?

    Reply
  • Jacqueline Church July 29, 2008, 11:50 pm

    I love this story. I am laughing reading it and I want to come cook with you! I love green papaya salad in my favorite Thai and Vietnamese restaurants…didn’t know about the Filipino version. I’m half Japanese though, so pickled anything is good.
    How do I find a proper green papaya? I’ve tried to buy one that was underripe “regular” papaya and it was not the right thing.
    Tips?
    Also, I just got my second mandoline. I can wield a knife as quickly as a keyboard cranking out dreck, but …sometimes it’s just the right instrument.
    My pickles never last too long…
    here’s my latest:
    http://theleatherdistrictgourmet.wordpress.com/2008/07/29/pickle-juice-lovers-come-out-of-the-closet/
    Do you use the guard? Iwind up resorting to a kitchen towel and a spoken out loud reminder to my husband that “This is not the time for me to watch that replay of the steal at second, right?”
    It’s amazing that I still have 10 digits!
    Cheers,
    LDGourmet

    Reply
  • wolf888 October 19, 2008, 11:00 pm

    i was searching for atchara recipes when i stumbled upon your blog. great site. i love the stories and the recipe. what other Filipino pickled salads do you recommend besides this? thanks!

    Reply
  • krq February 16, 2009, 8:36 am

    I thought this picture looked familiar:
    http://blog.agriculture.ph/traditional-fermented-green-papaya-from-the-philippines-introduced-in-the-us.html
    I don’t know if you gave permission to the PI government to use your pic. FYI, if you didn’t know.

    Reply

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