Tarator (A Traditional Bulgarian Cold Summer Soup With Yogurt, Water, Cucumber, Salt That Could Also Be A Drink)
What is Tarator
Tarator is a traditional cold summer soup, whose main ingredients are cucumber, yogurt and water. It is very popular, because of its interesting and refreshing flavor and the little effort required to make it. It is usually served in a bowl and eaten with a spoon in the beginning of the meal as an appetizer. However, it can sometimes be served as a side-dish. In some regions of Bulgaria it might even be used to accompany the consumption of mastika (a type of anise-flavored aperitif similar to the Greek ouzo) or other types of alcohol and in that case it's served in a tall glass without a spoon and is practically treated as a drink.
On the whole, Tarator is a very healthy dish, because it is based on yogurt and vegetables. Another health benefit is that it keeps the ingredients in their raw form since it does not require any heat treatment. In Bulgaria it is regarded as one of the traditional remedies for hangover.
The most crucial ingredient - yogurt
Sometimes the quality of the ingredients you use makes or break your meal and there is no way to make a decent bowl of Tarator without good yogurt. If you are really devoted to pulling this exotic dish/drink off, you need to know how to recognize the right yogurt.
The ideal yogurt for making Tarator should be sour and thick. In Bulgarian the phrase used to mean yogurt actually means sour milk. So you should not by any means buy any type of sweet yogurt since this is not supposed to be a sweet dish. The sour taste is actually a sign of the living bacteria in it, working their magic. If you cannot find yogurt that has at least a hint of sourness, you can always add a little bit of vinegar or lemon juice. If you cannot find a thick one you would just need to add less water and more yogurt when you're making it.
You will find out that preparing Tarator is always about balance, imagination and making it fit your own taste.
- One (average-sized) cucumber, pealed; diced, cut into short stips or grated
- dill, chopped
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1/2kg or 1 pound of yogurt
- a pinch of salt
- a teaspoon of olive oil, sunflower oil or similar
Cook Time (no actual cooking required)
Preparing Tarator - it's easy and quick
- Start by dicing the garlic and the dill. You can leave a few pieces of dill for decoration later.
- Take the diced dill and garlic and add a tea spoon of olive or sunflower oil and mix well. (In Bulgaria people usually use sunflower oil as a more common ingredient, but if they want to make it fancier they use olive oil and this is what I recommend.) In some version people might add up to 4 teaspoons of oil.
- We take the ground walnuts and we also add them to the mix.
- Add the diced, cut into small stripes or grated cucumber after you've pealed it and mix.
- Add the yogurt that you have already stirred well and start adding water while stirring until it almost looks drinkable.
- Add salt and additional oil or vinegar if it suits your taste.
- Serve cold in a bowl or a tall wide glass. You could decorate it with pieces of dill, parsley and by sprinkling it with some ground walnuts.
Endless possibilities for variation
As we mentioned before, the main three ingredients for Tarator are yogurt, cucumber and water. It is actually possible to make it with just those three ingredients and if the yogurt is good, it would actually be good. So anything from the recipe above can be skipped or altered and it would still be a version of the same dish. Tarator can technically be treated as a liquid salad and it immediately becomes very easy for the people making it to play with it either to create variety or to simply to make it better. So you can let your imagination loose and use this as a base to create a whole range of raw cold salad-like soups of your own.
One of the popular versions of Tarator in Bulgaria are The Snow White Salad and Dry Tarator. They are prepared in the same way but almost no water and sometimes no walnuts are added to the mix. In Bulgaria people prefer to prepare them using thick strained yogurt with most of it's water removed. Dry Tarator is very commonly used as a side dish or as something to spread on bread or to put in or on a sandwich.
Things you can skip or replace with something from the next list:
- salt (if you are used to it and you care about your health, you an always skip adding salt to your dishes if you have some other unavoidable sources)
* If you decide to run with your creativity you could even replace the cucumber and use carrots or lettuce. It will not really be Tarator anymore, but it still might be a nice addition to your light cooking arsenal for the hot summer days.
Things you could add to create your own version of Tarator:
- parsley, diced
- mint, diced
- basil, diced
- ramsons, diced
- lettuce, diced
- onion, diced or sliced
- leek, diced
- carrots, grated
- all kinds of nuts raning from sunfower and pumpkin to ground hazelnuts or almonds
- tomatoes or tomato sauce (if you overdo it, you might get an interesting Tarator/Gaspacho hybrid)
- red pepper
- black pepper
- sour cream
- dried bread crums
- boiled egg
- zucchini (raw), diced or grated
As you see the possibilities are endless and I'm sure that your comments would contain even more interesting suggestions. You can also experiment with the way you decorate it before you serve it to your family, friends or guests. You could use parsley, dill or mint leaves or you could sprinkle with the ground walnuts and red or black pepper. You could make small sour cream roses or spots. If you decide to go for Dry Tarator you can also use olives and long thin strips of carrot, cucumber and zucchini.
I hope this Bulgarian recipe will add even more diversity to your kitchen martial arts and would help you experiment, discover something new, and create a new signature dish for yourself to impress any guest that sits at your table.