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Tarhana is a traditional dish in Turkish cuisine that refers to a dough or powder made using various vegetables, spices, yeast, and yogurt. The name can refer to the actual powder or dough itself, as well as a soup made by using the dough or powder and adding boiling water. Created as a way of preserving food before the invention of refrigerators and other safe food storage methods, this is effectively one of the oldest instant soups. Tarhana mixes can be purchased from grocery stores, especially those that focus on Turkish foodstuffs, or made at home.
When the term “tarhana” is used, it can refer to either the powder or dough created using different vegetables or to a soup made using this prepared powder or dough. The creation of this mixture is fairly simple, though a bit time consuming due to the fact that it is allowed to ferment. This process usually begins with the selection of the vegetables and spices that will be used in making the dough or powder. While a powder can be created, many modern recipes call for the creation of dough that can be frozen or stored at the preference of the maker.
Tarhana dough usually begins with peppers, tomatoes, and onion, which are all chopped using a food processor. Yeast is often used to assist in the fermentation of the tarhana, and this is typically bloomed in warm water, often with a little sugar to help feed the yeast. The bloomed yeast is added to the mixture of vegetables along with various spices. Common herbs and spices used in tarhana include thyme, mint, oregano, dill, and paprika.
Yogurt with live cultures is then added to the tarhana mixture. The live cultures as well as the yeast serve to create fermentation and prevent bacteria from thriving in the dough. Some recipes call for the use of kefir or “sour milk” instead, though this is not always easy to find and the yeast and yogurt work just as well. Flour is then added slowly to the dough as it is mixed and kneaded until the dough is firm, at which point it is placed in a bowl and covered.
The dough is then allowed to ferment in the bowl for several days, kneaded once each day, and can be dried out afterward in the sun for several more days or stored in a freezer. The tarhana dough will keep for months, especially in a refrigerator or freezer, and if dried it can be stored in a cool dry place in an airtight jar. To prepare as a soup, a small amount of dough is placed in a pan, to which boiling water is added and mixed to reconstitute, and then chicken stock added and allowed to simmer until the proper, thick consistency.
For some extra flavor, cook the dry tarhana mix with a little bit of butter or olive oil before putting in the chicken stock. And always use chicken stock. I tried making it with plain water one time and it did not taste too great. I like to keep the water after I have boiled or cooked chicken and make tarhana with that.
This is my mom's tarhana soup recipe. This is the way that tarhana is made in the Aegean region of Turkey. Tarhana is usually made in the summer time because the ingredients are found abundantly and fresh and also because it will be dried in open air.
The recipe requires 2 pounds flour, half pound onions, half pound tomato, half pound red pepper, 2 pounds thick yogurt and one bunch dill.
Boil all the ingredients (without adding water) except for the flour and yogurt and leave to cool. After it has cooled down, knead with yogurt and flour like a dough. You need a thick yogurt for this. You can use a sieve to extract the extra water
from plain yogurt. My mom makes yogurt herself and puts it in a cotton pillow case and hangs it over the sink. The water will slowly ooze out from the yogurt.
After the dough is kneaded, cover the top with clean cloth and go back and knead the dough every day for one week. Be careful though, the dough should not wait for more than one week like this because it might become sour.
After one week, spread the dough in small pieces over a clean cloth and place under a shade to dry. The number of days it takes to dry varies depending on where you are, so just check. Also it should not be dried in the sun because the reddish color of it will fade. After it is dry, run the tarhana through a sieve to make it a thinner powder and store in a tight glass jar.
Some people like to keep the tarhana as a dough in the fridge instead of drying it into a powder. I think you can try doing this if you have a small amount of tarhana that you will consume in about 2-3 weeks. I have never tried it this way, so I can't say for sure how long it can last. If the dough stays in the fridge too long, it will probably ferment and spoil.
In some regions, they also put boiled chickpeas when making tarhana. You can throw it in with the other ingredients while boiling if you would like.
For Turkish people, tarhana is like what chicken noodle soup is for Americans. When you are sick and are looking for comfort food, our mothers will make tarhana soup. Some people also like to have it for breakfast.
Tarhana is probably one of the fastest meals ever. So if you have guests over or you arrive home tired after work, tarhana only takes a few minutes to make. Turks also enjoy having soup before moving onto other foods in that meal, so tarhana sort of serves like an appetizer and appetite enhancer too.
We also eat tarhana with lots of bread. I tear the bread into little pieces and put it in the soup. It's much more filling that way and can be, literally, a complete meal.