European Culinary Connections | Fermentations



Tarhana, a fermented cereal food associated with ancient Asian cooking and regarded as an essential source of proteins, minerals, acids and vitamins, is the epitome of a popular traditional dish.

When made into tarhana çorbasi, the easily digested Turkish thick creamy soup, it is consumed by all ages and desired by the poorly and sick, inevitably the clue to its longevity.

Cereal flour (wheat or corn or chickpea), yoghurt, yeast, onions, tomatoes, green peppers and red peppers, herbs and spices (from garlic, mint, thyme, dill, tarhana herb), and salt make up the usual ingredients.

The vegetables and spices are blended cooked or uncooked in sufficient water to make a paste. Some methods use commercial tomato, green and red pepper pastes. Flour, yeast and yoghurt are added to the paste to make a thick batter, which is kneaded daily and fermented over several days.

When the moisture has been reduced and the fermentation has slowed, the mixture is broken into pieces, then oven dried.

Finally it is ground into powder for use in soup or rolled into layers for a snack. In powder form it can be stored for up to three years without deterioration.

In Turkey generations of experimental cooks have made tarhana a variable feast. Flavourings have been used to relieve the sour acidic yeasty taste. Mint is especially popular and garlic is revered, but the tarhana herb, a member of the parsley family, is the secret ingredient gradually being revealed.

Long before food scientists realised that the yoghurt to flour ratio affected the taste and the quality, local cooks played with the amount of yoghurt and their results are reflected in the regional variations of tarhana made in the home. Scientists now argue that more yoghurt and the use of set yoghurt increases the nutritional benefits.

Traditionally tarhana was made without yeast. Despite the argument from the food scientists that the yeast-yoghurt formula increases the amount of beneficial lactic acid, many home cooks prefer to take their yeast from the air.

Although it is produced commercially in huge quantities, tarhana (pronounced tra-hana) has never left the home. Fermented in the cool of the kitchen, it is dried in the heat of the sun, packed with love and sent out to family and friends.

Tarhana Çorbasi

  • 800 ml water
  • 100 g tarhana powder

Mix the powder with some of the water to make a paste in a saucepan. Add the remaining water and bring gradually to a low boil, simmer for ten minutes. Serve with a small cube of butter in each bowl.

Crème Fraîche

Crème fraîche is made from milk fat subjected to a souring process (specifically 6°C for a maximum of 30 days) using lactic acid.

The result is a fat content between 30% and 40%, and a thick cream much less acidic than most sour creams.

Small quantities can be made in the home by mixing fresh heavy cream with light yoghurt.

Among its countless uses, none is more relevant to the success of a recipe than crème fraîche is to chantilly cream, the tantilising vanilla dessert from Picardy in France.

Many a chantilly has been ruined by heavy cream inexpertly diluted with milk.

Chantilly Cream

  • 500 ml crème fraîche, refrigerated
  • 75 g icing sugar, refrigerated
  • 1 vanilla pod, desseded
  • Whisk / beaters, refrigerated
  • Bowl, refrigerated

Mix all the ingredients in the cold bowl.

Hand beating results in an airy chantilly, so it is favoured over the machine method. The chantilly is done when the delicate peaks hold their shapes.


Of all the fermented dairy products none hold as much promise as kefir, the light yoghurt-like multi-purpose foodstuff associated with northern and eastern Europe, and now widely popular because of its beneficial properties – probiotic bacteria and natural yeast.

Traditionally made with cow’s milk, and occasionally with the milk of buffalo, goats and sheep, kefir can also be made with coconut, rice and soya milk. This makes it a desirable product to other food cultures.

In Europe its use has been widespread. It features in blinchiki, potato bread and cakes, as a marinade for shashlyk and is generally consumed as a refreshing cold drink.

The alcohol, bacteria and yeast in kefir is replicated in milk and, with a starter (called grains), kefir can be made in the home.

If possible the kefir grains should be replicated in raw milk, which makes soya milk a viable option for vegans wanting an alternative food addition to dairy products in specific recipes.


