Yogurt soup. Who would have thought?
Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey all claim yogurt as their own invention and believe their version is the best.
Having been lucky enough to spend time in all 3 countries, I can tell you it is good in all of them. However, I wasn’t quite prepared for the variety of yogurt-based products. Products like labna (strained, thick version of yogurt, becomes more like a spread), kefir (fermented yogurt drink, great for the probiotic benefits), aryan (a salty yogurt drink surprisingly refreshing) and dried yogurt are prevalent throughout this region.
The uses of yogurt are widespread. It can be used plain with fruit, nuts and syrups, as a healthy breakfast or dessert. Drinks like aryan and kefir are common in Turkey.
Aryan is as popular as any drink in Turkey, and to the displeasure of many, has replaced raki (an alcoholic aniseed drink) as the national drink. Many cafes and restaurants proudly produce their own in-house versions. Locals went out of their way to find the best aryan (a bit like home-brewed beer and a somewhat similar process)!
Yogurt soup is common, this is probably the most popular soup, competeing with Red Lentil soup for the title. We had fantastic versions at several restaurants, inlcuding Ciya Sofrasi in Kadikoy (Istanbul) and at Pumpkin in Cappadocia. It is served warm in winter and as a cold soup in summer.
Given the prevalence of yogurt in Turkey and how brilliant it is, I thought I should undertake some further research as to its history.
This was illuminating as I wasn’t quite aware that most people who now live in Turkey are descended from nomadic Turks who migrated from Central Asian countries like Turkmenistan and Mongolia. They migrated to what was known as Anatolia (the Asian component of what is now Turkey).
Like manti, my research indicates the Turks brought yogurt with them to Anatolia. And from there it spread to Persia, the caucuses, Russia, the Middle East, India, the Balkans and Eastern Europe. But how was yogurt discovered?
Like many other foods and drinks, it may have been by accident. Temperatures can reach 105 degrees fahrenheit (40 celsius) in Central Asia. These nomadic tribes would often milk their animals and then from time to time move camp. The milk was placed in leather containers or animal skins.
The sloshing of the fresh milk inside the leather container and the heat caused the milk to sour or clabber (curdle) forming small lumps. And hence yogurt was born. The word yogurt is derived from the old Turk word “yogurmak” meaning to knead or mould.
There are many references to yogurt dating back a long time. As far back as 2600 BC. The Bible mentions “sour milk” being offered by Abraham. Marco Polo specifically mentioned the peoples of Central Asia manufactured what is now known as yogurt.
These days yogurt is acknowledged as something very healthy for you. Many large companies now mass produce yogurt and it is now very widespread around the world, but be wary of flavoured yogurt and low fat yogurt products, they contain way too much sugar and chemical additives. Plain full-fat yogurt or making your own yogurt is the healthiest option..
It is a fascinating subject and if you wish to do some research yourself then this link will take you to the Turkish Cultural Foundation, where you can gather more detail about yogurt. As I was preparing this post I also received a great email newsletter about yogurt from Mark Sisson, The Primal Living guru. It contains a recipe for ayran and some great facts about yogurt.
So in honor of yogurt, here is a yogurt soup recipe. (Note: this is based on the version we had a Pumpkin in Cappadocia, after experimentation it is as close as we can get!)
Looking for Some More Recipes Featuring Yogurt?
Here are a couple more recipes to choose from:
Turkish meze platter. Healthy, tasty, Turkish appetizers featuring yogurt.
Looking for Some More Winter Soup Recipes?
If you fancy some other, warming soup recipes from around the world, here are some you might like.
Another winter favorite is Butternut Squash Soup. This one is a little different, as we serve this soup with quinoa.
Black Bean Soup is a mainstay in Guatemala. Find out why.
And, two choices from Turkey. Don’t underestimate the great taste of Red Lentil Soup. It might be simple but it is a real favorite in our household.