Tarhana is a traditional dish in Turkish cuisine that refers to a dough or powder made using various vegetables, spices, yeast, and yogurt. The name can refer to the actual powder or dough itself, as well as a soup made by using the dough or powder and adding boiling water. Created as a way of preserving food before the invention of refrigerators and other safe food storage methods, this is effectively one of the oldest instant soups. Tarhana mixes can be purchased from grocery stores, especially those that focus on Turkish foodstuffs, or made at home.
When the term “tarhana” is used, it can refer to either the powder or dough created using different vegetables or to a soup made using this prepared powder or dough. The creation of this mixture is fairly simple, though a bit time consuming due to the fact that it is allowed to ferment. This process usually begins with the selection of the vegetables and spices that will be used in making the dough or powder. While a powder can be created, many modern recipes call for the creation of dough that can be frozen or stored at the preference of the maker.
Tarhana dough usually begins with peppers, tomatoes, and onion, which are all chopped using a food processor. Yeast is often used to assist in the fermentation of the tarhana, and this is typically bloomed in warm water, often with a little sugar to help feed the yeast. The bloomed yeast is added to the mixture of vegetables along with various spices. Common herbs and spices used in tarhana include thyme, mint, oregano, dill, and paprika.
Yogurt with live cultures is then added to the tarhana mixture. The live cultures as well as the yeast serve to create fermentation and prevent bacteria from thriving in the dough. Some recipes call for the use of kefir or “sour milk” instead, though this is not always easy to find and the yeast and yogurt work just as well. Flour is then added slowly to the dough as it is mixed and kneaded until the dough is firm, at which point it is placed in a bowl and covered.
The dough is then allowed to ferment in the bowl for several days, kneaded once each day, and can be dried out afterward in the sun for several more days or stored in a freezer. The tarhana dough will keep for months, especially in a refrigerator or freezer, and if dried it can be stored in a cool dry place in an airtight jar. To prepare as a soup, a small amount of dough is placed in a pan, to which boiling water is added and mixed to reconstitute, and then chicken stock added and allowed to simmer until the proper, thick consistency.