Some soups to start off the year

Some soups to start off the year

January 22, 2012, Sunday/ 15:05:00/ MONICA FRITZ

“So as the weather starts to change, so my cook's heart turns to soup,” said Claudia Turgut, the long-time ex-pat and author of the excellent blog, A Seasonal Cook in Turkey.

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Soup in the Middle East is often eaten as a meal in itself, for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Turkish soups are as varied and colorful as the country itself. Soups are eaten on early winter mornings before a long workday while traditional soups are consumed at weddings or during Ramadan. There are instant soups while others cook for hours.

Sometimes calf or sheep feet are used to add a gelatinous quality. red or green lentils are often added along with many combinations of spinach and meatballs and also of yogurt and barley. Chicken stocks are thickened with beaten egg yolks and lemon; meat stocks are made richer with bone marrow. Chickpeas, yellow split peas, dried green peas, haricot and broad beans make creamy soups and are enhanced by spices, lemon, garlic and fresh herbs.

The traditional Tarhana soup is said to be the first instant soup and was brought over by the Central Asian Turks. It's made from spices, vegetables and fermented dough and is said to have become popular during the Ottoman Empire. It's easy to make and can be served with grated white cheese sprinkled on top. Another great Turkish food blog, Binnur's Turkish Cookbook, tells the story of Tarhana soup.

“The meaning of the word of Tarhana is not well known; however, there's a story about it. Many centuries ago, the sultan at the time was a guest at a poor peasant's house. There was only one thing that the peasant wife could offer to the sultan. She boiled up the soup quickly, and she was embarrassed and said this is ‘dar hane' soup, which means “poor house.” This “dar hane” soup eventually became known as ‘tarhana' soup. Also during the reign of the Ottoman Empire, Tarhana soup entered Balkan cuisine like so many dishes of Turkish cuisine.”

Binnur gives a recipe for Tarhana dough:

2 red bell peppers or long peppers, discard the seeds, cut in chunks

2 medium-sized onions, peeled, cut in chunks

2 large tomatoes, peeled, diced

1 ¾ cup yogurt, plain

7 gr yeast, dissolved in a little bit of warm water

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp dry mint

1 tbsp dry oregano

1 tbsp dill, dry or fresh, chopped

1 tbsp salt

7-8 cups flour (the amount of flour can be changed depending on the size of vegetables, add little by little)

Use the mixer to finely chop onions, tomatoes and red peppers. In a large bowl, place the dissolved yeast, onions, tomatoes, red peppers yogurt, mint, oregano, dill, olive oil and salt. Add flour gradually and knead until it becomes thick. During kneading, add a few spoons of water to it.

Cover the dough with a clean kitchen towel. Leave it at room temperature to ferment, which takes five to six days. Knead the dough every day for about four to five minutes, then re-cover it with the towel every time. Your kitchen might smell a bit sour, which is normal. When the dough puffs up, the bowl might be too small for it, so divide the dough into two pieces and place in different bowls on the second or third day.

It's the end of fermentation when the dough no longer puffs up. Divide them up and place them into Ziploc bags. Store in the freezer.

If you like to keep it dry, divide the dough into small balls, place the pieces on a cloth and let them dry. Turn the balls often. Every day, divide the balls into two or three pieces. It takes a few days. The best way to let them dry is outside under the sun. Then strain through a sieve -- use your fingers to crumble. Or you can use a mixer as well. Store them in airtight containers in the fridge.

On the other hand, you can try a very simple lentil soup from Claudia Turgut, whom I quoted earlier. Her recipe:

Take 1 onion, 1 carrot, and 1 potato, wash and chop. Shape doesn't matter as they are all going to be blitzed in the blender later. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil together with a knob of butter in a heavy pan and gently sauté all the vegetables for a few minutes, stirring all the time. Add approx 275 gr washed red lentils and stir. Add cumin to taste, fill your pan three-quarters full with warm water, crumble in one chicken stock cube, and bring to a gentle boil. Lower the heat, half-cover the pan and cook until the lentils and vegetables are completely soft. Keep an eye on the water. Add more if necessary. Cool before pureeing in the blender or use your stick blender. The blender produces a smoother consistency. If the soup is too thick, add more water and stir. Consistency is important as it mustn't be too solid. Check for seasoning. Serve with dried mint and red pepper flakes scattered on top.

I can't talk about soups without mentioning a classic yogurt soup. So again, in another wonderful food blog, Almost Turkish, I found this recipe for Yayla soup:

¼ cup of rice

5 cups of plain yogurt

1 egg, 2 tbsp of flour

2 tbsp of butter

2 tsp dried mint or tarragon

1 tsp salt

Boil the rice in 5 cups of water with salt until very soft. In a bowl, beat the egg and flour well, and then add yogurt and mix. With 1-2 tbsp of water, lighten up this mixture. Put the yogurt mix in a pot and start cooking on a very low flame. It's important to start with a low flame to prevent curdling. Give the yogurt some time to get used to the heat. Cook on low heat for approximately 15 minutes and keep stirring. Slowly pour in rice along with the water into the soup. Keep stirring. First let it boil on medium, and then turn it down and cook for another 10 minutes. Heat the butter in a pan. Once it sizzles, add mint flakes and stir for 20-30 seconds without letting it burn. Then pour it into the soup.

Buon appetito!