Reunited with Turnip Pickles

Sometimes the things that you miss about a place can surprise you.  When I left Iowa right out of college, I was surprised to discover that taco pizza is more of a local favorite than a widespread classic.  Sure, I grew up on it, but for other people, putting nacho chips on a pizza probably sounded akin to putting potato chips on a casserole.  So when I left the warmth of Glendale, California and its plethora of Armenian grocery stores and restaurants selling bulgur, lavash, sarma (stuffed grape leaves), mutabel (baba ganoush), and pickled vegetables, I didn’t quite realize how good I’d had it until it was gone.  (Live in Southern California?  I recommend Carousel or Father Nature for satisfying your pickled turnip needs.)

Finding big, flat layers of fresh lavash to stuff with homemade falafel?  Not as easy here.  But what I missed most of all, surprisingly, were the pickled turnips slid into wraps with black bean & chickpea hummus or added to a plate of bulgur with baba ganoush and salad.  The crisp, vinegary crunch added a pungency to the creamy, mellow garlicky chickpeas and grains.  While I’m never one to turn away a mezza platter, without the turnip pickles, it was missing something.

So I started searching Middle Eastern grocery stores all over the state, and when I did manage to find turnip pickles, they were made with red dye for their signature pink color.  While turnips themselves are white inside, they are usually pickled with slices of beets to add a nearly neon pink color to them.  Pink from red dye?  No, thanks.

And the search continued until I decided to see how tricky it would be to make my own.  I found this recipe from David Lebovitz’s blog.  (The recipe is vegan, but his blog is not, by the way.)  What I found there was very encouraging.  Not only did pickling turnips not involve pickling spices or complicated equipment, the amount of active work was quite small.  Just dissolve water and salt in a saucepan with a bay leaf and white vinegar, put french fry-sized peeled turnips, a sliced beet, and slices of garlic into two large jars, and pour the cooled solution over them.  Put the covered jars in a cool place for a week and then move them to the refrigerator, where they should be eaten within six weeks.  (No problems there!)

The turnips’ initial white color grew pinker and pinker with each passing day, and as they pickled I tasted them for a little hint at what was to come.  It didn’t take more than a few days for me to realize that they were going to be good.  Obviously since they are sitting in a solution of vinegar and salt, they are quite pungent.  At first the vinegary bite is sharp, and it slowly mellows over time.  But the best part was the addition of sliced garlic.  That wasn’t the norm in the turnip pickles I’d eaten in Glendale, but the only thing that could make vinegary turnip pickles better for this stinking rose enthusiast would be the added bonus of a bite of garlic.  Each nibble is a delicious, addictive surprise.

I had worried that the beet flavor (which is not my favorite) might overpower the turnips on its way to coloring them, and so I added only a few small slices to each jar.  There was no need to worry.  The beets don’t give any flavor at all, and in fact, once they’re jarred, it’s not completely obvious which piece is a turnip and which is a beet.  They all taste pretty much the same, except that the beet is ever so slightly darker.

I made the turnip pickles a month ago, and there are only a few remaining in the jar.  I even brought them along to Thanksgiving, where they were a surprise hit amongst the high school set.  It’s definitely time to go and get more turnips from the grocery store.  Now that we’ve been reunited again, I’m not letting these pink beauties get far from my sight.

Update:  For best results, use small to medium sized turnips.  Turnips are closely related to radishes, and the larger ones hold more of that hot, radish flavor.  For a milder turnip that allows the pickle flavor to shine through, opt for a smaller size, which has a more muted tone.  I also recommend taking a small taste of each turnip before pickling.  If it has too much of a strong, clear-the-nasal-passages bite to it, you may not want to use it since it won’t become milder.


    • Cadry says

      I know! Who would have thought I’d wax sentimental over pickled turnips? You just never know what you’ll miss! Apparently the things I miss are pickled and garlicky, since I also recently wrote about my pangs of longing for garlic sauerkraut!

  1. says

    Maybe high schoolers are different now, but I once added some homemade pickled turnips to a large snack tray I sent to my son’s school for some event, and received a serious tongue lashing from said son about sending “weird foods” to school. Maybe it was because there weren’t any beets to make them pink. :)

    BTW, the smoked provalone that I made was super simple. It works with water if you don’t have rejuvelac.

    • Cadry says

      That’s so funny that you actually have experience with sending pickled turnips to high schoolers! Maybe my pickled turnip audience is just more forgiving than yours. One of my high school aged cousins has a best friend who is vegan, and so she’s had some exposure to that kind of thing. Plus, the pink shade does make them more unusual for what it’s worth!

      That’s good to know that the smoked provolone is simple to make. I’ll look into it!

  2. says

    Now I know what’s been missing in my falafel wraps at home! I usually make everything from scratch including the pita bread but have never thought to make pickles and I’ve always loved the pickled turnips in bought ones. I actually never knew the pickles were made from turnips so thanks for enlightening me on that too. I’ll definitely have to give this a try with your touch of garlic!

    • Cadry says

      That’s very cool that you even make your own pita bread! In comparison, I’m sure these pickles will be a breeze. As much as I enjoyed the ones in restaurants, the homemade version is even better!

    • Cadry says

      Yes, the color does make them inviting, doesn’t it? If you like tangy pickles, I’m sure you’d love these turnips!

  3. says

    Oh brilliant! You know, I’ve always wondered what made the pickles pink, and how to make them. Thanks for resolving that quandry – I can’t wait to make these at home!

    • Cadry says

      You’re going to be so happy that you did! If you like them in restaurants, you’ll love this homemade version. I just bought two more pounds of turnips for pickle-making!

  4. says

    I love this idea, since I love all things pickled! I need to get my butt back over to Glendale (I never thought Id’ be saying that after this show ended) and try some with a falafel! Yum!

    • Cadry says

      They’re so easy to make and delicious too! Sadly, I just made a batch recently but used very large turnips. The strong radish flavor with the vinegary pickle quality was less than ideal. Remember to go with small ones! :)

      There are so many fabulous options in Glendale since it’s practically Little Armenia. (Although, not literally since Little Armenia is closer to Hollywood…) Carousel is nice, because it’s more of a sit-down, restaurant environment than the hole-in-the-wall falafel places that are so common. (But those can be good too, of course!) They also have a belly dancing show on the weekends, but I never went for that. They had a prix fixe menu, which seemed like it might be less than ideal for vegans.

  5. Marie says

    Okay I think I messed up on my first try. I followed one of the recipes online…they all seemed about the same…except some had fennel and others didn’t. Blah Blah Blah! The only thing I did was that after I added the brine and the jars cooled I put them in the refrigerator. It is now a week later and they are a very weak pink color and taste nothing like the pickled turnips I get at the little market down the street. Did the same day refrigeration mess everything up? This is my first try…I can always give it another shot. I am just kind of sad they didn’t work out becaue boy are they yummy when made correctly.

    • says

      I wouldn’t have thought putting them in the refrigerator early would have made that big of a difference, but I suppose there must be some reason that the recipes call for them to sit out for a week instead. In what way did they taste different? The biggest difference that I’ve noticed in the past is that if I use turnips that are too large, the “radish” flavor of the turnips is way too dominant. To get more of the “pickled” flavor, I recommend sticking with turnips that are on the smaller side. Good luck, Marie!

      • Anonymous says

        Thank you. They were super strong with very little pickle taste. I am on my second batch now and worked with smaller turnips. Will let you know. I left them out for 2 days and they are in the fridge now waiting a few more days for a taste test.

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