Help me make tursu (Turkish pickles)
December 19, 2016 11:21 AM   Subscribe

A few months ago I went to a Turkish cooking class and tasted lots of delicious food, inlcuding a selection of vegetable pickles. That class did not teach pickle-making, but a later class I did not attend did. One of the participants took rough notes and gave them to me. I have questions, pickle experts of MeFi.

This method appears to involve a brine of vinegar and salt and then a long sit at room temperature for a few weeks. There's no water canning to seal the jars. I want to make these pickles, but I've never made pickles before using any method and I don't want to make any mistakes that might cause me to get ill.

I've poked around on the Internet for recipes and video demonstrations, but I'm having trouble figuring out a few things.

The rough recipe I was given says this:

use really raw hard veggies to pickle (carrots, green tomatoes, cabbage, etc)

1/2 cup rock salt in 1 cup boiled water

Then add:
1/2 cup 5% white vinegar
1/2 cup cold water

See if an egg will float in the brine; if not, adjust the brine proportions.

Pack a glass jar that has been disinfected with boiled water with your chopped vegetables. Add a few fresh garlic cloves and fresh parsley. Add a few dried chickpeas to help with fermentation process.

Let covered and sealed jar sit in a dark place for about 10 days. Refrigerate once opened.

This is what I have in terms of ingredients:

small cucumbers (kirby? I bought them at a local middle eastern food store)
green tomatoes
grape vinegar and regular white vinegar

I've found this recipe that seems pretty similar to what my friend gave me.

So here are my questions: (1) the total brine ratio in the recipe I was given is 2.5 cups water : 1/2 cup vinegar : 1/2 cup rock salt. The ratio in the linked recipe is about 21 cups (5 litres) water : 5 cups (1.25 liters) vinegar : 1 cup rock salt. This seems to me to be a pretty different ratio between recipes. Can anyone out there help me figure out what ratio I should be shooting for here to make this recipe work? I will try the egg floating method, and I assume I'm adding salt to make the egg float, but I would feel more comfortable having an actual ratio to use.

(2) In terms of sealing the jars I use, do you get the sense from the recipes that my goal is to just fill the jars with enough liquid to cover the vegetables? Or should I make sure to fill the jar to brim to prevent oxygen getting in? Is it okay to just screw on the jar lid or should I put something between the jar and the liquid? The linked recipe says to weigh down the lids and to not use sealed lids. I'm not clear on what that means -- is just a regular screw-on lid for a mason jar ok?

(3) The two recipes vary in terms of how long the vegetables are left to ferment, from 10 days in the first recipe to 30 in the second recipe. What should I be looking for to know that the pickles are done?

I totally get that people have probably been making pickles like this for many hundreds of years and than I am probably overthinking this, but as someone who has had food safety hammered into me, this whole process seems designed to result in a poison pickles, not the delicious one I want. Do you make pickles like this? Give me your pickle knowledge!
posted by megancita to Food & Drink (6 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I make pickles with just plain salt-and-water brine, no vinegar to start, so the recipe is different but the principles overlap. The typical ratio is 1-3 tablespoons salt to each quart of water. (There are 16 tablespoons in a cup, so the linked recipe ratio is in line with the salty end of that spectrum.)

To figure out if your pickles are done, taste them!

The vegetables must stay under the liquid -- often this requires putting in some kind of weight to keep them from floating. A plastic baggie with brine in works well, or you can buy specialized weights. The fermentation will release gasses, so you don't want the jar perfectly sealed, or pressure will build up! I like to use a little valve thing that fits on a wide-mouth ball jar for this (like this guy) but you can also lid loosely and release the gases by opening it up periodically. Or there are other ways to approach it, too. has some useful how-to information you might enjoy.
posted by redfoxtail at 11:37 AM on December 19, 2016

Oh, and of course, rock salt is a lot less dense than kosher salt, so the volume-to-volume measurements aren't the same. I'd look up the weights of each and figure it out from there.
posted by redfoxtail at 11:40 AM on December 19, 2016

Re: food safety - all the salt you're adding and keeping things underwater is to select for the delicious pickle-making microbes that you want and exclude the undesirable ones. This works really well - witness that you can buy commercially produced / regulated live pickles at many groceries. The chickpeas are likely intended to spike your pickles with microbes, but you'll still get tasty pickles without them just from what's on your produce / in the air.

Time to finished pickles varies a lot due to temp - once you find them pleasantly tangy, put them in the fridge to slow further fermentation.

The surface of the brine may get some scum, especially if veg are partially exposed, just remove the gross bits and enjoy the rest. Also, my experience with a big bucket of sauerkraut was that the upper layer fermented differently (faster) than the rest, this is normal variation and not a bad thing.

Enjoy your food pets! If you want to go deeper Sandor Katz' Wild Fermentation is fabulous and covers lots of region/culture-specific ferments.
posted by momus_window at 11:56 AM on December 19, 2016

Master Preserver here. Your best option is to use a mason jar and have a clean cloth or paper towel across the top of your jar, with the jar band wrapped around it, like so. That will give you air flow without anything getting into the jar. You want the air to get in because the right bacteria needs oxygen to survive. Botulism thrives in a vacuum so you need need need to have air flow. My extension recipe book uses 1/2 c canning salt, 1/4c vinegar (5% acidity! Please check on the bottle!) and 8 cups of water, so I think both recipes are safe. It really just depends on how sour you want your pickles. The idea is to make it acid enough that the right bacteria can colonize and do their thing. You want the vegetables to be completely covered, but this is more about preventing browning and having the veggies go soft. Other tips - if you can, use a water filter to strain out the chlorine or use spring water. Chlorine can be too much for the bacteria. The same goes for hard water. It can take a long time for veggies to ferment - up to 5 or 6 weeks. That's why there's a big range. Temperature is also important - you want it it warm but not hot - over 80 F will make you veggies soft. The colder it is the longer the process will take, but it won't hurt anything. Basically, they're done when it smells right. That's not really a master preserver approved idea though, it's just what works for me. When you're at that point, put it in the fridge and it will slow the bacteria down so you can kind of pause the fermentation.
posted by Bistyfrass at 12:11 PM on December 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

The lactobactillus that makes your pickle pickly can metabolize oxygen in small amounts but importantly doesn't need it (unlike many other, undesirable, microorganisms). And you won't have a vacuum in any case, because the fermentation process produces gases. But none of that invalidates Bistyfrass's recommendations for how to arrange your setup! Airlock setups are fine, the cloth/paper towel setup is also fine and much cheaper. But do submerge the vegetables, seriously, not just to prevent browning but to keep them in the correct microbiological environment.
posted by redfoxtail at 9:13 PM on December 20, 2016

you want the air to get in because the right bacteria needs oxygen to survive.

This is absolutely false.
posted by kenko at 9:21 PM on December 20, 2016

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