Tarhana, a fermented cereal food associated with ancient Asian cooking and regarded as an essential source of proteins, minerals, acids and vitamins, is the epitome of a popular traditional dish.
When made into Tarhana Çorbasi, the easily digested Turkish thick creamy soup, it is consumed by all ages and desired by the poorly and sick, inevitably the clue to its longevity.
Cereal flour (wheat or corn or chickpea), yoghurt, yeast, onions, tomatoes, green peppers and red peppers, herbs and spices (from garlic, mint, thyme, dill, tarhana herb), and salt make up the usual ingredients.
The vegetables and spices are blended cooked or uncooked in sufficient water to make a paste. Some methods use commercial tomato, green and red pepper pastes. Flour, yeast and yoghurt are added to the paste to make a thick batter, which is kneaded daily and fermented over several days.
When the moisture has been reduced and the fermentation has slowed, the mixture is broken into pieces, then oven dried.
Finally it is ground into powder for use in soup or rolled into layers for a snack. In powder form it can be stored for up to three years without deterioration.
In Turkey generations of experimental cooks have made tarhana a variable feast. Flavourings have been used to relieve the sour acidic yeasty taste. Mint is especially popular and garlic is revered, but the tarhana herb, a member of the parsley family, is the secret ingredient gradually being revealed.
Long before food scientists realised that the yoghurt to flour ratio affected the taste and the quality, local cooks played with the amount of yoghurt and their results are reflected in the regional variations of tarhana made in the home. Scientists now argue that more yoghurt and the use of set yoghurt increases the nutritional benefits.
Traditionally tarhana was made without yeast. Despite the argument from the food scientists that the yeast-yoghurt formula increases the amount of beneficial lactic acid, many home cooks prefer to take their yeast from the air.
Although it is produced commercially in huge quantities, tarhana (pronounced tra-hana) has never left the home. Fermented in the cool of the kitchen, it is dried in the heat of the sun, packed with love and sent out to family and friends.
100 g tarhana powder 800 ml water
Mix the powder with some of the water to make a paste in a saucepan. Add the remaining water and bring gradually to a low boil, simmer for ten minutes. Serve with a small cube of butter in each bowl.
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