Turshi shalgham is a traditional Iraqi variety of pickles mainly made from pickled turnip and topped with cauliflower and beetroot. They are served as accompaniments on the side and pickles are an important part of the meal in the Middle East and South Asian culture.
What is pickling?
The process of making pickles is called pickling and it originated from the Dutch word pekel which means brine. Pickling is one of the ancient food preservation methods that exists in the world.
Pickling is basically immersing food in brine, vinegar or any acidic solution. It is one of the best ways to extend the shelf life of fresh ingredients for a longer time (especially during the winter months).
Pickled foods were the sailors and travelers best bet during the olden days. Vegetables, meat, fish and dairy products can all be preserved by pickling them.
According to the New York Food Museum, archaeologists and anthropologists believed that the ancient Mesopotamians used this food preservation technique.
Thus, the practice of pickling began and cucumber was the first food item to be preserved using this method. In Iraq, the pickled cucumbers are called turshi khiyar.
What is turshi (or torshi)
In the Arabic language, pickles are commonly known as torshi. It is derived from the Persian root word torsh, which means sour. Henceforth the derivatives of torshi were used. In Iraq, they are called turshi, turshiya in Bulgaria and in Turkish, it is known as turşu.
Preparation of turshi is easy. Slice the vegetables, salt them and then soak them in the vinegar solution. These are stored in traditional Iraqi glazed earthenware pots called bastouga.
In a week’s time, the pickles are ready to be consumed. As the name suggests, turnips and beets are the main ingredients in making this pickle. Other veggies like cauliflower, as well as juniper berries are added sometimes. Some recipes even call for garlic to give it a slightly strong flavorful bite.
The color of the turnip is what makes this pickle so tempting. The pinkish hue slowly sets in and after some days, it deepens and gives a beautiful color. Unlike other vinegar-based pickles, pickled turnips have shorter shelf life. It is best consumed as soon as it is ready and it stays good up to a month.
Turshi can be served as a starter, part of the mezze, along with pita bread, salads or as a side accompaniment with main course meals.
In Iraq, pickle juice is also consumed as a beverage during the summertime. Green peppers, cucumbers, eggplants and even green beans are pickled during the summer months.
Pickling is not restricted to the Middle East kitchens, it is also common in Asian countries like India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Right from breakfast to dinner, pickles are served along with meals throughout the day. At the onset of cold weather, it is a tradition to start pickling at homes. Most of the winter veggies like turnips, cauliflower, beets, carrots are pickled.
Pickles around the world
While the most common practice of pickling involves soaking the ingredients in brine solution, there are also other types of pickling methods followed in the world.
Fermentation is one of the pickling methods widely used. Sauerkraut from the German-speaking countries and kimchi from Korea are the best examples of pickles that are fermented in the brine solution.
Most of the pickles have a pronounced sour flavor to them, whereas pickles in India are spicier and tangier. They are commonly known as achaar and the preservatives used are salt, oil or vinegar.
Mostly, the veggies are cooked or sun dried and then preserved in large amounts of oil. This is the most common method across the country. Mango and lime are the popular Indian pickles. Achaar is also found in South Africa.
We also have gari, pickled ginger from Japan. Japanese use this to cleanse their palate between meal courses. Koreans also pickle daikon radish with garlic and herbs known as jangajji. Unlike kimchi, this is a non-fermented pickle. In Italy, we have giardiniera, mixed vegetable pickle which is usually served as an antipasto.
Throughout the world pickles are common. A technique born out of necessity to preserve raw ingredients has given the world a delicious, mouth-puckering condiment.
This recipe is validated by our expert in Iraqi cuisine Nawal Nasrallah. An award-winning researcher and food writer, Nawal is the author of the definitive cookbook on the Iraqi cuisine Delights from the Garden of Eden.
- 3 lb turnips medium or small
- 1 small cauliflower head
- 2 lb beets
- Non-iodized salt to sprinkle
- 2 tablespoons non-iodized salt
- 6 cups white vinegar
- 6 juniper berries optional
- Wash the vegetables thoroughly and brush lightly.
- Cut both ends of the turnips and scrape the brown spots using the blade of a sharp knife. If the skin of the turnips is hard, peel them, otherwise, leave them as they are.
- Cut turnips in half widthwise and then thickly slice lengthwise.
- Gently remove the cauliflower florets.
- Place the turnips and cauliflower in a large colander inside a large bowl.
- Sprinkle generously with salt, mix well by hand and let them drain for about 10 hours in a cool place. Stir them several times while draining them.
- Meanwhile, prepare the beets: peel and cut thick slices.
- Place in a saucepan and cover with plenty of cold water.
- Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and let the beets simmer until they are half cooked, about 15 minutes. Let them cool completely in the cooking water. Drain and reserve their cooking water.
- Place turnips and cauliflower florets in a large bastouga (traditional glazed pot) or in two sterilized glass jars, alternating with layers of cooked beets.
- Mix the reserved beet cooking water and vinegar to obtain about 12 cups of liquid.
- Season with salt again generously and pour the liquid into the jars.
- Press the vegetables several times to allow the colors to spread evenly among the vegetables and let the air escape.
- Add some water if necessary.
- The vegetables must be completely immersed.
- Finally add the juniper berries.
- Close the jars tightly.
- Reserve for about a week in a place with no direct light before eating