Once the skin of the Asian papaya starts to turn yellow, the fruit is considered ripe and ready to use in a variety of dishes. Before that yellowing occurs, the unripe green papaya also has a purpose, particularly as a popular Filipino condiment known as atchara. Also spelled achara or atsara, this pickled treat combines shredded unripe papaya with other ingredients like onions, carrots, peppers, garlic, ginger, corn and even raisins in a fermenting juice of vinegar, salt and sugar.
It is important for the papaya to be green and unripened for atchara to preserve its characteristic crunch. Once the fruit starts to yellow it can be used in other ways, but not for pickling. After the skin is peeled away, the meat of the fruit should be cut into thin and short strands that will form the base of this traditional dish. After adding some salt, the papaya must be covered in a bowl and left overnight in the refrigerator.
Without the other ingredients, atchara would be bland and lifeless. After the green papaya has rested overnight, onions, carrots, green or red peppers, and ginger are cut in a similar thin style, forming a colorful and flavorful slaw. The salt is rinsed from the papaya slices, which are then combined with the other ingredients in the bowl — including, for some chefs, corn and raisins for color and sweetness.
Before fermentation can begin, though, the vinegar solution must be heated on the stove. Vinegar, salt and sugar are heated to a boil, until the salt and sugar are fully dissolved. According to one recipe, 1.33 cups (about 300 mg) of sugar and 1.5 cups (about 360 mg) of salt should be added to about 2 cups (about 475 ml) of white vinegar, though cider vinegar would not be an unusual substitution.
Once the vinegar solution has fully cooled, the papaya and vegetables are placed in a jar, and then the pickling liquid is poured over the top to fully submerge them. Some chefs also add whole peppercorns. The jars are then sealed and stored in the refrigerator for at least five days, though several more days will add more of a pickling effect. Some do not store the atchara in the refrigerator; however, after opening, it is advisable to keep it refrigerated.
A more savory variation of atchara produces a tarter flavor by leaving out the raisins and sugar. These dishes are typically served at the beginning of a meal in the Philippines, or alongside various entrees. A popular pairing is pork spare ribs. Some commercial versions of atchara use papaya and vegetables that are chopped finely instead of in long strips; however, the pickled flavor is fairly distinct in either version.