From one traditional Greek soup, to another! I do seem to be on a little bit of a soup theme this week. Perhaps it was the rainy weather that finally arrived, after such a long, dry, blue-sky winter. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about the rain. It is going to do wonders for my garden - particularly the recently planted artichokes and broad beans. What is more, rainy weather accompanies a great big bowl of Trahanasoupa (σούπα τραχανά) perfectly.
Trahanosoupa is a simple soup made with sour trahana. Trahana is classed as a sort of "couscous/pasta" and is an ingredient is not much known beyond Greek households. It is made from cracked wheat which has been soaked in milk and then (traditionally) dried in the sun. There are two types of trahana: sweet, and sour. Sour goat's milk, buttermilk or yoghurt is used for the sour trahana. You can buy trahana from Greek delicatessens and some fruit and vegetable shops also sell it. If you are feeling very ambitious you can also make your own, as the wonderful Christina has done. Step by step instructions can be found on her inspirational blog, Aphrodite's kitchen.
For Greeks, trahana is popular not only in winter soups or to thicken recipes, but can also be used a side dish to meat or vegetable dishes, kind of like a Greek polenta. Peter Minakis has a delectable recipe for braised lamb shanks with trahana on his brilliant blog, Kalofagas. Trahana can also be used as an alternative to bread crumbs and I have used it in this way to make some lovely meatballs, which are slow cooked in tomato with plenty of leek and celery.
As a soup, trahana can be added to water or stock, with some grated tomato and topped off with a little sheep or goat's yoghurt or some feta. If you are in Cyprus, as Christina's suggests, you could add some diced pieces of halloumi cheese. As with all simple recipes, the success of this soup really depends on getting quality ingredients. Homemade stock, fresh tomatoes and really good quality trahana are essential for making this simple, satisfying soup. If you have never tried trahana, then you definitely should. My dad has been a recent convert. Having never tried trahanasoupa before, he thought it was delicious and very similar to the way in which the Irish soups of his childhood used barley - both in terms of taste and texture.
Trahanasoupa (σούπα τραχανά)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 onion, grated
1 head of fresh, new season garlic, cloves finely chopped
4 tomatoes, grated (about 2 cups of puree)
1 cup of trahana
7 cups homemade vegetable stock or water
Sheep milk yoghurt, feta or halloumi to serve
Step 1. Heat oil in a soup pot, add onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and tomatoes and sauté for 5 minutes, ensuring the garlic does not brown or burn.
Step 2. Add the stock or water. Bring to boil and add 1 cup trahana. Lower the heat and simmer for around 30 minutes.
Step 3. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve in individual bowls with a dollop of sheep's yoghurt or crumbled feta.