Monday, January 28, 2013

GOAT CHEESE and APPLE TART

"This is a really good dessert," said my mother, who guards her compliments as though they are $100 dollar bills.  "A really good dessert.'  She said it twice.  I had all ready tasted it, so I knew it was good.  You know how it is though, you always want validation from your toughest critic.  So now that I know for sure that it's "a really good dessert," I will be proud to take the rest of it to work, for my co-workers to enjoy.
So many tastes and textures to enjoy:  soft, crunchy, creamy-thick, sweet, tart, lemony, apple topped, wonderful!  

I wanted to make a goat cheese and apple tart ever since I read about one in "The Huger Games."  How to proceed though?  I remembered how pretty the French apple tarts are, so I decided to make one of those and use goat cheese as a filling.  It took two tries.  The first time I made a tart with store bought dough (hey, nothing wrong with that - I was in a hurry).  That first dessert had a good taste, but it looked awful.
Ouch!  This is the first version.  I'll say it again:  ouch!!!
I didn't give up though.  Because the goat cheese filling had a nice taste, I tried again.  This time I made my own crust...
Pâte Sablée  in the making...
I made a thicker goat cheese filling, and I did not pre-cook the apples, as I had done last time.  I just sliced them very, very, thin, and they cooked up perfectly in the oven.  The second time, my tart was a winner.  So, I highly recommend this tart.  I really do.  Try it, you will love it.  The goat cheese is not too sweet, it has a nice lemony tart-sweet flavor.  The crust is excellent.  I used a pâte sablée  dough, based on the recipe by Julia Child.  The apples were the crowning touch, sweet, cinnamony.  So many tastes and textures to enjoy:  soft, crunchy, creamy-thick, sweet, tart, lemony, apple topped, wonderful!  
This tart was a winner!!!
For the crust:
You will need a nine inch tart pan.  Make your favorite crust for a nine inch tart pan. After it's placed in the pan, blind bake the crust until it's halfway done.

For the apples:
3 to 4 large apples, peeled and sliced very thinly.  Sprinkle them lightly with lemon juice, so that they don't turn brown.   Don't use too much lemon though, because any extra juice will thin out the cheese in the tart.


For the goat cheese filling:
8 ounces of soft goat cheese
1 egg
zest from 1/2 lemon
a dash of vanilla
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 cup of sugar
2 teaspoons corn starch

Directions:
Place all the ingredients in the food processor and pulse until they are mixed. The mixture should come out thick, not runny.  If it's runny, add a little more corn starch.

Pour the cheese mixture onto the dough in the tart pan and then arrange the apples over the cheese.  Work in a circular pattern, starting from the edge, creating rows until you reach the center.  Pack the apples in as well as you can.  It may seem like a lot of apples are being used, but as you know, apples shrink when they bake.When you reach the center, top it with some apple slices arranged in a decorative pattern.

For the topping:
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Directions:
Mix the sugar and cinnamon.  Cut the butter into small chunks.  Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the apples and dot with the butter.  Bake at 350º F for about 1 hour.

AROMATIC LAMB STEW WITH PRUNES

Lamb stew with prunes is a Moroccan delicacy that I've wanted to make for a long time. But first, let's get some things out in the open.  Have you got your air freshener handy?  OK, start spraying.  Prunes contain dietary fiber and sugar alcohols which act as laxatives.  Therefore, prunes are a home remedy for constipation, and that has made them the subject of a lot of jokes.  However, these days prunes have gotten an advertising makeover.  Newer packaging labels refer to them as dried plums. Whatever.  Call them dried plums, call them prunes, they are naturally sweet and can be used in lots of recipes.  Lamb stew with prunes is not just popular in Morocco. It's a dish that's sold in lots of bistros all over Paris.  That's where I tasted it for the first time.  That was more than 10 years ago.  I think it was time I tried cooking it at home.  Now, in my opinion, there is no better lamb stew recipe than the one made by Julia Child.  I decided to make lamb stew her way but to omit the vegetables and add prunes instead.  Since it's a cold winter outside, I thought some chestnuts might be a good addition.  Finally, I topped the stew with toasted almonds, which is the traditional thing to do.  The end product was really enjoyable.  The prunes (or dried plums) added a sweet element to the stew.  The spices flavored it just enough and were not overwhelming. I thought of cooking the carrots separately with some orange zest and adding them at the end. They provided a great aroma to the stew.  Julia Child's cooking technique ensured that the lamb shoulder came out moist, soft and delicious. This is a winter stew, a very nice way to enjoy stewed lamb when fresh spring vegetables are not around.

