Tarhana – a very special instant soup

Tarhana is a dried food ingredient, based on a fermented mixture of grain and yoghurt or fermented milk, found in the cuisines of Central Asia, Southeast Europe and the Middle East. Dry tarhana has a texture of coarse, uneven crumbs, and it is usually made into a thick soup with water, stock, or milk. As it is both acidic and low in moisture, the milk proteins keep for long periods. (says wikipedia)

Tarhana is usually made with yeast, but I used my lievito madre and homemade yogurt with live cultures to kickstart fermentation. Instead of taking a week, it was done fermenting after 24 hours. Had I known it would go so quickly, I’d have tried the homemade version way earlier instead of buying my tarhana from the turkish supermarket.

The ingredients shown yield 2 quart jars of the dried mix, about 1300g all in all. That makes 100 portions of soup, but can also be used for many other things. It’s shelf stable for a year or longer, but I love to experiment with it and have serious doubts the amount I have will last until next summer.

Those 500g you’re going to see several times in just a moment are not set in stone, they’re a rough estimate. I used the whole veggies and whole cans of chickpeas instead of leaving scraps. So some of my ingredients are a bit more than those 500g, some a bit less. Doesn’t really matter.

  • 500g paste tomatoes
  • 500g thick yogurt
  • 500g chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
  • 500g sweet, red peppers
  • 500g onions (I used a mix of red and sweet)
  • 160g lievito madre
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic (you can also leave it if you don’t like it)
  • 2 Tbsp dried mint (I used moroccan)
  • 2 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 Tbsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 900g whole wheat flour
  • olive oil

Peel and roughly chop the veggies, then sautee them together with all the herbs and spices in a generous portion of olive oil until the tomatoes liquefy. Let the mix cool to about body temperature.

Use a blender to puree all the veggies. The sourdough dissolves better in the blender as well, so just it throw it in there with the yogurt. At last, mix in the flour by hand. You should end up with a shaggy batter.

Choose a bowl or food grade bucket that’s big enough for twice the amount of batter you have. I’m using a 10 liter bowl. Cover it up with either a lid or a towel and a big plate.

That’s my tarhana after 6 hours at room temperature. The yogurt and the sourdough are hard at work already. The next morning, the towel on top was stained orange. The sides of the bowl had signs that the dough had reached the top. It was sinking into itself when I lifted the towel and smelled yeasty and slightly sour with a touch of onion. I stirred it down and left it alone for another 3 hours, but no change, no more bubbles. It was finished.

Now the tarhana needs to dry. That can happen outside in the sun (watch out for insects), in a dehydrator (50°C / 122F) or in the oven with the door slightly open (just use a wooden spoon to keep it from closing completely). Spread the batter onto parchment or silicone mats and get it dry however you choose. I needed 7 mats, had 4 in the oven and 3 in the kitchen until I could swap loads.

When using the oven, there comes a time when the top is dry and the whole mass forms a sheet with a still wet bottom, so flip it over that the other side can dry. It’ll take ages otherwise.

When sufficiently dry, crumble up the sheets into smaller pieces and then grind those into a powder, not unlike breadcrumbs. I used the blender for this.

Store the tarhana in an airtight jar and make sure to shake it every day for the next week or so. That way you can see if everything is completely dry and catch issues early. If it starts caking, it needs more drying. If that’s the case, empty the jar onto a baking sheet and give it another hour or so in the oven. Make sure it’s completely cool before you jar it up again.

If you want to make Tarhana soup, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil, add 1 Tbsp of tomato paste and red pepper paste and 4 Tbsp of tarhana. Fry it up a bit, then add 1 liter of hot broth or hot water, like making a roux. Cook it for a few minutes until it’s thick and creamy. Drizzle with olive oil, season to taste with salt, pepper, oregano, mint. Makes 4 portions.

As I mentioned at the very beginning of this post, I have several alternative uses for my tarhana: I use it instead of breadcrumbs in meatloaves, add a bit to the breading for fish or chicken, or sprinkle a bit on top of mac and cheese to make a nice crust.

Also, I baked swiss twisters with it, aka Wurzelbrot (root bread) because of their gnarly shape. I like to call them Frankenstein’s baguettes. Recipe coming tomorrow.

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