I’ve loved pickled turnips since the first time I tasted them, tucked into the pita of a falafel sandwich when I was about twelve years old, at a Lebanese restaurant owned by a friend of my mother in Wichita, Kansas. There, the pungent pink strips of turnip sat in a big crock on the counter, between jars of preserved lemons, myriad olives, and tiny eggplants stuffed with walnuts and garlic and packed in olive oil. To my pre-teen self, they were a revelation: With a tart crunch, the turnip cut through the heaviness of the falafel, balancing the oil with each briny bite.
With our bumper crop of turnips, I thought I’d try a little Proustian experiment. First, I chose two recipes from sources I trust. One, from Gil Marks’ excellent kosher vegetarian cookbook, Olive Trees and Honey, is called Turshi Left, and gets its tang from a brine of distilled vinegar and kosher salt. The other, from Lucy Norris’s wonderfully eclectic preserving book, Pickled, is Kalustyan’s Lift. This recipe has a little lemon juice in the brine, but gets most of its zip from fermentation hastened by the addition of a cube of French bread. I was devoted to Kalustyan’s turnip pickles when we lived in New York, but Gil Marks has never led me astray, so I held a taste test.
The result was two very different pickles. To my palate, Gil Marks’ are tangy, complex (I threw in all the optional spices), and crisp. A splash of olive oil on the top means that each pickle is lightly coated as it’s pulled out. We’ve already eaten these addictive pickles on sandwiches, with duck liver pate, and with forks, straight from the jar. In contrast, the Kalustyan pickle has a heavier brine (maybe I was too lavish with the salt) and the result is something like an olive with a turnip flavor and texture. We haven’t tried these pickles on a sandwich yet, but they are heaven in a martini! Below are recipes for both pickles, and for Ten Apple’s new signature drink: The Dirty Turnip.
Gil Marks’ Middle Eastern Pickled Turnips—Turshi Left
About 2 quarts
2 pounds (about 6 small) white turnips, peeled and sliced
1 small beet, peeled and sliced
3-5 cloves garlic, halved
3/4 teaspon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons fresh celery leaves
3 cups water
1 cup distilled white, cider, or white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
In a sterilized 2-quart jar, combined the turnips, beets, garlic, and ginger, chili and celery leaves.
To make the brine: In a medium nonreactive saucepan, combine the water, vinegar, and salt. Bring to a simmer and stir with a wooden spoon until the salt is dissolved, about 4 minutes.
Pour the hot brine over the turnips to cover. If desired, drizzle the oil over the top to seal, keeping out unwanted bacteria. Let cool, then tightly cover. Let stand in a cool, dark place for at least 3 and up to 10 days. The vegetables will develop a mellower, tangy flavor, but will still be rather crisp. The longer the vegetables are left at room temperature, the softer they will become. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove the pickles from the jar.
–from Olive Trees and Honey, by Gil Marks
Lucy Norris’s (Kalustyan’s) Lift
Makes 1 quart
2 cups water
6 tablespoons coarse salt (kosher or pickling)
1 small cube French bread or other yeast bread
5 to 6 medium turnips, about 4 pounds, washed, peeled, and cut into 1/8-inch pieces
4 small red beets, left whole, for color
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or cider vinegar
Sterilize the jar and lid. Mix together the water and salt in a nonreactive bowl to make a brine.
Place the bread in the quart-size jar, and then pack in the turnips and beets. Pour in the brine to cover, but leave at least 2 inches free at the top of the jar. Add the lemon juice to taste and tightly screw on the lid.
In the summer, place the jar outside in a sunny place for 1 week. In colder months, store it close to the heater or oven for 2 weeks. The turnips are ready to eat when they are beet colored throughout and no longer have a raw flavor.
Refrigerated, they will last up to 6 months.
–from Pickled, by Lucy Norris
Ten Apple Farm’s Dirty Turnip
12 parts dry gin
1 part dry vermouth
1 part turnip pickling brine
Combine gin, vermouth, and pickling brine in a pitcher or cocktail shaker with ice cubes. Stir well and strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with a couple of slivers of pickled turnip.