Time is ticking for pickling!
The pickle shops in Turkey are like candy stores for the ones who have a savory palate rather than a sweet tooth. The multi-colored pickle jars filled with shades of green, red, orange, yellow, purple vegetables and fruits are a delight for the eye, as well as a treat for salt-thirsty appetites. Dark green gherkins and unripe baby melons, pale green snake cucumbers, long and thin green peppers, purple stuffed baby eggplants, coral red peppers, pale yellow cabbages, magenta beet slices, ivory cauliflower florets, orange carrot sticks; they all shine in the most tempting way in the pickle shop window. And that intoxicating smell of briny fermentation, even if you try to look away from the pickle shop, that seductive sniff of pickle captures you instantly; I can never walk past one without stopping in for a quick shot of pickle juice. And yes, in Turkey we eat our pickles and drink its juice too.
The generic name for pickles in Turkish is turşu that comes from torsh in Persian, meaning sour. In many countries that are former Ottoman lands pickles are called similar names, Greek toursí; Bulgarian turshiya; Bosnia, Croatian and Serbian turšija; and Albanian turshi. In the Ottoman court kitchen the pickles were made in the dessert kitchen together with the preserves, jams, sweetmeats, syrups, sherbets, and, of course last but not least, medicinal potions elixirs. During Byzantine times fruit pickles especially whole bunch grapes and white cherry pickles were very popular. The Ottoman world continued the tradition, even elaborating the variations; today a pickle shop offers a myriad of discoveries: Snake cucumbers (acur), unripe baby melons (kelek), tiny baby okras (bamya) and unripe green almonds (çağla badem) stand out as lesser-known varieties alongside with usual classics, such as quartered cabbages, gherkin and long green chili peppers.
Pickles on a Turkish table are omnipresent; they serve as a palate refresher in between courses or bites, wetting the appetite for more food. They are essential to accompany certain dishes, especially single dish restaurants always stock jars of pickles to accompany their dishes; a köfte (meatball) joint or a kuru fasulye (bean stew) eatery is never short of pickles. A mixed pickle plate almost always goes together with these dishes. Apart from being a usual plate on the table, pickles are also enjoyed on their own in between meals as a quick pick-me-up treat. Late at night pickle seller carts appear in beachside resorts as if like an emergency service. They offer mixed pickles in glass, topped with pickle juice, both to be nibbled and drunk, a favorite summer refresher. Pickle juice balances all the salt and minerals lost with excessive sweating on hot summer days, it in a way acts like serum fluid restoring the body, with the cool breeze of the night, a pickle fix is all you need to get revived. Other frequent customers are late night browsers too pickled with binge drinking, hoping to sober up with a fix of pickle juice. Needless to say, pickle juice is also a very effective hangover cure. But for young ladies, there is a point to remind: Do not make it too obvious if you are craving for pickles, it is regarded as an indicator of pregnancy, so stay solemn, keep calm, and eat your pickles discreetly!
Time is ticking for pickling! These days all supermarkets sell the necessary ingredients and equipment, coarse salt, citric acid, vinegar, big glass jars and green; markets are full of tiny vegetables perfect for pickling. Get your huge jars ready, pick your vegetables, stock your salt and start pickling… You’ll soon be rewarded with briny fermented goodness!
Recipe of the Week: One of the top vegetables of August is definitely the okra, especially the small tender baby ones. Pickled okra is a delight, not having a bit of sliminess, becoming a rediscovered fad that swept bars lately. Serving a tiny plate of baby okra pickles is so cool along a good G&T. I can say that certain pickle shops are selling all their jars to roof top bars of Istanbul. Make your own, it is easy peasy. Have half a kilogram of tiny okras, smaller and firmer the better, wash and pat dry, do not bother to carve out stems, just cut out if there are darkened stem tips; pack them in a big jar enough to hold all, add a few cloves of garlic; add a few raw chick peas to aid fermentation; mix 1 heaped tablespoon of coarse salt, 1 teaspoon citric acid crystals (limon tuzu), 1 cup apple vinegar, pour over the okras. Boil water enough to fill the jar and pour the boiling hot water over to cover all. Close tightly the lid and turn the jar upside down for a couple of hours. Store in a cool dark place until okras turn a yellowish green color, about 10-15 days. Keep refrigerated after opening the jar.
Book of the Week: “Pickles – A Global History” is the name of a new book by Jan Davison, packed with information on pickles worldwide. This small book is from the Edible Series of Reaktion Books, a revolutionary series of books dedicated to food and drink that explores the rich history of cuisine. Each book, edited by Andrew F. Smith, reveals the global history and culture of one type of food or beverage, this time the glorious pickle. I affirm that all the knowledge in the book is well-searched and thoroughly studied. Being a small contributor on the chapter related with Turkish pickles, I witnessed how Jan has meticulously checked every source she could get her hands on. The result is a mouth-watering account of pickle world, a delicious read for summer.
Fork of the Week: Here are a few good pickle shops in Istanbul: Petek Turşu in Beyoğlu Fish Market, Asri Turşucu in Cihangir, Özcan Turşu in Kadıköy market and Pelit Turşucu in Beşiktaş Şair Nedim Street. Just to point out, the latter two are the pickle joints where legendary food scientist Harold Mc Gee had his pickle treats. In Ankara the classic address is in Emek: 4. Cadde, Azeri Turşucu is one of the best pickle places in the country, their green gage (can erik) pickle is amazing.
Cork of the Week: Once we were touring in Kadıköy market with the famous drink writer Alice Lascelles, we naturally stopped at my favorite pickle shop, Özcan Turşuları, for a pickle drink. This led Alice to write a fabulous piece titled “Drink Turkey’s Answer to the Brooklyn Pickleback.” Read it and get inspired to add a little pickle juice to your neat vodka instead of vermouth, preferably an almost savory mineral-like steely cattle distilled vodka or make a whisky sour with a pickle twist. Just do not have several of them as one gets easily pickled with that last one last shot, but anyway you already know the remedy, not?