November 11, 2012
A good friend of mine in Vienna who claimed to wholeheartedly embrace the Turkish cuisine was resistant to one concept: the sacred combination of yogurt and savory dishes. He said that the idea of eating something he had long identified with sweetness and fruits, with savory dishes like stuffed vegetables and meatballs was something he never expected to get used to. He didn't know that by dismissing yogurt, he was only enjoying a part of the Turkish cuisine.
In a Turkish home's fridge, yogurt is one of the indispensable ingredients. When there is nothing left at home save for yogurt, plain pasta or bulgur pilaf will team up with it to give you a proper a meal. If the expiration date approaches before the pack is exhausted (which rarely happens) one common way to make use of it is to make yogurt soup and conveniently, aged yogurt's sourness contributes to this soup's deliciousness. Traditionally made with rice and called 'yayla çorbası' (plateau soup) I only developed interest in it when I discovered barley can be used in place of rice and it suddenly became one of my most beloved winter treats.
It's a tricky soup though. Cooking yogurt without curdling it requires utmost patience in the first place. The heat should remain constantly low - don't attempt witty methods like messing around with the heat - or it will curdle. The yogurt should be at room temperature before using, or it will curdle. Use a wooden spoon not metal, or it will curdle. Don't attempt flipping the omelet on the next stove while you're stirring with the other hand (the stirring gets interrupted no matter how skillful you are) or it will curdle. Always stir in the same direction, just to be sure, or beware, it will curdle.
Yogurt Soup with Barley
- 3 cups unsweetened, full-fat yogurt, at room temperature (substituting 1 cup with strained yogurt gives a creamier texture. To obtain 1 cup strained yogurt drain 2 cups full-fat yogurt in a cheese cloth for couple of hours. Then place it on a strainer and the strainer in a deep bowl. Place it in the fridge for 2-3 hours. This will yield you a thickened yogurt.)
- 1 egg
- 1 cup barley
- 2 cups hot water
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 teaspoon fresh or dry mint leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1) Boil barley in a pressure cooker for 15 minutes with 2 cups water. Set the cooker aside.
2) Mix yogurt and eggs with an electric mixer and transfer to a steel pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, on low heat, stirring continuously for about 20-25 minutes. Get 1 cup of hot water ready. When the mixture comes to a boil, slowly add water to thin out the soup. Stir and add the cooked barley along with the water you cooked it in. Add salt to taste. (about 1 teaspoon) Stir and let barley soak the soup on low heat for 10 minutes. If the consistency is too thick to your taste thin it out with more hot water.
3) Melt butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add pepper flakes when foam starts forming and cook until the butter slightly browns, exhuming a nutty smell.
4) Drizzle the soup with brown butter. Sprinkle dry or fresh mint leaves or cilantro if you like.