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Tursu is the Turkish version of Torshi, a popular Middle Eastern and Balkan method of pickling diverse medley of seasonal vegetables. Meaning "sour" in Persian, the recipe's tart moniker reflects just one element of a complex and flavorful method for preserving valuable resources. With occasional variations by region, the mixture contains vinegar, salt, water, garlic and spices that drown fresh vegetables such as carrots, beets, eggplant, chiles, cauliflower, turnips and cucumber.
Acquiring the right vegetables and preparing them for a few months' sleep is usually the first step a chef will take to make tursu. This includes washing and slicing and even cooking them a little, if necessary. Eggplant, for example, must be half-cooked before storage or the final result will be too tough to eat. Vegetables like cucumbers or carrots should be peeled, unless miniature varieties are used. Many are left on a counter for several hours, with some salt to dry them out.
The pickling liquid used for tursu is what lends the vegetables their sour name. It is frequently made at the same time chefs are chopping various vegetables and stuffing them into a clear jar for storage. White vinegar, or a boiled mixture of equal parts water and vinegar, is added to fully submerge the tightly packed vegetables. Minced garlic, salt and black peppercorns are frequent additions to the liquid, as are dried herbs like thyme and rosemary. The more salt the chef uses, the less vinegar that will be needed.
When the jar is completely full of vegetables and vinegar, it is ready for storage. A lid is placed on tightly and it is left in a cool, shaded place like a basement or cabinet. After a few weeks, the vegetables should be tender, lightly pickled and seasoned. After a few months, the vegetables will be tartly flavored.
A few regional variations of tursu involve using only certain types of vegetables or different preparation methods. Tsarska turshiya, for instance, uses cauliflower, celery, peppers and carrots, which are left out with salt and sugar. The next day, a vinegar mixture is boiled then cooled before the storage period can begin. Another version, torshi liteh, is made exclusively with eggplant, which shares its pickling liquid with a distinctive blend of coriander, tarragon, basil and mint.
An Italian variation of tursu is known as giardiniera. Many Italian restaurants serve these pickled vegetables as a small starter to a meal. Making it more distinctive, this dish usually adds onions and often peppers, and bathes the vegetables in white or red wine vinegar instead of just white vinegar made from grain.