An Greek alternative to chicken noodle soup
Cold winter months, bone-chilling rainy days, and work weeks so long that they make you feel beaten down, are all made better with a nice bowl of comfort. In many families, that often means chicken noodle soup, and although we would never dispute the claim this popular soup can cure many ills, we would like to add another option to the mix. This trahana soup with chicken was the chicken noodle soup of our childhoods; the meal we were presented with when under the weather, stressed from school or just needing a quick way to be nourished and satisfied.
The origin of trahana is somewhat disputed; some argue that this ancient food originated in Greece, while others claim that Turkey or Persia introduced trahana to the world. Regardless of who ate it first, today trahana is eaten in many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries, and many consider trahana to be the traditional soup of Cyprus. Versions of this meal are also very popular in Crete (where it is called xinohondros). Our parents are neither Cypriot nor Cretan, and still trahana was often prepared in our home, either in the trahana soup with chicken presented here or in a trahana soup with feta or the tomato-based soup made with sour trahana.
Trahana is essentially a hard pasta made of cracked wheat, bulgur or flour that is shaped a little like couscous when you purchase it. When buttermilk or yogourt are added, you get sour trahana. When whole milk is added instead, you end up with a sweet trahana, and that is the one used in this recipe. There are cooks who make their own trahana by making dense masses of the simple ingredients, allowing them to dry thoroughly (often in the sun) and then breaking them up into small pieces. Often times, these small pieces are further passed through a fine metal sieve, to create the pebble like texture you often find in Greek grocers. Making trahana was, and in some places probably still is, a great way to preserve milk and other dairy when it is plentiful for times when it is more scarcely available.
Our parents are awesome, but they do not make their own trahana, opting instead to purchase it from our local Greek grocery store. If you are going to purchase your trahana to make this recipe, be sure to select the sweet trahana. Also, read the ingredient list carefully. Although traditionally, trahana does not include eggs, we found several varieties which do. Important to know if you happen to have an egg allergy.
Trahana likes to stick to the bottom of your pot when cooking. For this reason, it is important to stand by your stove and stir frequently. Luckily, the total cooking time is not too long! As your soup cooks, if you find that you may need to add more water, go ahead. Your final product should be a soup as pictured, not thick like a porridge.
The chicken breast needs to be shredded after cooking before returning it to your soup. The best way we have found to shred chicken breast is using two forks. Insert the tines of the forks into the chicken and pull apart until your chicken is shredded. You can alternatively dice up your chicken breast into bite sized cubes.
Mia Kouppa: Trahana soup with chicken
- 1 chicken breast, skinless
- 1 medium sized carrot, peeled and cut in half
- 1 stalk celery, cut in half
- 7 cups water
- 1 cup sweet trahana
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup grated mizithra (if you can’t find mizithra, you can replace with parmesan or pecorino romano)
- Place water in a pot and add the chicken breast, carrot and celery.
- Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for approximately 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
- When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pot and set aside. Remove the celery and carrot and set aside (you will not be using these vegetables for the soup any longer).
- Strain the liquid into another pot and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, add the trahana, the olive oil and the salt and pepper. Lower the heat to a low-medium and cook, stirring regularly. You may need to add more water as the trahana cooks and thickens. The trahana should be ready in about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, while the trahana is cooking, shred your chicken breast. Then, a few minutes before the trahana is done, add the chicken to the pot.
- Serve warm, with mizithra on the side to be sprinkled on top of the soup. Enjoy!