Spicy Persian Pickles (Torshi Bandari)
It’s that time of year again when I can’t stop myself from pickling whatever I find. Last week I spent two days pickling which reminded me I had often been asked for an easy torshi (Persian pickles) recipe and a post dedicated to torshi was long overdue.
Torshi is an indispensable part of Persian meals, except breakfast of course because it’s vinegary, sharp and often spicy. Iranians believe it aids in digestion of heavy foods so one or even several types are often served with big meals. Torshi bandari is a delicious spicy one that goes very well with most polo khorsh (rice and stew) dishes, kotlet (meat and potato patties) and lamb hotpot (abgoosht).
Bandari in the names of Iranian dishes means they hail from the Persian Gulf port of Bandar Bushehr or Bandar Abbas where the influence of Indian and Arabic cuisines is quite pronounced and the food is quite spicy. This sour and spicy torshi is very easy to make and can be enjoyed right away but it will also keep in the fridge at least for a couple of months.
There are literally hundreds of types of torshi. Most common vegetables used for making torshi are aubergine (eggplants), garlic, peppers, chillies, Jerusalem artichokes, cucumbers, celery, cauliflowers, white and red cabbages, Persian shallots (moosir) and tomatoes. Plums, apples, pears and peaches are often used in pickles too. Most torshi are flavoured with herbs and spices. Vinegar, tomato juice, verjuice and tamarind are used as souring (and preserving) agents.
Each region of Iran and Iranian family has its own favourite torshi recipes according to local produce and preferences. One of the most popular throughout the country is garlic pickles (sir torshi). According to Persian medicinal lore the older it gets, the more health benefits it acquires. I had a jar of twenty year old sir torshi I had made when I started my own family. There’s a five year old one now I made soon after I arrived in my new home.
Making torshi must be an ancient method of preserving vegetables and fruit. The Persian word torshi means “sour”. This word was borrowed in many languages including Albanian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Egyptian Arabic and Greek most probably in Ottoman times through Turkish turşu (pronounced turshu).
The most important point in making torshi is to make sure all the ingredients are of the highest quality, washed well and air dried for at least half a day so there’s no moisture when they are mixed with vinegar. Any moisture will result in dilution of the vinegar and the torshi will go off quickly. To avoid that drain the chopped vegetables and spread them on clean tea towels and allow to dry before using.
Iranians also often make a different type of pickles, that is, brined (lacto-fermented) pickles called shoor in Persian. In this type of pickles there’s no vinegar or very little of it and the pickling process is aided by the addition of a salty brine. My Hot and Garlicky Fermented Red Cabbage Pickle recipe is a very easy one and makes delicious pickles you can enjoy with many cooked dishes and in salads and sandwiches.
- 2 medium aubergines
- 1 large carrot
- 4 florets of cauliflower
- ½ red pepper
- ½ green or yellow pepper
- 4 cloves garlic
- 3 medium hot chillies (or more if you wish)
- 1 tbsp ground coriander seeds
- ½ tbsp celery seeds
- 1 tsp ground cumin seeds
- 1 tsp nigella seeds (optional)
- ½ tbsp turmeric
- 2 tbsp dried mint
- 2 tbsp dried parsley
- 2 tbsp dried tarragon
- 100ml tomato juice or passata
- 3 tbsp tamarind paste
- 1 tbsp salt
- 300ml white wine vinegar
- pinch of sugar (optional)
- Wash the carrots, cauliflower and peppers. Spread on a clean tea towel to dry for a couple of hours.
- Wash the aubergines, prick in several places with a fork and wrap in foil. Bake in a hot oven (200 degrees) for 30 minutes or until very very soft. Let cool.
- Cut the aubergines in half and scoop out the flesh. Mash well and let drain in a sieve over a bowl.
- Finely chop the vegetables, garlic and chillies and allow to air dry for a few hours again.
- Mix the aubergine pulp, chopped vegetables, dried herbs, salt and spices in a bowl. Mix the tamarind paste, passata and vinegar and combine with the aubergine mix. Taste and add a little sugar if it’s too sharp. Fill in clean sterilised jars. This torshi can be enjoyed right away but it’s usually better after developing for a couple of weeks. It will keep for months in the fridge or about two months in a cool, dark place.