Supermarkets today are lined with a wide variety of dried soups that you just mix with hot water, bring to a boil and you’re done. It seems like such a modern concept, but actually the idea of instant soup is not new: Tarhana has been made for centuries and is still quite popular as an entrée – or as a hangover cure.
What is Tarhana?
Tarhana is made from yogurt that is mixed with boiled cracked wheat or flour as well as herbs and, depending on the recipe, with a variety of vegetables. These ingredients are mixed together and laid out to dry; the final product can be stored months on end. Add just a couple of spoonfuls of this mixture to hot water along with any desired additional ingredients, and there you have a fresh and steaming hot soup.Jump to Recipe
When the Turks first learned how to preserve milk by making it into yogurt, they ended up producing quite a large quantity. Fridges weren’t really a thing several centuries ago, so one way of preserving yogurt was to mix it with wheat and vegetables and to dry the mixture, creating a good way to have food on the go – something truly needed for the nomadic Turks.
One of the earliest mentions of this soup was from a wedding feast in the late 11th century, where it was served alongside typical dishes of the Seljuk period. Three soups were presented: one that was “sour flavored,” one with chicken and one being tarhana. (1)
In the Turkic dictionary, “Diwan Lughat al-Turk” (1072-74), the word “tar” is used to describe yogurt that has been preserved in summer to be used in winter. (2)
Another early mention of tarhana was by the 14th century Persian poet Bushaq-I At’ima. (3)
Soups were an integral part of Ottoman cuisine and were not only consumed at dinner but even at breakfast. The wide variety of soups were eaten not only in the palace but among commoners as well, due to the dish’s economic nature. Among the main soups listed in the Topkapı Palace records is tarhana as well. (4)
In the 16th and 17th centuries, as many as three different kinds of soups were served during elaborate multi-course meals. During this period, the palace stores had large quantities of tarhana, which were prepared and brought from the provinces of Bursa, Edirne and even as far south as Adana. (1)
While it might not be as popular as İşkembe for a hungover cure, Tarhana is still a popular item on the menu for those who may have enjoyed some drinks the previous night. The 18th century poet Tirsi wrote that he would eat tarhana each morning to dispel his hangover, and that he would eat it with plenty of garlic and thin, crusty bread. (1)
As tarhana spread through the region, different versions began to emerge, with some replacing the yogurt for milk and some others even adding eggs, all of which were then preserved. (3)
Tarhana was also among the many samples of Ottoman products sent to the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 as a promotion of Turkish-made products. (1)
The word tarhana has a variety of origins, one of them previously mentioned in the “Diwan Lughat al-Turk,” wherein the word tar is used to describe yogurt that was preserved in summer to be used in winter.
Others potential origins stem from the Persian “terhuvane” and “terhine,” which describes the making of tarhana almost identically. The same soup is known in Greece as “trahanas,” in Hungary as “tahonya” and in Finland as “talkuna.”(2)
Tarhana - history’s oldest instant soup
- 1 kg tomatoes
- 1 kg onions
- 1 kg red peppers
- 500 gr cooked chickpeas
- ½ bundle parsley
- ½ bundle mint
- 500 gr strained yogurt
- 2-3 tbsp salt
- 2-3 kg flour
- Finely chop the tomatoes and onions and remove the seeds from the peppers before finely chopping them as well. Cook tomatoes, onions and peppers together with the cooked chickpeas in a pot until all the ingredients have softened. If the tomatoes do not provide enough liquid while being cooked down, you might want to aid the process with a bit of water.
- Once the ingredients have softened, add the chopped mint and parsley. Then add the mixture to a blender or food processor. To get rid of excess liquid from the mixture, use a thin cloth (like a cheese cloth, or tülbent in Turkish) with a sieve and let it sit for a bit.
- Put to the vegetable mixture into a bowl and add the yogurt and salt. Gradually add flour to the mixture while kneading with your hands until you create a soft dough. Put the dough in a bowl and cover it with a cloth. Let this rest for a couple of days. While it is resting, the dough should be kneaded at least twice a day to air it out. To achieve the characteristic sour taste of tarhana, the dough should rest for at least two days. Depending on your preference and the air temperature, the dough can rest up to seven days, though it normally rests for three days.
- Once the dough has achieved the desired sourness, it should be left to dry out in an area where there’s no direct sun light and good airflow. Spoon the dough into small dollops and place them on parchment paper, leaving a little bit of space between each in order for them to dry. Once these dollops start to dry around the edge but the middle is still moist, add the tarhana to a food processor and blend it until it is extra fine. You can also crumble each dollop by hand. It is important that you do not wait too long to do this step, as once the tarhana is completely dried out, it will be too dried to be crumbled. To achieve extra fine pieces, the crushed tarhana can be run through a sieve, and the remaining pieces can take another round in the food processor.
- Let this fine sand-like tarhana rest for a few more days so it can dry out completely. Once fully dry, it can be stored in an airtight container, preferably a glass jar, and placed in a dark environment. A more traditional way is to store the tarhana in cloth bags.
How to cook the soup itself
- 2-3 tbsp tarhana
- 2 tbsp oil
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- salt, pepper, mint, to taste
- water or broth of your choice
- Put the tarhana in a bowl, add hot water or broth, and mix until the tarhana is dissolved. Finely chop the garlic and add it to a pot along with the tomato paste and oil, and sauté the mixture. Add the dissolved tarhana into the pot with the garlic and tomato paste and season to your liking. Add more water or broth to bring the soup to the consistency you desire. Stir the soup constantly as you bring it to a boil. Let it simmer for a few minutes and then serve.