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.