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Article by Marina

Have you decided to cook a soup today?

By doing so you will be cooking a similar recipe like the very first recipe that man decided to cook on this earth.

When the first man discovered that liquid in a container can be boiled, the creation of the first recipe begun. Vegetables that were not possible to eat raw were boiled. Man gradually added other ingredients enriching his recipe with pulses, wheat, barley, poultry, meat and fish.

We know that ancient Egyptians, ancient Greeks and Romans had a staple daily dish made from pureed pulses. 

Ancient Spartans cooked their famous soup ‘melas zomos’, or ‘black broth’.  It is believed to have been made with pork, vinegar and blood.

Coming back to our times when our children were little, we would cook the very special ‘Magic Soup’, which so many Greek households would prepare!  This was when we had nothing in the house for a meal, or so we thought. The water would go into the pot first and then anything available would be added, brought with excitement and pride by the children from the larder, while herbs would be picked from the garden and thrown in the pot too.

This is exactly what people did in the Middle Ages too. The only difference being that their pot would permanently be on the hearth and it would be topped up with ingredients and water every day, based on what they could gather or buy.  Chunks of bread would be soaked in the soup to complete the meal.

Peasants survived for centuries with this ‘magic soup’ recipe.

Come 17th century, soup lost its prevalence for the rich as a staple, daily full meal.  It became only one part of a meal, most often a starter.  Flavours of soups were chosen to coordinate with what was to follow in the rest of the menu.  We later saw the introduction of the distinction between ‘clear’ and ‘thick’ soups; the Ancient Spartans' ‘melas zomos’ would be a clear soup and ancient Egyptians', ancient Greeks' and Romans' pureed pulses would be a thick soup!

What about instant soups that we have nowadays?  Well, they might have appeared in the market in the 50's, but not for Greeks.  Greeks had their own instant soups: they were made of local ingredients with traditional methods that required no dehydration and other processes.

In Cyprus we had, and still have, ‘trahana’ soup, which is just as popular now as it was before I was born. It’s based on a mixture of grain and yoghurt or fermented milk, which is dried and then keeps for long periods because it is both acid and low in moisture.

We tend to keep the hard, dried trahana ‘sticks’ (usually finger-sized batons) in a cotton pillow case with bay leaves to help preserve it longer. When you want to make the soup, all you have to do is soak a handful of the sticks in a pot of water for a few hours. Then you boil it on its own or with stock.  It’s a satisfying soup for a full breakfast, lunch or dinner; in fact, many people even nowadays have trahana soup for breakfast in the winter before leaving for work!  The simple soup and the simple habits of cooking and eating it have not changed from the poverty of olden times right through to riches and to the more moderate present time.

We’ll soon be writing a recipe for trahana in our Recipes section, so check back if you’re interested!

Just like our ancestors' soups, the soups we make today are still filling and can be a main meal in themselves, for example this recipe for youvarlakia.  Here are just a few, bearing in mind that there are regional variations of these soups:

Revithada (chick pea soup)
Fasolada (bean soup)
Hortosoupa ( greens and vegetable soup)
Patsas (tripe soup)
Psarosoupa (fish soup, originating from the ancient Kakavia soup)
Fakes soupa (lentil soup)
Fava soupa (split pea soup)
Avgolemono soupa (Egg and lemon chicken soup)
Arnaki soupa avgolemono (Egg and lemon and lamb soup)
Mayiritsa (Midnight Easter soup)

...and many more...! We have soups for vegetarians as well as meat and fish lovers.

In Greece and Cyprus, we have traditionally rarely used stock as a base.  Water goes in the pot first like the magic soup, and the process starts by adding the simplest of nature's ingredients that we have learnt from our Ancient Greek ancestors, who used to grow garlic, onions, beans, chickpeas, lentils and other soup staples in their gardens and fields.

In fact, the main agricultural products of Ancient Greece apart from vines and olives, were barley and wheat – both of which would be used in soups. Fields provided nettles and wild greens, too, which have always been a favourite with both the poorest and the richest of men.  So it’s easy to see how soups became an obvious meal to make with local produce.

Today, although soups in much of the rest of the world are eaten as only part of a meal, in Greece and Cyprus it is still common to have soups either as a healthy, wholesome snack, or as a full meal in themselves.

In fact, the Greek national dish is not so much the more well-known mousaka or dolmades – it’s a soup? Which one? Fasolada! The recipe for fasolada will soon follow.

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