  • 1 large white cabbage
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Juniper berries
  • Stoneware jar with wooden disk / lid

Weigh the cabbage and for every 100 grams set aside 4 grams of salt, 4% of the cabbage weight.

Remove the hard core and outer leaves, retain the inner green leaves whole, and shred the cabbage into thin strips, then wash and drain. Place the leaves in the bottom of the jar.

Put a thin layer of strips on top with an even sprinkling of salt and a few juniper berries.

Repeat until the strips are used up or three-quarters of the jar has been filled.

Cover tightly with cloth or muslin, the disk or lid and an object heavy enough to exert pressure on the mixture.

Within 24 hours a foamy liquid should flood the lid. Spoon out the foam and keep doing so past four weeks. The sauerkraut is ready when no more liquid rises to the surface, up to eight weeks.

It is more beneficial eaten within a couple of weeks. After each portion is taken out remove surface liquid and replace with fresh water, changing the cloth and washing the lid.

Sauerkraut recipes are numerous, featuring berries, spices, vegetables and wine, served with bacon or sausage.


Once of Scandinavia, skyr is an integral aspect of Icelandic traditional cuisine.

A fermented cheese, skyr has the appearance and taste of thick yoghurt and is eaten like yoghurt, mixed with berries and fruit among countless uses.

This is a recipe for home-made skyr from Halldóra Eggertsdóttir and Sólveig Benediktsdóttir translated by Jo Gunn.

  • 10 litres unpasturised skimmed milk
  • 45 g rennet
  • 10 g skyr / buttermilk / live culture sour cream

1. Heat the skim milk up to 86-90°C, and cool slowly for about two hours, down to 39°C. Stir a little scalded milk into the starter to make a thin paste and mix into the skim milk with the rennet (if you are using dry rennet, dissolve in a little water before adding).

2. Close the cooking pot and wrap in towels or a thick blanket. The milk should curdle over a period of about five hours. If it curdles in less than four and a half hours, the curds will be coarse, but if it curdles in more than five hours, the skyr will be so thick it will be difficult to strain. When the milk is curdled, cut into the curds with a knife. When you can make a cut which will not close immediately, then you can go on to the next stage.

3. Line a sieve or colander with cheesecloth or a fine linen cloth and pour in the skyr. Tie the ends of the cloth together over the top and hang over a bucket or other container so the whey can drip off. If the skyr-making has been successful, there will be little whey, and it will not float over the curds, but will be visible along the edges of the sieve and in the cuts you made into the surface. You can judge the quality of the skyr from the appearance of the curds when you pour them into the sieve. If the skyr is good, it will crack and fall apart in pieces, but should neither be thin nor lumpy. Do not put a layer thicker than 7-9 cm into the sieve. Keep the sieve in a well ventilated room, with a temperature no higher than 12° and no lower than 0° Celsius. The skyr should be ready to eat in 12-24 hours.

4. The skyr should be firm and look dry when ready. The whey can be used as a drink, to pickle food, or as a replacement for white wine in cooking.

Problems you may encounter, and how to solve them:

If the whey does not leak off the curds or floats over the curds, or the curds do not shrink from the edges of the sieve, then something is wrong. The milk has not been heated to a high enough temperature or has been cooled too quickly, so that the rennet has not had time to work. The more milk you curdle at a time, the relatively less starter and rennet you need. A large container cools slower than a small one, and the effects of starter and rennet last longer.

It is best to use skyr for the starter. If the skyr is sour, it should be mixed into the milk while it is still 80°-90°C. This will remove the sourness. Don’t add the rennet until the milk has cooled to approx. 40°C. When the weather is cold, it is best to mix it in when the milk is a little over 40°C (say, 41° or 42°). In cold weather, the milk also needs to be covered more tightly while it curdles. This is especially important if you are making a small portion of skyr.

Skyr can be stored for 4-5 days in a closed container.

Skyr Original