Lebeni Çorbası: Yogurt soup the eastern Anatolian way

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WHAT'S SPECIAL

Yogurt is one of those ingredients and dishes in Turkish cuisine that finds its way in many forms and shapes onto the tables of just about everyone; be it as a part of a meze, as a sauce for another dish, as a drink like Ayran or as a soup. While there are many different yogurt soups throughout Turkey, let’s have a look at Lebeni.

What is Lebeni Çorbası?

Lebeni çorbası is a yogurt soup made with wheat. It has a unique and slightly acidic taste and is usually served as an appetizer.

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The origins

Before we can even have a look at the soup, a look into the history of yogurt is in order. The nomadic Turks had their flocks and naturally plenty of milk in their possession. But what to do with so much milk and how to make it more preservable? They stored their milk in containers made out of the stomachs of their animals, and with the intestinal juices the milk curdled and soured to yogurt. (1)

With the Turks settling in Anatolia, one of the most important grains in their cuisine was wheat. Even before rice pilav became popular, bulgur pilav (bulgur is a form of wheat, cracked to be precise) was more widespread. Some like to add chickpeas into the mix as well, another grain popular in the region. (2)

Yogurt soups became quite popular in the Seljuk period as it combined the probiotic properties of the yogurt and the easier-digestible processed wheat called yarma. (3) Yarma is wheat that is boiled, dried and beaten to remove its husk. Thanks to the initial boil it is easily digested but does not lose its nutrients. (2)

While there are many yogurt soups throughout Turkey and certainly some made it into the Ottoman kitchens, not many include yarma in their versions. (4) Even nowadays yarma cannot be found everywhere in Turkey, it is more of a specialty in the southeastern regions such as Diyarbakır.

Etymology

While the soup is called Lebeni çorbası, it is also referred to as Lebeniye. The soup most likely got its name from the Arabic word for yogurt, namely “laban”, which means also white. (5) The “-ye” part of the name can most likely be attributed to an easier way of pronouncing it.

Lebeni Çorbası: Yogurt soup the eastern Anatolian way

There is a slew of different versions of this dish and while chickpeas were mentioned, it is skipped here. Some versions of this dish include tiny meatballs, which is an interesting addition if you feel like adding them.

Ingredients

  • 600 ml yogurt
  • 1 egg
  • 800 ml water
  • 120 gr Yarma or cracked wheat
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp mint
  • salt

Instructions

  • Mix the yogurt and the eggs and salt them generously.
  • Add the water to this mixture and get it to a boil while constantly stirring.
  • Add the washed yarma into the soup and let it cook until it softened.
  • In a separate pan roast the mint with the oil and serve the soup by drizzling this fat mix over it.

Notes

Bibliography

(1) McGee H. “Fresh fermented milks and creams” In: P Dorfman, J Greene, A McGee, eds. Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Scribner, 2004
(2) Ahmet Sabri Ünsal, Hüseyin Türkoğlu and Nefise Ünsal, Some properties and sensory characteristics of Lebeni made from cow’s and sheep’s milk yogurt in “Scientific Research and Essays Vol. 6”, 2011
(3) Galip Akin, Vahdet Özkoçak, Timur Gültekin, Geçmişten Günümüze Geleneksel Anadolu Mutfak Kültürünün Gelişimi
(4) Marianna Yerasimos, “500 Yıllık Osmanlı Mutfağı”, 2002
(5) Gil Marks, Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, 2010
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