Especially when it comes to food, we all have our own guilty pleasures. When we first came to Turkey, I immediately noticed that there was no need for my guilty pleasure to be guilt-riddled at all. No; it was perfectly acceptable. A fact of life. Turkish pickles! Or turşu, to give them their Turkish name.
Growing up, I would think nothing of coming home from school and going straight into the pickles jar for a few pickled onions or pickled red cabbage – and I also loved to take in a few spoonfuls of the pickle juice, too. The all too often, “You’ll make yourself ill,” reaction from parents never curbed the enthusiasm for pickled vegetables or the pickle juice!
Little did I realise, back then, that millions of people in Turkey were also doing the same as I was. Okay, perhaps not delving into the jar with a dessert spoon, but turşu – Turkish pickled vegetables – play a major role in the daily diet.
Turkish Pickles On The Snack Table
Some places will serve you a plate but others will just leave a huge plastic tub of turşu on your table. Take the maşa (the tongs) and delve in to help yourself to as many pickles as you like! A frothy ayran also completes the picture.
Bülent’in Yeri in Kayaköy will also serve up a plate of Turkish pickled vegetables when you sit down to their fabulous gözleme.
And if you don’t get your Turkish pickles with these snacks – well, they go hand in hand and it’s just not the same. Your perfect snack experience just became a little bit of a disappointment.
Turkish Pickles On The Meze Table
Lest we leave you thinking Turkish pickles are merely for snacks, let us make clear now that that is certainly not the case. Rare is the time you will enter a restaurant to choose from the meze fridge and not come across at least one choice of pickled vegetables.
We’re creatures of habit with our meze choices at our regular Fethiye restaurants. This is our usual selection when we go to Çarıklı Et Restaurant for a steak. Roast garlic, Antep Ezmesi, aubergine salad, tulum cheese, ‘atom’ (süzme yoghurt with fiery hot dried chillies) and then our two choices of pickles.
First, we have pickled beetroot (pancar). Extra tangy when they have been pickled with chillies for a bit of heat.
And then, bottom centre in the photo above, is this our favourite of favourites within the Turkish pickles family? Not for the faint hearted if that super tangy, spicy pickle flavour is not your thing.
You are looking at two whole aubergines, sliced and stuffed with other vegetables such as celeriac stems and leaves. The parcel is then tied together and the whole thing pickled with chillies. If you know how spongy and absorbent aubergines are, you can just imagine how much heat and juice is present here! Divine – for the pickle lovers amongst us.
Turkish Pickle Juice On The Street
But this was the big one for me! Aside from the joy of being served copious amounts of mixed pickles with various snacks (some bars will even give you turşu with your beer), in Turkey, it is even perfectly acceptable to purchase a cup of turşu suyu – a pickle juice drink.
All those years of sneaking a few spoonfuls of pickle juice from the jar while growing up. And now, here we are, in a country where we can buy it by the cup and drink it. In public. In the street!
Fethiye isn’t well known for this activity. If you’re in town and you’re curious, you can get a cup of pickle juice at Lokum Kokoreç.
But if you’re in Istanbul, you can take your pick of pickle juice venues. There’s something truly special about standing in Eminönü, overlooking the Golden Horn and across to the hillside Galata neighbourhood whilst sipping your pickle juice.
Slightly pink in colour, the pickle juice from the turşucular (pickle makers and traders) contains bonus pickled vegetables, too. You might get a bit of pickled white cabbage or the odd pepper.
It’s actually a great winter warmer whilst you’re out and about exploring the city. We’re often in Istanbul for the Istanbul Marathon which takes place in November. The perfect time for a pickle juice drink!
Pickle Juice Is Good For You!
Yes, lest you go wondering why on earth you would want to drink pickle juice – turşu suyu – well, apart from the fact that we think it tastes fabulous, the Turks have had it right all along. My parents telling me, as a kid, I would get a bad stomach from pickle juice were very much mistaken.
- Pickle juice is oft used as a hangover cure. Too much rakı (or favourite alcoholic tipple) the night before and you can head straight for the pickle juice drink the morning after to help out with that mother-of-all-headaches!
- Smelly breath? The vinegar in pickle juice can kill off the bacteria causing that whiff – but then you might have to hope your friends like the smell of pickle juice instead?
- Pickle juice for cramps. The potassium gained from drinking pickle juice can help to prevent the onset of muscle cramps. So powerful is this that you don’t need to take our word for it. Sports stars are drinking pickle juice mid match, mid run, mid cycle to help them perform to the best of their abilities. Apparently, pickle juice stops cramps 40% faster than drinking water.
- The antioxidants in pickle juice can also help to control blood sugar levels and gut health. So there you go – I was actually boosting my gut health as a kid.
Next time you see some pickle juice – turşu suyu – on offer, take that offer up!
Artisan Turkish Pickles
It’s not a big thing in Fethiye – the big pickle shop tempter – but we can buy artisan Turkish pickles from places like our local Friday market and the Çalış Sunday market.
However, if you’re in cities around Turkey, lots of people have their favourite turşucu – maker and trader of homemade pickles. In Istanbul, we love to visit Petek Turşuları.
The colourful displays, the presentation of the pickles in the jar, the pungent aroma of pickle juice as you enter the tiny store…
Turkish pickles are definitely an art. And each turşucu has his or her own recipe.
Our Recipe For Pickled Vegetables
Which brings us onto our own recipe for Turkish mixed pickles. We do homemade pickles year round but, particularly special is the end of summer period.
At the end of the hotter months, as the summer fruits and vegetables are coming to an end and we’re busy buying up the tomatoes and peppers to make batches of breakfast sauce ketchup, we’re also buying up the mixed fruits and vegetables that appear on the stalls of the local markets labelled, turşuluk.
