Kabees El Lift (Pickled Turnips)

NOTE: An updated version of this recipe appears in my cookbook, The Ancestral Table.

Kabees El Lift is a popular Lebanese dish, often served as a lighter side to heavy meat dishes. The dish sports a vibrant pink color, which is made by adding beets to the turnips as they ferment. Fermented foods are great for adding natural probiotics into your diet. And, as Paul Jaminet points out, there is evidence of fermented foods like kimchi helping against autoimmune diseases and allergies. Plus they’re tasty.

I’m not sure how long this dish has been around, but I do know that turnips have been around for a long, long time; the Romans talked about them, and some of their original names were in Greek, which suggests they were eaten in Ancient Greece. Beets have been around just as long, although early forms were only the beet greens, and the bulbous root was developed/cultivated later.

You’ll Need:
2 lbs turnips (six or seven), peeled and sliced
2 small beets (or one medium beet cut in half), peeled
3 cups water
1/4 cup sea salt
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves (dried or fresh okay)

Another interesting turnip fact: did you know that rutabagas are the result of cross-breeding turnips and cabbage? Okay, that’s enough history for today, let’s do the recipe.

Mix the salt with 1 cup of boiling water, and stir it together until dissolved. Add the other two cups of water to the hot water, then wait for it to reach room temperature.

As the water cools, peel your veggies. Slice the turnips into spears, about the size of thick-cut french fries.

Arrange your garlic, beets, turnips, and bay leaves in two quart-sized jars (one garlic, beet, and bay leaf per jar) with tight-fitting lids. You could also use one half-gallon jar.

Add the vinegar to the now-cooled water, stir together, then pour the mixture into your jars. Add water as needed so there’s about a 1/2″ of air left in each jar. Cover the jars with their lids. Let the jars sit in a dark area of the house for four days. It might be a good idea to crack the seal on the jar after a couple days to release air pressure if the lid looks a little too pressurized.

Your turnips will have made an unforgettable journey towards pinkness as they ferment.

That’s it! Serve with just about anything, or as an appetizer when entertaining. Store them in the fridge, and they should keep for about a month.

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31 thoughts on “Kabees El Lift (Pickled Turnips)

  1. One of my favorites! I’m the founder/moderator for Punk Domestics (www.punkdomestics.com), a community site for those of use obsessed with, er, interested in DIY food. It’s sort of like Tastespotting, but specific to the niche. I’d love for you to submit this to the site. Good stuff!


  2. Just made these last night, but without the vinegar. I used Sandor Katz’s base recipe for root veggie ferments to mix up a brine, then added that to my jar of turnips, beets, garlic, beet greens and bay leaf. It should be ready in a week or so, but it’s already turned a nice shade of pink!

    Not positive, but I think the vinegar kills off or suppresses the lactobacilli. But if you are using raw cider vinegar, you are getting some probiotics from that! :)

    Anyway, just thought I would chime in that you can also make these without vinegar — like kimchi is made. The taste is different than vinegar pickles, but still good. If I’d had enough turnips to do both versions, I would have for a side by side comparison. Well, that will be a project for another day! Enjoy your pickles!! ;)


    1. Hi Ema, thanks for the feedback! I’ve made the recipe a couple times without vinegar, and you’re right, it does take a couple extra days to get the right taste. I think you’re right in that adding ACV may suppress some of the good bacteria, and I went back and forth about adding ACV or not. In the end I went with the ACV for a nice depth of flavor.

      I just made up some watermelon rind pickles yesterday using a simple salt and garlic brine, I’m pretty excited about it!


    2. Hi, I was thinking about doing it without the vinegar as well. I’m not sure what your brine recipe is though. Do you mind sharing? Also do you know how to keep betloweh from separating? The nuts don’t stay attached well to the filo leaves/ Thanks so much! Sincerely, Barbara babsacee@gmail.com


      1. Hi Barbara, the brine for this recipe without the ACV is the same, just omit the ACV. You could add a tbsp of whey (the liquid that forms at the top of yogurt) to kick start the fermentation process, as well.


  3. these look great, and you just gave me an idea for my own pickles, I wanted the pink colour without artificial colour.. Now I’m off to check your other pickle posts :) charu


  4. any suggestion about how these should taste. I made them, let them sit for about 4 days. Along with a beet recipe. Pretty much just taste like salty vegetables to me.


  5. I just put up a batch using teeny turnips I got this morning at the farmer’s market. I, also, left out the vinegar. Please give us your recipe for watermelon rind pickles!!


    1. Jason, the fermentation profile will be a little different because of the inclusion of vinegar, but it’ll still definitely ferment. We have tried it with and without the vinegar and I prefer the depth of flavor that comes with the ACV.


  6. Being Lebanese who grew up in the Caribbean, we do this a little differently. The pickling mixture is made up of 1 part of vinegar to 1 1/2 parts water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bay leaf and garlic are not used in the original, traditional Lebanese version, and the turnips are not peeled as that makes the pickles soft. Blemished spots are cut away but the peel is left on. In the Caribbean, we also add a fresh, green Habanero chili to the pickle.


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