Ingredients:
olive oil for browning
3 pounds lamb shoulder, bones included in the weight
2 small onions, chopped
2 large scallions, 
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
1/2 cup chopped celery
flour and sugar, a little of both
3 cups beef broth
2 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
a pinch of allspice
a pinch of ground cloves
2 bay leaves
1 cup pitted prunes
about 1 cup whole chestnuts, toasted
3/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted, or use whole blanched almonds
For the carrots:
3 carrots, peeled and cut into small diagonal pieces
1/2 cup chicken broth
some salt and pepper
rind from 1/2 small orange
1 tablespoon honey
a pinch of allspice
Directions:
Preheat the oven to 450º F.
The lamb is to be cut into about 1 inch cubes.  Include all the bones but trim off any really fatty part.  After the fat is discarded, the weight of the meat should be 3 pounds. Pat the lamb with paper towels so that it's dry.  That way it can brown well. 
   
In a large braising pan heat the olive oil and brown the lamb in batches so that the pan is not overcrowded.  Place the meat into a Dutch oven. 
Pour the fat out of the skillet, then add and heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Add the chopped onions, garlic and ginger and sauté until the onions are translucent. The cooking of the onions should deglaze the skillet. 
Add the celery, the bay leaves, spices and the broth.  Let it come to a boil, turn off the heat and set the pan off to the side.
Now go to the Dutch oven, where the lamb has been patiently waiting, and sprinkle the lamb with a nice but not heavy coating of sugar.  Place the Dutch oven over medium heat and toss the lamb for about 3 minutes, until the sugar has caramelized. 

Toss the meat with salt and pepper, and then toss it with flour.  Set the casserole, uncovered, in the preheated oven.  After 5 minutes remove it and toss the meat.  

Add a little more flour to the meat, toss again and return it to the oven for another 5 minutes.  Remove it from the oven again and turn the oven down to 325º F.

If there is any fat in the pot, pour it out.  Add the stock mixture to the Dutch oven.  The lamb should be covered with the liquid.  Bring to a boil and scrape up the bottom of pot.  Simmer and stir for about 1 minute so that the broth and flour are mixed.   Simmer a little while longer.  Cover, place in the oven and cook for  hours. 



While the lamb is baking, make the carrots.  Place them in a small pot and add the chicken broth.  Add the orange peel, some salt and pepper, the allspice and the honey.  Cook the carrots until the majority of the liquid has been reduced and the carrots are soft and fragrant.



After the one and a half hours are up, remove the lamb from the oven.  Pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve or colander which is resting in a large bowl.  Clean the casserole. 
OK, I have to fess up... this lamb is overcooked by half an hour.  I had lost track of time, and I let it cook a little too long.  However, the result was that the meat became very soft and it kind of melted in my mouth.  There was almost no need to chew it.  There was no effect on the flavor,  the stew was absolutely delicious.  
Throw out the bay leaves and remove the bones from the lamb.  Place the meat back into the casserole. 
Skim the fat off the sauce and pour the sauce over the lamb.  
Heat the ingredients in the Dutch oven, add the prunes, carrots and chestnuts, cover the Dutch oven, place it back in the oven and cook for another another half hour. 

