Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Did I say Toorshi?

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, after a visit at my aunt’s or a trip to the heart of Hollywood for some Armenian event or another, my parents used to treat us kids by taking us to Zankou Chicken. Zankou back then wasn’t like the Zankou now famous in LA with several locations around town (they have a website now -what the ?). I remember it as a narrow “hole in the wall” no frills take-out on Sunset and Normandy (ok so it’s still no frills but it’s three times its original size) and inevitably Mr. Zankou (the late Mr. Iskanderian) would pop out from the back room and with the signature shrugging of his shoulders ask my dad “Have you heard the latest on Beirut?” We’d always get a plate of the shawerma and if we asked nicely in Armenian the ladies in yellow t-shirts, big hair, and turquoise mascara would give us extra pita bread.

What I really got excited about on those trips was the toorshi. Toorshi or Torshi - strips of pink, vinegary, garlicy turnips wrapped up in foil or tucked away in the corner of your plate. My sister and I would fight over them until we got wise enough to ask the ladies for more toorshi too.

Pickled turnips. Such a simple thing. Actually I had no idea they were turnips until a few years later. I can eat a bowl of these if you leave it in front of me. I hunted them down not long ago here in Paris. Once I picked up a jar of pre-made pickled turnips from an Arabic grocer near Belleville….oh I was disappointed. It was nothing like Zankou’s, nothing like my mom’s, it was just vinegar and turnips. Then I found Noura and they come pretty close. Since I wasn’t going to be satisfied by going to Noura every time I craved toorshi….I naturally had to make some too.

I was intimidated at first. Pickling doesn’t sound easy. It sounds like I need special equipment. Then after telling my friend about the bad jar from Belleville, she said “Set, it’s the easiest thing! I can even do it.” So I did it. They’re good. Hey my in-laws like them. J And I eat up a whole bowl of them if it’s in front of me…and more since I know they are in my fridge.

Toorshi – Pickled Turnips


3-5 medium sized turnips
½ a medium beet*
1 stalk celery (or two celery leaves for a milder flavor)
4-6 gloves garlic (peeled and smashed with a side of knife) depending on how garlicy you want it
2 red thai chili pepper OR 1 teaspoon red Aleppo pepper flakes (optional)
1 tablespoon coarse sea or Kosher salt
1 cup white, distilled vinegar (5 % acidity)
1 cup water

For safety reasons, you can’t just be hayala (careless) about pickling. You should use very clean jars that have good lids. The best way to make sure they are really clean – boil them. Put them in a big pot of water and bring them to a boil then air-dry them or dry them with a really clean towel. I got two 750 ml or 25 oz jars of pickled turnips out of 3-5 medium turnips. Plus you have to use equal parts vinegar and water.

When your jars are ready, put the vinegar and the water into a pot and bring it to a boil. While it’s coming to a boil…

Peel the turnips and slice them into 1 cm wide, ½ cm thick strips (like the photo). They won’t be uniform but that’s ok. Slice up the beet half into similar strips but they can be wider and more hayala. * Regarding the beet - I use cooked beets. You can find pretty good ones in the fresh vegetables here in Paris tightly wrapped up in plastic, but even better ones at the marche from the middle eastern vendors. I have not used fresh, uncooked beets. I don't know if you're supposed to or not - and I don't bother boiling them myself cause it's really messy but you certainly should if you can't find decent pre-cooked beets easily.

At the bottom of the jars drop a smashed garlic clove and 1 of the thai chilis (or ½ the red pepper flakes). Layer the turnip and beet slices alternately (use more or less beets depending on how strong a pink color you want) in the sterilized jars. Sprinkle the salt as you go through. Midway through drop another garlic clove and the second half of the pepper. Cut the celery stalk to the length of the jar and push it in at one side or if you're using celery leaves drop them in here and there. Cover the turnips etc completely with the vinegar-water solution. No bits should be sticking out of the liquid. Let it cool down to just above room temperature (just so it's not steaming). Seal the jars with the lids and turn the jar upside down and then right side up to make sure all the spices and juices are evenly distributed. Place in the refrigerator. It should be ready in 7-10 days.


J said...

I'm SOOO excited, Seta! I LOVE these things, but I never knew what they were or what they were called - and here you are, giving us the recipe! This is what I'm doing this weekend. Thanks so very much!

j said...

Seta- I popped open the toorshi last night! The raw beets worked fine, they seem to be there more for color than anything. Next time I will use a --high quality-- vinegar. I only had the cheap stuff on hand (it was Sunday, I was in a rush). But they are SO great and I'm thrilled to have this recipe.
Thanks a million for sharing!

seta said...

So glad it worked out!! I don´t know if it´s worth using better quality vinegar for this recipe...but give it a try and let us know how it turns out.

seta said...

So glad it worked out!! I don´t know if it´s worth using better quality vinegar for this recipe...but give it a try and let us know how it turns out.