In a pickle

In Recipies on June 15, 2011 at 10:36 am

The weather may be more Septemberish than June, causing many folks to forget about summertime delicacies like pickled anything.  But once you have enjoyed torshi (AKA torshi lift), you will be craving these pickled turnips and beets even during the dark days of winter.

One of my greatest pleasures I enjoy when eating in the Middle East is the typical, vast array of “pickled things” and “nibbles” cafes and restaurants set out for patrons prior to serving the main course.  There are always bowls of olives, dates, figs, carrot sticks, cucumber slices…all resting in delightfully pungent or sweet sauces.  One finds these treats served on the table of humble street cafes and in the finest eateries.  We counted no fewer than twenty small plates and bowls of these wonderful nibbles at the small, Haifa cafe where we first enjoyed torshi on a hot summer’s afternoon.

The recipe for torshi is delightfully simple.  However, it is not a treat you can prepare on the day you want to serve them.  Torshi is at its best when it is allowed to age a bit.  The pickling process takes place faster at room temperature. But if you are squeamish about leaving food unrefrigerated for several days, they can be left in the fridge for 7-10 days before eating them.  Once pickled, they keep well for up to three more weeks.

I make my torshi by two methods.

If I want to avoid the usual mess that can come with peeling and cutting fresh beets, I simply use a can of sliced beets.  I just reserve a bit of the canned liquid to add to my pickling brine.  I also add a few cloves of sliced garlic, simply because I am a “garlic-o-phile”.  If I want truly authentic torshi, I buy fresh beetroot.  The pickling brine may use either lemon juice or white vinegar.  Both versions are very tasty.

When buying turnips for torshi, select small and firm ones.  Look for turnips with delicate skin, as you will not be peeling them.  I have a particular disdain for turnips that have been waxed and I avoid them altogether.  My favorite turnips (and fresh beets) for torshi come from my local farmer’s market.

I sometimes bother with sterilizing the jar, or not.  These usually disappear so quickly that I have little to fear from possible spoilage.  I have a “special”, old-fashioned spring-top jar that I use for torshi.  The bright ruby-red liquid inside brings a lot of color to the table.

3-4 small to medium turnips, scrubbed well and cut into matchsticks

3-4 small beets, peeled if the skins are thick and tough and cut into matchsticks (or one 14oz can sliced beets)

5-6 cups hot water (or all of the liquid from one can of beets, plus water to make 5-6 cups of brine)

3 TBS kosher salt

2-3 cloves of garlic, whole or in thick slices (optional)

juice of one lemon (or 1/4 C white vinegar)

Prepare the brine.  Dissolve the salt in the hot water, stirring continuously.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  Stir in the garlic and lemon juice (or white vinegar).  Arrange the matchsticks in your jar, in alternating layers.  Pour the brine over the beet and turnip matchsticks (covering them thoroughly), cover or seal the container, and place in a cool place or in the refrigerator for at least one week prior to serving.  Eat these as an accompaniment or use them as a garnish.


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