By now the meat should be really soft, coming apart meltingly soft, and the sauce should be thick.  Take it out of the oven and serve it topped with toasted sliced almonds.  Ideally, lamb stew with prunes is served over couscous, but rice will do very nicely also. 

DEAR KATNISS EVERDEEN, YOU ARE INVITED TO DINNER. COME OVER ANYTIME!

This endless post that you see unfolding before you is my contribution to Cook the Books Club, featuring, this time around, SuzanneCollins book “The Hunger Games.” Thank you girlichef for choosing it for us to read.  I literally could not put it down.  Loved it! Besides its riveting plot, the story contains a myriad of references to food.  The protagonist (and of course the author who created her), are definite foodies.  Rather futuristic foodies as befits the plot, but foodies nonetheless. I write a synopsis of the plot, albeit a very concise one, at the end of this post. If you want to give it a quick glance over, scroll down to the section in italics. I made three dishes in honor of "The Hunger Games," because, frankly, I couldn't narrow my choices to just one.  This happens a lot to me. You should see me when I go shopping for clothes. But that's another story. Because my post is rather lengthy, I published the recipes separately. Check them out: Whole Wheat Raisin Bread, Aromatic Lamb Stew with Prunes, Goat Cheese and Apple Tart.
My bread for "The Hunger Games."  Whole wheat raisin and walnut bread,  a comforting nourishing bread.  The recipe is posted here. 
In honor of “The Hunger Games,”  I decided to make recipes that symbolize love.  First, I baked bread, the kind of bread that is given to Katniss, the protagonist, by Peeta, the other protagonist.  Peeta’s bread is nourishing and comforting.  It definitely does symbolize love, for reasons I explain in another section of this post.  In a novel that has a considerable amount of violence, it’s good to find occasional symbols of love.  Another sign of love in the form of food is the lamb and dried plum stew sent to Katniss by her sponsors.  It symbolizes the love that people are beginning to feel for Katniss, a love that will eventually serve to unify a nation.  So, in addition to the bread, I decided to go ahead and make some lamb stew.  It's Katniss' favorite food!  I should mention here that “The Hunger Games” is a trilogy, and yes, I went ahead and read all three books because there was no other way I could get over my obsession with the world as created by Suzanne Collins.  Anyway, in all three books Katniss does her best to polish off a decent quantity of “lamb stew with dried plums,” and because I now consider her my book character best friend for life (BCBFFL), I felt I owed it to her to make a nice batch of lamb stew.  
Lamb stew with dried plums.  I added carrots and chestnuts as well.  The lamb came out really soft.  Melt in your mouth soft.