Turşuluk means ‘for pickles.’ And it’s a case of fill your boots. Buy batches of whatever fruits and vegetables you prefer for your mixed pickles.
Produce labelled ‘turşuluk’ usually involves baby cucumbers, gherkins, cherry-shaped chillies, green tomatoes and ‘kelek.’ More about kelek in a moment. After that, you can add other vegetables to complement these and make your pickle jar presentation as colourful as you like.
And once you have your basic homemade pickles recipe, you can make smaller jars with just one type of pickle or you can do as many Turks do and buy one of these huge jars – about 5 litres – and do a mixed pickle medley.
We like to make a spiced vinegar and then add chillies and leaves to our Turkish pickles just to give us the flavours of some of our favourite pickle memories over the years.
How To Make Mixed Pickles – Turşu
Turkish Pickles Recipe (Turşu)
- sterilised Jar(s)
For The Mixed Pickles
- 5 small unripe melons washed & left whole
- 4 medium green tomatoes washed & sliced
- 3 large carrots washed & sliced
- 3 large cucumbers washed & cut into large chunks
- 2 medium aubergines washed & cut into small chunks
- 2 medium red capsicum peppers washed, deseeded & cut into large chunks
- 1 medium celeriac peeled & sliced
- 1 bunch celeriac leaves & stems washed & roughly chopped
- 10 hot chillies pricked with a knife
- 2 bulbs garlic cloves separated & peeled
For The Pickle Vinegar
- 1.5 litres grape vinegar
- 1 tsp coriander seeds crushed
- 1 tsp fennel seeds crushed
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 tsp fresh ginger grated
- 3 tsp salt
- 3 tsp granulated sugar
- 2 tsp ground black pepper
For The Pickle Vinegar
- First of all, add your vinegar and all the other vinegar ingredients to a large saucepan.
- Bring to the boil and then allow to simmer, covered, for 5 minutes.
- After 5 minutes, remove the pan from the heat, add the garlic cloves and the chillies and leave to cool.
For The Mixed Pickles
- Sterilise your jar by filling it with boiling water and leaving it to stand for a few minutes.
- Empty the water from the jar and drop the melons to the bottom. These will take the longest to mature.
- Now add your carrots over the top.
- Sprinkle a few of the celeriac leaves and stems over the top and then add your celeriac slices.
- Add your red peppers and green tomatoes and sprinkle more celeriac leaves and stems.
- Now add your cucumbers and, finally, your aubergines.
- If you have any left, sprinkle the rest of your celeriac leaves and stems over the top.
Adding Your Pickle Vinegar
- When the pickle vinegar mixture has cooled, carefully pour it into the jar, over your vegetables.
- Push the garlic and chillies down through any gaps.
- If your grape vinegar doesn't fill the jar, you can top it up with water or a cold vinegar-water mix. Grape vinegar is quite strong so it can take a bit of water.
- Seal your jar and leave for a minimum of two weeks before opening and eating.
- There are no hard and fast rules as to what you can and cannot include in your Turkish pickles. Likewise with the amount you make. For reference, our jar that we use for mixed pickles is around 5 litres.
- We add the garlic and chillies to the hot vinegar to prevent the garlic from discolouring and to soften the chillies a little whilst the heat infuses into the vinegar.
- With our Turkish pickles recipe, the aubergine and cucumber will be ready to eat first. that's why we place them at the top. With the melon (kelek), we recommend you leave this for 6 weeks before eating.
- If you don't want mixed pickles, you can simply choose your favourite vegetable and pickle that on its own.
- We love pickled red cabbage and pickled beetroot but we make these as standalone jars because they will colour and flavour your vinegar and other mixed pickles.
- We like strongly flavoured mixed pickles so we use grape vinegar. If you like, you can use a milder vinegar such as white vinegar.
- If you want to make strong pickles and you can't get grape vinegar, malt vinegar is a good substitute.
- In Turkey, it is possible to buy bottles of pickling brine. This is a salty pickle vinegar mix that is too salty for our taste. If we do use it, we make a 50/50 split with grape vinegar and omit the salt from our original recipe.
- Homemade pickles are all about experimenting and choosing your favourite combination. Have fun exploring different vegetables, textures and vinegar strengths.
- Calories for this recipe are very approximate. It depends on how big your serving is, and which particular pickles you choose for each serving.
Once you have made your Turkish pickles, your biggest challenge is leaving them to mature. It’s so tempting to delve in and enjoy them. But, give them (at least) a couple of weeks so that you can enjoy them at their best.
‘Kelek’ is the word used for unripe baby melon. The melon resembles the Valencia Melon and always appears on stalls at the end of summer for turşu season.
It’s a robust melon and takes at least six weeks before it’s ready to eat when you pickle it. But it is most definitely worth the wait. We love most Turkish pickles but kelek is probably the favourite. No mixing here. The kelek is enjoyed in perfect pickle solitude.
So, if you ever see any, do get some and give them a go.
No need to prick them or shave them in any way. Just drop them into the jar and forget all about them – if you can – for a few weeks. After that, you’re in for a real treat of a homemade pickle sensation!
What’s That White Film On Top Of My Homemade Pickles?
And finally, we’ve been making homemade pickles for a few years now, and a couple of times, a white film has formed over the top of the vinegar.
If this happens to you, chances are it is kahm yeast. It can form if your jar isn’t airtight, if it wasn’t sterilised properly before you added your pickles or if the room is too warm (we don’t have air conditioning and autumn can be very warm in Fethiye).
Simply skim it off the top and reseal the jar. If you’re making smaller jars of pickles, putting them in the fridge will help to stop the yeast forming.
Happy pickle making! And, more importantly, happy pickle eating – and pickle juice drinking!