Sunday, January 20, 2013

TRAHANA SOUP



I just got over a bad case of the flu ... Yes, it’s been making the rounds and I was one of its victims. When I felt like eating I wanted nothing else but hot, nourishing soup, and no other soup than Trahana. I like its milky, somewhat sour flavour (think of sourdough bread), and its thick, creamy consistency.  Each spoonful I took felt like a soothing balm for my achy throat.  

Trahana as an ingredient is not much known outside the Greek community. For Greeks, it’s a popular pasta-like product that’s turned into winter soups or used to thicken recipes. Today’s  Greek chefs have devised novel ways of cooking it. One way is to use it as a side dish with meats such as lamb.  They combine it with tomato sauce and a little cinnamon, and it’s quite delectable that way. However, nothing beats trahana made into soup! 


Trahana is a healthful grain product made from crushed wheat and milk. As far as food groups go, it falls under the category of pasta, but it’s a type of pasta that is very high in protein due to its milk content.  Made by Greek farmers since antiquity, it’s a way of preserving milk for the winter. Its unique sour taste is achieved through fermentation and drying. The fermentation produces lactic acid which lowers the trahana’s pH. The drying process reduces moisture content. Therefore, fermentation and drying allow trahana to be kept for a long time because it has been rendered inhospitable to pathogens. 

The time to start making trahana is in early fall after the harvest is done. Milk, usually goat’s milk, is poured into churns and made into yoghurt. It’s switched into clean churns daily with more and more milk added each time. Once the milk has fermented, wheat is mixed in along with lemon juice and a few spices. In some regions vegetables are also incorporated into the mix. The concoction is then boiled until it sets and forms a solid dough. The dough is cut into small pieces and placed onto large tables covered with cloth. Protective tulle is used to cover the dough. The tables are taken outside so that the trahana can dry in the hot sun. Usually, there is a designated person such as a child whose job is to guard the trahana from the elements and from animals. If there is no one to guard it, the trahana dries indoors.
    
Trahana is cut into pieces and set out to dry.
(photographs from Cooking Helena).

Before it dries out completely, it's placed in a sieve and ground by hand. Then it's allowed to finish drying. 
One of its distinctive properties is that when it’s cooked it becomes creamy and thick.  


Trahana was anathema to me when I was a kid, but as an adult,  I've come to relish its flavour.  Quick and easy to make, it's my go to soup on a cold winter's day!  

These days, trahana is available commercially. Look for it in Greek and Middle Eastern markets, or find it through the internet. It’s just as good as the homemade variety (well, almost), and it’s not expensive at all. I should note that in certain regions of Greece a second variety is made, one that's sweet. The most popular and best sweet trahana comes from the island of Crete. Even as a child I used to love it; there’s no sour taste to it, it’s made from whole wheat, and has actual pieces of wheat kernels in it! Excellent, but not easy to find unless one goes looking for it while in Crete.
This is a bag of trahana sold by Greek Internet Market.  
It's also available through Titan Foods, a large Greek grocery store in Astoria NY. 

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion chopped well
1 or 2 scallions chopped
6 ounces mushrooms, chopped, pick your favourite varieties
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 cup sour trahana
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
3 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese
black pepper to taste
6 cups of liquid, a combination of vegetable broth and water or use plain water
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

  • In a skillet heat the olive oil and add the garlic, scallions and onions. 
  •  Cook for a few minutes, and then add the mushrooms and the thyme.  
  • Cook, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes, until the onions have started to get brown and the mushrooms are soft. 
  • Remove from the heat and reserve.
  • Into a soup pot, add the liquid and bring to a boil.  
  • Pour in the trahana and lower the heat.  
  • Simmer for about 15 minutes until the soup thickens. Stir occasionally so that no lumps are created. 
  • You're looking for the consistency of soup, therefore, if it gets too thick, add some more liquid.
  • Add the cheeses, the olive oil and the reserved mushrooms and continue cooking for another 5 to 10 minutes. 
  • Ladle it into soup bowls and serve it while it’s hot.    

This post is my contribution to Souper Sundays, hosted by Deb at Kahakai Kitchen.  Each Sunday Deb has a round up of contributed posts with recipes of soups, sandwiches or stews.  

4 comments:

  1. This is interesting. I have never heard of Trahana before, but it sounds delicious. I wish I could have some of that soup. Maybe one day I will feel adventurous and purchase some trahana online and give this a try. I love learning about new foods from other countries/cultures. Thanks for the post.

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  2. I have seen trahana but have not ever tried it before. It looks like excellent comfort food. ;-)
    Thanks for sharing with Souper Sundays this week.

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  3. I am glad you are getting over the flu. I know it's no fun at all. And I am glad you wrote about trahana: I had never heard of it and it sounds like a really interesting ingredient, the product of people creativity in times when food storage options were limited. You really make me want to have a bowl of the soup :)

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  4. What a lovely surprise, to see photographs of my home made trahana travel abroad. Χαιρετισμούς από την Ελλάδα Ana in Pennsylvania and thank you so much for quoting.

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