Then, I thought Katniss would be proud of me because I have, in my house, some plum jam that I made in late August with plums that I picked and carried home myself, from a nearby orchard.  
Here's a picture I took during my plum jam making session.  The jam is made, but I've yet to post the recipe.  Let's see... it's only been since August... I'll get around to it...
If Katniss were to come over, I think she would spread some of that jam on a slice of whole wheat raisin walnut bread, and then she would spread a little goat cheese on another slice (because she likes goat cheese and it reminds her of her little sister), and then she would put the slices together to make a nice sandwich.  I have to tell you that I did this, and I enjoyed a really delicious sandwich for lunch.  I just wish I could have shared it with Katniss.
The creamy tartness of the goat cheese and the smooth sweetness of the jam make a great topping for Peeta's bread.  I think Katniss would love this little treat.  Simple and delicious!
Katniss, come on over girl.  We’ll have lamb stew with dried plums, some freshly baked bread, we’ll have goat cheese and jam, and for dessert we’ll have that lovely tart that Peeta bakes, the one with goat cheese and apples.  Come over anytime.  I’ll cook for you, and you can teach me how to use a bow and arrow.  We can shoot at my neighbor’s tires.  He drives a Hummer.  But seriously, I am glad that I discovered Suzanne Collins’ work, and I’ve come to admire her, because she wrote the three fantastic, adventure and suspense filled books that comprise the trilogy that is “The Hunger Games.”  In this post we are concerned only with book one, which is called “The Hunger Games.”  
My recipe for this bread is in another post that can be found by clicking here.
Let’s have some bread.  Bread plays an important part in “The Hunger Games.”  Because the districts are poor, bread is a prized staple food.  It’s an essential part in people’s lives since it’s a mainstay of their diet.  Besides this fact, bread plays a role in Katniss’ awakening, and it is symbolic of the love Peeta feels for her.  Hungry and destitute after her father’s death, Katniss and her family are in trouble:  “It crossed my mind there might be something in the trash bins… unfortunately, the bins had just been emptied…. The realization that I’d have nothing to take home had finally sunk in… take us to the community home, I thought.  Or better yet, let me die here in the rain.” 
Peeta, who is the son of a baker (doesn’t his name remind you of bread?),  and who has for years been secretly in love with Katniss, realizes her predicament.  On the sly, so that his disciplinarian mother doesn't find out, he tosses to Katniss two loaves of raisin and nut bread.  Eating Peeta's bread brings her and her family back from the jaws of starvation.  The next day, feeling stronger, Katniss wants to thank Peeta.  “Our eyes met for only a second… I dropped my gaze, embarrassed...  and that’s when I saw it.  The first dandelion of the year.”  She remembers the “hours spent in the woods with my father and I knew how we were going to survive.”  Katniss turns to hunting, which is what her father had taught her to do.  She could “never shake the connection between Peeta and the bread that gave me hope, and the dandelion that reminded me that I was not doomed…  I feel like I owe him something.” 
The nourishing bread awakens Katniss’ spirit and fills her with resolve to forge ahead and find a way to survive.  Therefore, I believe bread is the most important food mentioned in "The Hunger Games," because it symbolizes love, hope and survival.
In "The Hunger Games" bread is the most important food mentioned because it symbolizes love, hope and survival.
And Panem, the name of Katniss’ country...  In Latin, Panem means bread!  Katniss manducat panem:  Katniss eats bread.  So bread can nurture you, but also,  as is stated in “Mockingjay,” the last book of the Hunger Games trilogy, “Panem et circenses,” which translates to “bread and circuses,” meaning bread can make you forget: give people plentiful bread and games and they will be lulled into a sense of obliviousness.  The lesson here is that having everything at your disposal makes you forget your primary duty as a citizen, the duty of doing good for your country.  The citizens of the Capitol lived by the bread and games principle.  Those in the districts, the ones without “a lot of bread,” like Katniss, eventually rebelled against totalitarianism. It's not good to have too much "bread" or not enough "bread."  It's best to walk somewhere in the middle, and allow yourself to maintain an active conscience that serves to keep you concerned about the welfare of your neighbor and your country.  That's a lesson that holds true for the ages.
All right, can we now have some lamb stew?  Lamb stew with dried plums if you please.  It’s Katniss’ favorite.  
Fresh out of the oven, dried plums (prunes to you and me), in lamb stew.  I used shoulder of lamb, cooked it slow and low and it came out delectable, with a sauce so delicious that it made you want to swoon.  The recipe for lamb stew with prunes is posted here

Katniss received some of her favorite lamb stew from sponsors while she is participating in the Hunger Games.  Sent by them at probably great expense, the stew is very welcome because food at the games is extremely very difficult to get, and the participants are always hungry.  The gesture of sending the stew symbolizes for me the love people are beginning to feel for Katniss, a love that will inspire and eventually serve to unify a nation.   Katniss and Peeta feast on the stew which is also accompanied by bread, goat cheese and apples.  

There is a feeling of warmth between them as they eat and talk.  Peeta reminisces about the goat cheese and apple tart he and his family used to make back home.  Goat cheese and apple tart.  A fitting way to finish a dinner to which Katniss is the guest of honor.  So come on over Katniss, and yes, of course, please bring Peeta.   

