Tραχανά (Tra-ha-na) has always been a favourite of mine since I was little. A Cyprus speciality, there's something extra special about this soup which makes it the ultimate in comfort food and which, for me, defines my family life as a BBC.
Back in the "olden days", trahana was seen as a common food. Said to have pastoral origins, it was created out of a necessity for food that was quick to prepare and could be stored for many months. Nowadays, it's eaten just to be enjoyed, but when money was tight (and there was no such thing as a Tesco Express on every corner) this soup offered a cheap and nutritious way to feed the family.
The best trahana is still made in Cyprus villages by troops of Yiayias (that's "grandmas" to me and you) who've been making the stuff for generations. Starting off as a mixture of fermented milk, cracked wheat, lemon juice and yoghurt, it's cooled and shaped into "cigars" which are left to dry under the heat of the Cyprus sun.
Since I can't afford the plane fare, I've had to do with a packet which my Aunty Maria kindly bought for me in a supermarket on Green Lanes. The North London hub for all foodie things both Greek and Turkish, you'll find many a shop there that stocks the yummy stuff.
This particular recipe is from my mum who, in my opinion, makes the best trahana in the world - not that I'm bias, mind. Whilst others like to add what I consider to be rogue ingredients to their trahana recipes (for example, some people add tomato), mum makes it plain and simple using just halloumi cheese - a traditional added extra which is cut into cubes and added to the soup just before it's ready to serve.
So, enough of the chat. Here's a list of ingredients you'll need, along with the instructions to make a tasty bowl of trahana. This particular recipe will feed 6-8 people depending on how greedy you are (so that's 6 in my case).
Before you get your cook on, here's an insider tip - if you make a little extra than you need, you can save it for the next day and have it either hot or cold. I don't know why, but this soup tastes even better the day after.
1. 220g of Trahana
2. 2 x vegetable stock cubes (you can also use chicken stock which is what is traditionally used)
3. 1.2l water
4. Halloumi cheese (1 whole, cut in to cubes)
5. Lemon to taste (optional - I didn't use it but some people like to!)
1 . Soak the trahana in a large bowl for a min. of 5 hours. Use enough water to just cover the trahana pieces (for convenience, soak it overnight). You will see the pieces separate and turn from a pale yellow colour to almost white. Once ready, use a fork to gently separate the trahana pieces fully in the water.
2. Take 1.2l of water and two stock cubes and bring to the boil in a large pan. Add the trahana mixture to the pan and bring the heat down to a simmer. Leave the trahana to cook on a low heat for approx. 1 hour until the mixture becomes slightly creamier. Remember to stir it occassionally as the trahana can stick the bottom of the pan (insider tip: the better quality the trahana, the less likely it is to do this).
3. Cut the block of halloumi cheese into cubes (not too small - big chunks are better!) and add these to the trahana 10 mins before bringing it off the heat. The halloumi cubes will soften slightly, and are not meant to melt in completely.
4. Leave the soup to rest for approx. 15mins before serving (you can serve it straight away, but it tastes better if you give it some breathing space first!)