Fermented Turnip Pickles (like in Shawarma)

If you’ve eaten shawarma, you’re likely familiar with the bright purple pickles that are added to your meal.  Pickled turnip makes a great addition to a savory sandwich and adds a sour and slightly spicy accent to your meal.  It’s an exceptional match for the savory flavor of beans (including hummus) and is absolutely easy to make!

The bright color traditionally comes from the addition of beets (or beet juice) to the ferment.  Like many mass-produced products you’ll find that many modern versions are artificially dyed to obtain the color.  Since these are so easy to make (and a great way to learn how to ferment), why not skip the pre-made stuff and make your own?


I recently spoke to a friend who happens to be a Chef in addition to being Turkish.  We chatted about fermenting turnips and he surprised me by sharing that his grandmother grew turnips exclusively for pickling.  They weren’t used for anything other than pickled turnip and the only variation accepted was the addition of hot peppers.

I love this recipe because it allows me to use an ingredient that I would normally throw out!  instead of boiling tap water (to remove any possible chlorine) to make these pickles, I make these pickles after eating beets!  I often blanch or boil beets and, instead of tossing the water, I allow it to cool and use it for pickling!  I’ll write the recipe assuming you’re not having beets for dinner but remember this trick and I’m sure you’ll do the same!

Fermented Turnip Pickles – Ingredients

This will produce enough pickles for one 1-quart (liter) mason jar.  You can scale it if you wish but they will take up room in your fridge and are best made in small batches.

  • 1 beet
  • 4 cups of turnips (you can use more or less).  This is often 4-6 medium turnips.
  • 4 cups of cool water (or the leftover cooking water from beets, per my note above)
  • 2 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 1 hot pepper (optional) cut into large slices
  • 1 conventional (i.e. not wide-mouthed) mason jar (1 quart/ liter in size)

Fermented Turnip Pickles – Instructions

  1. Peel the beet and cut it into small pieces, add it to the water and bring to a boil.  Boil until you want to eat the beet (or for several minutes).
  2. As the beet cooks, peel the turnip and cut it into batons (large rectangles). Place a few of the longest pieces to the side.
  3. Clean the mason jar with hot water and soap.  Rinse well.
  4. Fill the jar with the turnip and hot pepper.(keeping the long pieces to the side for now).
  5. Add salt to mason jar.  Place a lid on the jar and shake it around to distribute the salt.
  6. Wedge the longest pieces of turnip under the shoulders of the jar (they will run parallel to the bottom of the jar).  This is called seatbelting and will prevent the turnip from floating to the surface.
  7. Leave the turnips on your counter (avoid drafts or warm spots and allow the water to cool to room temperature for a few hours (I’ll often do this overnight).  The turnips will produce some of their own liquid and this will help the fermentation.
  8. Add the beet water to the mason jar (per step 7, I often do this the next morning)
  9. Mix the two jars, ensuring the turnip is submerged under the water.
  10. Place the jar on a small plate (in case it bubbles over) and leave on your counter or another part of your kitchen that’s room temperature.
  11. It should be done within 7 days but taste each day after day 2 when you’re learning (the longer you wait, the more sour it will become).
  12. Store in fridge and eat within 6 weeks for best taste.

What would you eat these with?

Leave a Reply

  1. So add the beet water between steps 6 and 7? And is it for one jar (as per ingredients) or two jars (mentioned in recipe)? Thanks, I was wondering about pickled turnips a couple of weeks ago…

    • Hi Thea – thanks for asking! I made some clarifications above that should help (namely it takes 1 jar the other jar is merely to cool water which you could also do in the pan) and that I add the water after step 7, usually the next morning. See if that helps and let me know? Sometimes it’s tough for me to know if it makes sense. 🙂 J

  2. I made these and I’m now on day three and there are small bubbles and a vinegar smell, so I know it’s fermenting, but in the top inch of the jar, everything has turned a bit brownish. Is this normal? What should I do?

  3. looks great, I’m making these today as I need more fermented foods in my diet. Can I use hot pepper flakes instead of a pepper? I actually have some Turkish Marash pepper. 🙂

  4. Actually, traditional recipes use red cabbage and not beets to impart the red coloration. My family is from Egypt and this is a staple there. I assume beets adds a lot of sugar in comparison to the cabbage.

  5. Hi there, I am making these and the beet juice turned kinda brown overnight, is this normal? Also am I supposed to drain the juices that the turnips made on their own over night? I left them on the counter. I hope I did this right. They also settles quite a bit so my anchors aren’t really anchoring anymore lol


    • hi Jolyne!

      The number one key is to keep everything submerged. Taste after a few days and check it daily for any ‘scuzz’.. I am guessing that ‘brown’ is on it’s way to purple but I’ve never had that happen. If you wait a day or two I’m sure it will go more purple. I don’t drain the juices (it wouldn’t hurt if you did). It’s tough without seeing it up close but I’m guessing you are on your way to success – let me know how it goes! J

      • Thanks! I boiled the beets in a stainless steel pot and left the water in there to cool overnight. Maybe it was a reaction from the metal that made the water brownish? It’s like dark reddish brown but I used it anyway because it tastes fine. I used some bay leafs to anchor the turnips so that will add some flavor and keep them submerged. It will be 2 days tomorrow so I’ll try them out and see how they are. I just hope they end up the right colour but I’ll try again if not! Learning process:) thanks again!

        • Most welcome – if it tastes too salty, don’t despair – they often start very salty but will balance with time and patience… 🙂 Let me know how it goes! 🙂 Joel