Below I provide a very concise synopsis of "The Hunger Games," but if you are familiar with the plot, jump the paragraph, and go directly to the place where you can post a most welcome comment.  Thanks for stopping by!
I recommend this book! 
Katniss Everdeen is a huntress. Her skills are ambrosial, worthy of Artemis herself. Sixteen years old and already she roams the forest with her homemade bow and her arrow-filled quiver strapped over her shoulder.  She kills her prey with stealth and precision.  Always at her side is her hunting companion, Gale.  The two divide what they have hunted, keep what they and their families can eat, and sell the rest at the town black market.  In Panem, the futuristic, authoritarian, post apocalyptic country where they live, hunting or even venturing beyond district boundaries into the forest is illegal and can result in a death sentence.  However, poverty and hunger are rampant in the 12 districts that make up Panem, and after experiencing starvation first hand, Katniss knows the importance of having found a surreptitious method to feed herself, her mother and her sister.   
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, from the film "The Hunger Games."
Her superior hunting and survival skills serve her well when she is forced to participate in the Hunger Games, an annual competition in which 24 youths fight to the death until only one victor remains.  The competition is imposed as a form of punishment by the Capitol, Panem’s powerful and advanced metropolis, a city of plenty that rules with an iron fist over the 12 districts of Panem.  The Hunger Games serve as a form of entertainment for the Capitol’s citizens.  The districts stand by in quiet bewilderment and dismay, while their young people are being sacrificed as a form of retribution for a long ago rebellion against the Capitol.  The games are a constant reminder of the total control the Capitol has over its citizens.  The chosen young people, who are called tributes, are picked by lottery at a ceremony called the reaping.  They must be between 12 to 18 years old, and each district has to offer one male and one female tribute.  Katniss, volunteers as a tribute in order to save Prim, her beloved younger sister, who had the misfortune to be chosen by the lottery.  The male tribute chosen along with Katniss is Peeta Mellark, who is the son of the district baker.  It is revealed in the novel that Peeta has been in love with Katniss since the two were five years old, and that he was once instrumental in saving and turning the path of her life.  The two live in district 12, the smallest and poorest district in Panem.  All the tributes are taken to the Capitol where they are feted and prepared for the games.  During a television interview Peeta confesses his love for Katniss to all of Panem.  Now the audience views Peeta and Katniss as star crossed lovers, and begins to regret that either one of these two tributes might die.  The Hunger Games begin.  They are held in a specially created, naturalistic, outdoor arena.  There are cameras hidden everywhere so that every detail of the games can be televised.  Viewing is mandatory for all of Panem.  A bloodbath ensues in the games arena as the tributes begin hunting each other, and a large number of them are killed.  Both Katniss and Peeta are wounded.  What will happen to them?  Will they be killed or will they survive the games?   Eventually they join forces and fight together, because the Capitol, mindful that these two are loved by the audience, makes a new rule:  two tributes from the same district can win the games if they are the last two to remain alive.  This makes the games more suspenseful.  The audience has began to care for the star crossed lovers, and they like it when Katniss and Peeta display affection for each other.  As it turns out, it's the star crossed lovers who are the last two to remain alive.  Theoretically they should be crowned victors, however, the Capitol has other plans.  They reverse rules, and now it is once again expected that only one victor remain alive.  Katniss and Peeta are prepared to commit suicide rather than kill one another.  They know that the Capitol will settle for two victors rather than no victors.  They are correct, and are both crowned in victory.  However, because they circumvented the rules they are viewed as having committed an act of rebellion.  Katniss, by being instrumental in devising the theoretic suicide plan, has garnered the ire of the powers that be and has become a political target.  Her public scorn of authoritarian leadership has put her life in danger………  
The trilogy that is "The Hunger Games. "
The story continues in the two sequels,  “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay.”  “The Hunger Games” is a masterfully plotted novel, with allusions by the author to “Survivor” type reality television, and to classical mythology.  Collins,  quite the classical scholar, imbues her story with allusions to ancient Rome and Greece.  Her tributes turn into violent gladiators.  Before that, they help bring to mind the legend of Theseus and his cohorts, who were chosen by Athens to be sent as tributes to King Minos, in order to become prey to the monstrous Minotaur. The games' arena is a futuristic labyrinth, and I suppose the monstrosity of the Minotaur is reflected in “The Hunger Games” by the actions of the Capitol.  There is no putting this book down, but one must, if only to have dinner.  How about a simple appetizer of goat cheese and plum jam, followed by lamb stew with dried plums, hearty whole wheat raisin walnut bread, and for dessert a goat cheese and apple tart. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

