Why It Works
- Pouring hot vinegar brine over the vegetables jumpstarts the pickling process.
- Holding the tourshi for five days at room temperature allows the vegetables soften and the flavors of the pickles to meld.
For my family and many other Armenians, autumn meant it was time to sock two things away for the long winter ahead: sujuk, an air-cured, heavily spiced beef sausage, and tourshi, pickled vegetables in a tangy, lightly-spiced vinegar brine. In Armenia—as well as in numerous other countries in the region—tourshi (or turshi) just means “pickles,” and the dish can be made with just about any crisp, edible-when-raw vegetable you can think of. Armenians set tourshi on the dining table no matter the occasion, but it is an essential component of any mezze spread or a side dish alongside entrées.
When we make tourshi, we just buy a mess of vegetables and pack them into as many containers as necessary. In my family, we usually made it from a greatest-hits collection of crunchy things—carrots, celery, cauliflower, cabbage, unripe green tomatoes, turnips, and tender-skinned long sweet peppers—but the process works no matter what combination you choose, and I often use it to pickle whatever I have on hand and need to preserve for later on. With that said, I have tried to be as prescriptive as possible in this recipe. In order to make sure you have enough vegetables and brine to fill your jars, and given that different vegetables will take up different amounts of space in the jars, you’ll have to start with more than you can possibly use and repurpose whatever you can't manage to fit.
The method for making tourshi is simple: You cut the vegetables into bite-size pieces or short spears, and pack them into containers, along with a scoop of whole aromatic spices, a few sprigs of parsley, a couple of garlic cloves, and however many hot peppers you want. Tourshi can be spicy, but it isn’t always; use as many hot peppers as you like, but take care you don’t overdo it and make the pickles intolerably hot, unless that is your thing.
My parents always put their tourshi into large ceramic crocks that they stored in an unheated cellar all winter, but just about any sealable heatproof container will do; my recipe is crafted to use four one-quart mason jars. Once the containers are filled, you bring a mixture of water, cider vinegar, and salt to a boil, and then carefully pour the hot brine over the vegetables. Adding the hot liquid directly on top gently par-cooks the vegetables just enough to increase their tenderness without sacrificing their texture. You then seal the containers and leave them for five days at room temperature, during which time the vegetables soften further and the flavors of the pickles meld.
With large containers like crocks, you can place a plate or another heavy object on top to hold the vegetables under the brine; in jars, just flip them over once a day to keep everything sufficiently submerged. After that, they go into the refrigerator to chill for a day before being ready to serve. Your finished tourshi probably won’t stick around too long, but if it does, it keeps for six months or longer in the fridge.
I trust that after you make this recipe once, you’ll get the hang of the basic method and will be inspired to use it to preserve all sorts of vegetables, in whatever inventive combinations you desire.
- 1 tablespoon (12g) yellow or brown mustard seeds, or a combination
- 1 tablespoon (6g) coriander seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (5g) whole black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon (3g) allspice berries
- 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (see note)
- 2 bay leaves, lightly crushed
- 8 ounces (227g) each of carrots, cauliflower, celery, green cabbage, green tomatoes, and turnips, or any combination of these totaling at least 3 1/2 pounds (1.6kg)
- 4 ounces (113g) sweet, long, tender-skinned peppers, such as Anaheim, cubanelle, banana, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips, or pepperoncini, stemmed
- 4 to 8 fresh hot peppers, such as cayenne, serrano, red jalapeño, or cherry peppers, stemmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (optional, to taste; see note)
- 8 medium garlic cloves, peeled, divided
- 8 sprigs flat leaf parsley, divided
- 4 whole cloves
- 8 1/3 cups (2L) water
- 3 1/3 cups (800ml) cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup (66g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume or the same weight
In a small bowl, combine mustard, coriander, peppercorns, allspice, Aleppo pepper, and bay leaves. Stir until evenly combined, then set spice mixture aside.
On a clean work surface, cut vegetables into uniform pieces. For carrots, peel and cut into 1/2-inch sticks about 2 or 3 inches long. For cabbage, cut into quarters, remove core and tender outer leaves, and cut into 3/4- to 1-inch wide wedges lengthwise. For cauliflower, remove stem and cut into large florets. For celery, trim ends and cut into 1/2-inch sticks about 3 or 4 inches long. For green tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes. For turnips, peel and cut into 1/2-inch sticks about 2 to 3 inches long.
In the bottom of each clean, wide-mouth 1-quart canning jar, place 2 garlic cloves, 2 sprigs parsley, 1 clove, and 2 teaspoons of the spice mixture, then divide the remaining spice mixture evenly among the jars. Add vegetables, sweet peppers, and hot peppers, a few pieces at a time, to the jars, rotating between them, until each jar is filled to within 1/2 inch of rim, packing them as tightly as possible without crushing the contents. (You will have leftover vegetables; save remainder for another use.)
In a nonreactive stainless-steel pot or enameled Dutch oven, combine cider vinegar, water, and salt and bring to boil over high heat. Pour brine into jars until vegetables are covered; discard any remaining brine). Using a spoon, push contents of jars down into brine to ensure everything is submerged, then seal tightly, and invert jars. Let sit at room temperature for 5 days, turning jars over once a day. Refrigerate jars for at least 1 day before serving.
Serve as a snack, as part of a mezze spread, or as a side alongside a main course of your choosing.
4 wide-mouth 1-quart canning jars with lids and bands
Aleppo chile peppers, which have been cultivated in Syria for centuries, are quite mild in terms of heat, with a hint of raisin-y, sun-dried tomato sweetness. Due to the ongoing civil war, true Aleppo pepper from Syria is no longer available for import, but chiles grown in neighboring Turkey are. You can find Aleppo pepper at Middle Eastern markets, or online. Korean gochugaru or 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes can be substituted for the Aleppo pepper in this recipe.
Take care when adding hot peppers to tourshi, especially if they are on the spicy side; it’s better to err on the side of caution and add more next time around if you want more heat.
You can also make this recipe in 2 half-gallon jars, if desired.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Tourshi can be refrigerated for at least 6 months and up to 1 year, though they will be at their best in the first 6 months: the vegetables will slowly soften over time but will remain edible throughout.