Tarhana is one of the oldest known instant soups. Possibly the first of its kind, created centuries ago by the Turks living in Central Asia and then spreading widely.
Combining many foods that have been collected and harvested over the summer, they are then cooked, dried and crushed to create a delicious soup. It is a fermented cereal-based product and can be simply defined as a mixture of yoghurt, cereal flours, yeast, different vegetables, herbs, and spices.
In the past I have bought tarhana from the village ladies at the market but I have never understood how to make the soup properly. I thought adding water and bringing it slowly to the boil was just about all I had to do. However, I have since been told that it is far tastier to pre-soak it before cooking it.
My friend Kat staying at George House in Faralya managed to catch these two lovely ladies hard at work making Tarhana at the end of the summer. It is necessary to make this whilst the weather is still very hot and the ingredients have the opportunity to really dry out.
I was served Tarhana Soup by Şerife in Fethiye who makes it every year and hers is also absolutely delicious. It is truly a labour of love. Incredibly time and energy consuming. If you are ever offered some of the dried concoction to make up yourself at a later point, treasure it! It is hard to put a value on it.
The village womens’ hearts and souls go into this. Each one may slightly differ, believing theirs is the most delicious ever. Generally they are all wonderful and occasionally one will be truly sublime. I have to say Serife’s is that.
It is impossible to get one true recipe that stands for all time for the Tarhana base as it can vary quite a bit. It depends on what they have on hand and how they are feeling at the time. If the garlic crop has not been a good one, they might just choose not to put in any at all. Or if their crop of tomatoes is better than usual, they might add more.
After the mixing process, tarhana dough as they call it, is fermented for up to 10 days and then dried. Both lactic acid bacteria and yeast fermentations occur simultaneously during tarhana production.
Tarhana has a sour and acidic taste with a yeast flavour on top. This not only sounds complex but possibly not very appetising either. However, the two complicated underlying flavours actually work extremely well together and give this soup an undeniably tasty depth.
Since tarhana is a good source of B vitamins, minerals, organic acids, and free amino acids, and since it is a product of lactic acid bacteria and of a yeast fermentation, it can be considered a probiotic food.
Here’s hoping that you can find some Tarhana soup base and enjoy making it up to suit your palette. I will include instructions on how to make up the soup below. It is important to follow these carefully as by just adding water to the Tarhana mix will not be the same, according to the Tarhana aficionados around here.
- 100g tarhana or the equivalent of a large tea glass (100 ml)
- 1 flat Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 cup cold water
- 4 cups water, hot or cold
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tsp thyme (optional)
- 1 tsp dried mint (optional)
- 1 or 2 cloves crushed garlic
- Salt to taste
- 1 Tbsp butter
- ½ tsp red pepper powder
- Place the tarhana into a saucepan with 1 cup cold water
- Stir the tomato paste in well
- Leave it for half an hour to thicken
- Add 4 cups water, heat gently and continue mixing
- Do not leave it at all. It will thicken. Keep stirring.
- Add 100ml milk and stir until it has taken on a nice colour.
- Gently cook for several minutes and then add the garlic, herbs and salt as desired
- In a small pan melt the butter and the red pepper powder
- Allow it to bubble for 30 seconds and then pour on top of the soup in the pan
And here is a recipe with a slightly different method for non-vegetarians.