WHOLE WHEAT RAISIN WALNUT BREAD


A very delicious and nutritious whole wheat bread, loaded with raisins and walnuts, with a crunchy, sweet taste.  The kind of bread you can't say no to. Have one slice and then go for another, and take some to work with you too.
I used lots of different types of flour and seeds to make this bread.  

First off, I bought a bag of 10 grain bread mix, which is made by Red Mill.  This brand can be found at most supermarkets and it can also be ordered through Amazon.  It makes a great bread.  Then I added some whole wheat flour, some high gluten bread flour, some sunflower seeds, and some wheat germ. By the time I got through combining, I think my bowl contained pretty much every type of flour available.  It was a very easy bread to make, I just had to be patient while the dough was rising.  The wait was worth it.  Freshly baked bread on a winter's day is a special treat.  There was an incredible aroma filling the house as the bread was baking.  The bread was really delicious and well worth making: whole wheat bread with walnuts and raisins!  
The 10-Grain Bread Mix Contains: unbleached white flour, 7 grain cereal, whole wheat flour, rolled oats, evaporated cane juice, gluten flour, non-fat dry milk, dark rye flour, brown rice flour, corn flour, millet flour, oat flour, barley flour, white bean flour, triticale flour (this is a wheat-rye hybrid with a high protein content), corn grits, millet grits, sea salt, active dry yeast (kept in an envelope, can use it or not), and soy lecithin (used as a lubricant and emulsifier to replace fats and oils).
Now let's make whole wheat raisin walnut bread:

Ingredients:
1 bag (19 ounces) 10 grain bread mix –remove the yeast package that comes inside the bag
10 ounces whole wheat flour
6 ounces strong white flour, this is the high gluten bread flour, used for bread making
5 tablespoons sunflower seeds
4 tablespoons wheat germ
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
 tablespoons active dried yeast –use the envelope that comes with the bread mix, that’s one tablespoon, and then use more active dry yeat from your own supply.  
4 tablespoons honey
Approximately 20 ounces of warm water
8 ounces roughly chopped walnuts
6 ounces raisins
some bread flour for dusting

Directions:
  • In a large bowl mix the flours with the sunflower seeds, wheat germ and salt.  Add the walnuts and raisins and mix again.
  • In a small bowl, using a spoon, mix the yeast, honey and warm water until well incorporated.   
  • Add the yeast mixture to the flour and knead by hand.  When a dough has formed turn onto a surface sprinkled with bread flour and start kneading. 
  • Add a little extra water if needed to produce a soft but not too sticky dough, or add a little flour is the dough is too sticky.  Continue kneading  until the dough is smooth and springs back when pressed with a finger.

  • Place in a large bowl, brush the top with a little vegetable oil and cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel.  
  • Leave in a warm place and let rise until the dough has almost doubled in size.  For me, it took 4 hours.  It was a very cold day, with the temperature around 20°F.  The kitchen was warm, but I think the low outside temperature had an impact on the time it took for the dough to rise. 
  • Lightly dust with white bread flour and knead again, pressing down on the bubbles that have been created in the dough.
  • Shape into loaves, and lay on a baking sheet that has been sprinkled with a little bread flout.  Sprinkle the loaves with a little more flour and score them.
Score the loaves and let them rise again...  Then in the oven they go and the whole house smells wonderful!









