A steaming bowl of Turkish soup or çorba (chor-ba'), accompanied by fresh, crusty bread is like a warm hug from mom. I can't think of better comfort food, especially during the cold, rainy days of winter.
In Turkey, soup is served as the first course at both lunch and dinner and is also a common choice for breakfast in many Anatolian homes. During the holy month of Ramadan, the daily fast is always broken with soup, fresh bread, olives, and cheese - light fare that is easy on the stomach after a day of fasting.
No Lumps, Please
Most Turkish soups are made with vegetables, legumes or pulses and either a flour or yogurt base to thicken them. Most people prefer cream-style soups. No big chunks of meat and vegetables here.
The traditional way to get a smooth consistency is to press the cooked vegetables through a fine wire strainer with a wooden spoon after long, slow cooking. To save time, you can also use a blender or food processor.
Some of the most popular soups are red lentil soup, Turkish-style tomato soup, Ezogelin soup and highland meadow soup made with yogurt, rice, and mint. Another common soup worth noting is called 'tarhana.'
Tarhana soup is made from a mixture of red pepper paste and yogurt which is left to ferment, then dried and crumbled. You can buy dry tarhana powder at any market, grocery store or local bazaar.
Just mix a few spoons of boiling water and some butter, then let it simmer over low heat. The result is a tangy, filling and nutritious soup that is great sprinkled with hot pepper flakes.
Soups also vary greatly by region and household. In Inner Anatolia and the Black Sea, many kinds of soup are made with meat, local herbs, and grasses and thickened with bulgur. Noodles have also made their way into Turkish cuisine.
Homemade egg noodles, called 'erişte' (eyr-eesh-TEH'), are prepared by cut by hand, then dried for use in soups. You can buy them at any supermarket or bazaar.
I was overjoyed to receive a steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup made with erişte the first time I caught a cold in Turkey. I guess truly good things are universal.
'Düğün çorbası' (doo-OON' chor-BAH'-su), or 'wedding soup,' is a special soup served during traditional Turkish wedding ceremonies. In many villages, weddings can last several days where huge pots of wedding soup are ladled out to hundreds of relatives and friends.
Wedding soup is time-consuming to prepare. Its main ingredients are cubed lamb and meat stock. It's thickened with flour and egg yolks. Try the recipe for wedding soup at least once in your lifetime. You won't regret it.
Last but not least, I can't leave out the after-hours soup kitchens that sell delicious tripe soup. These restaurants open after midnight and have the same name as the tripe soup itself -- 'işkembe' (ish-kem-BEH').
Nightbirds frequent these restaurants into the wee hours of the morning on their way home from a night on the town. A steaming bowl of tripe soup really does help settle the stomach after having one-too-many. Many other cuisines in eastern Europe also feature tripe soup as a popular hangover cure.
The atmosphere of these restaurants is truly unique. As you sip your tripe soup, you can hear the chefs rhythmically chopping up the tripe on wooden blocks to the rhythm of soothing classical Turkish music.
Tripe soup is served along with bowls of pure garlic juice and vinegar which you spoon into your soup to taste. I've seen some folks add three or four spoons of garlic juice to a single bowl.
If you venture into an işkembe restaurant, don't forget your stock of gum and breath mints!