Strange and Delicious Vegetable Condiment

Here is a recipe from Java by way South Africa, a truly different way of preparing vegetables than most of us Yankees have encountered. I first tasted this at my friend Barbara’s house, thought it delicious and asked for the recipe. It is called atjar, and it could be considered a way to preserve vegetables in spices and oil and yields a condiment to eat along other dishes at any meal, as we might eat pickles.

It contains cumin, coriander, curry, mustard, and fresh ginger. I suspect most of the vegetable choices in the original recipe had to do with color and texture: carrots, green beans and cauliflower with red onions. I added in broccoli stalks because I had them, and I think if you want to make this, you could consider almost any non-watery vegetable–not lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes—but instead chunks of zucchini, red or green peppers, and root vegetables thinly sliced.

The vegetables benefit from a quick blanching in boiling water, then a dunk into cold water. Preparing the spiced oil requires vigilance, because if it boils or spills, you can imagine what trouble would result. I let it heat until it began to smoke lightly then took it right off. It needs to cool for about a quarter hour before you add the spices.

Despite the oil, the vegetables will develop moldy spots unless refrigerated. Stash them away, and because the oil will congeal, just make sure you take the vegetables out of the fridge in time for the oil to liquefy again.So far, I like serving these best alongside or chopped into a salad.

Don’t let the ingredient list intimidate you: its mostly spices. And it is a bit fussy, but the vegetables end up so tasty that it is worth the effort. I plan to keep the recipe around as the seasons go by in order to try this technique with different vegetables as they appear in the garden. It should be interesting.

Looking for…memories of Marjorie Standish. Over the years, many of you have shared recipes with me from Marjorie Standish’s cookbook, Cooking Down East and Keep Cooking the Maine Way. I am working on a project with her recipes, and I would love to hear from anyone who may have known her or used her cookbooks? What were your family’s favorite Standish recipes? Did you or any family member ever attend any of her cooking schools? If you have recollections, and a moment to share them, I would be very happy to hear from you.

Vegetable Atjar
Serves: Makes about a quart and a half
  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • A couple dozen green beans
  • A couple broccoli stalks, peeled and cut into large julienne
  • ¼ head small cauliflower, broken into florets
  • Salt
  • 1 medium red onion, very coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups peanut oil, or other vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds lightly crushed
  • 1 2-inch chunk fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
  1. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil.
  2. Blanch each vegetable in turn for about a minute, cooling immediately in cold water.
  3. Drain each vegetable and put into a bowl. Sprinkle lightly with salt and toss until each piece has salt on it. Let stand for thirty minutes.
  4. Rinse vegetables to remove the salt, and drain, and pat dry.
  5. Add the onion chunks.
  6. Put the oil over a high medium heat until it just begins to smoke.
  7. Take off the heat and cool for about a quarter hour, then add all the spices and ginger. Continue to cool oil another quarter hour.
  8. Put the vegetables into a large jar, then pour in cooled oil, and shaking the jar to dislodge air bubbles. Store a couple days before using so flavor develops, and keep in fridge until you use them all up.



Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.