  

  • Preheat the oven to 325°F
  • Place the tray on the middle shelf of the oven, spray the interior of the oven with a quick spritz of water (or place a small ovenproof dish filled with warm water on the floor of the oven).  
  • Close the oven door and immediately raise the temperature to 350°F.
Done!!!
  • Bake for 30–35 minutes or until crisp and dark golden in color. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

TRAHANA SOUP


I just got over a bad case of the flu, yes, it’s been making the rounds and so I was one of its victims.  When I felt like eating I wanted nothing else but hot, nourishing soup, and nothing would do but to have my mother’s Trahana soup.  I like its milky, somewhat sour flavor and its thick, creamy consistency.  Each spoonful I took felt like a soothing balm for my achy throat.  I requested it from my mother almost on a daily basis not only because I knew that I could tolerate it despite being ill, but also because I found it comforting to eat soup that my mother cooked to help me feel better.  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 coking 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, especially when your mother has made it.
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 yogurt.    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 clean white sheets.  Protective tulle goes over the trahana.  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 animals and the elements.  My father would often recount how it was his job to do this when he was young.  If there is no one to guard it, the trahana dries indoors.    
Trahana is cut into pieces and set out to dry.
(pictures from Cooking Helena).
After it has partially dried, it’s put through a sieve and is reduced into gravel sized pieces.  Then it’s laid out again to dry completely.
Trahana is placed on a sieve and ground by hand.  It's then left to dry out completely.
Once that’s accomplished it’s stored in cotton sacks and saved for the winter.  One of its distinctive properties is that when it’s cooked it becomes creamy and thick.  Most children are not fond of trahana because of its sour taste.  When I was a child I would never go anywhere near it if I could help it.  I firmly resisted entreaties from my mother and grandmother to eat my trahana.  When my father, the family disciplinarian was around, I had a special way of pretending to eat it: I would pick out the feta cheese it was prepared with, and let the rest go.  However, a matured palate can appreciate and savor trahana’s singular taste.  
Trahana was anathema to me when I was a kid, but as an adult  I've come to relish its flavor.  Quick and easy to make, it's my go to soup on a cold winter's day!  

When we first moved to the US from Greece, we would depend on small sacks of trahana send over by relatives.  Even when we did live in Greece we would get our yearly “allotment” of trahana from a dear aunt who lived in the country.  Most Greek city folk still get their trahana in a similar manner.  However, these days, trahana is also 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 of trahana is made, the sweet variety.  It’s made with milk that has not turned sour.  The most popular and best sweet trahana is that made in the island of Crete, and even as a child I used to love it.  There’s no sour taste to it obviously, and it’s made with whole wheat and actual pieces of wheat kernels left in it.  It’s an excellent trahana 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.  
Titan Foods, a large Greek grocery store in Astoria NY, sells trahana through Amazon.

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion chopped well
1 or 2 scallions chopped
6 ounces mushrooms, chopped, pick your favorite varieties
4 or 5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 cup sour trahana
1 tablespoon chopped dehydrated onions (this is optional.  My mother adds them to the soup because she likes the way they give a crunchy texture-until they rehydrate that is)
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
3 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese
black pepper to taste
5  cups chicken broth or vegetable broth or use plain water
2 cups water
2 tablespoons butter

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 broth and water and bring to a boil.  
  • Pour in the trahana and dehydrated onions if using, and lower the heat.  
  • Simmer for about 15 minutes until the soup is thick.  Stir occasionally so that the trahana does not stick to the bottom of the pot.  
  • Add the cheeses, the butter  and the reserved mushrooms and continue cooking for another 5 to 10 minutes. 
  • And that’s it. The trahana is ready.  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.