In my American kitchen, making soup is always motivated by two things. First, the season. The weather drives the kinds of soups my family craves. Winter finds us longing for the comfort of a hot soup, like a Beef Chili with a spicy kick from cayenne pepper; with warm, buttered wedges of Cheddar & Jalapeno Cornbread. Vegetable Soup with huge chunks of tender beef in a rich broth, with every vegetable I can get my hands on going into my large soup pot. Any kind of chowder, like Corn & Chicken Chowder or Cheesy Vegetable Chowder. Or my personal favorite, Seafood Chowder full of protein-rich fish, shrimp and other fruits of the sea. This begs to be served with warm Cheddar & Parsley Biscuits. Yum! When Summer heat calls for cooling down, we enjoy cold soups: Gazpacho, Cucumber Soup with Yogurt, Avocado Soup, and Mixed Melon Soup. Or the vintage French classic, Vichyssoise.
The second factor that drives the making of any soup in my kitchen is the ingredients that happen to be in my pantry or freezer. Or the leftovers in my refrigerator that need to be used so this food is not wasted. My family and friends will testify that some of my best soups are not made from a recipe but from what is available in those leftovers, what is stored in my freezer, or what is sitting on the shelves of my pantry. Then they complain they will never have that particular soup again! They are right because I never seem to get around to writing down how I made the soup or what was in it.
Soup may not be the star of the Turkish kitchen, but it is always… always… always the starter course in a typical Turkish meal. What will surprise most Americans and probably Europeans as well, is that soup is sometimes even the favorite choice for kahvalti (breakfast). Over time, the Turkish people have developed a rich variety of soups. As with most foods in Turkish cuisine, soup is made in various ways in the different regions of Turkey. Ingredients might be meat, chicken, legumes, flour, yogurt, noodles, fish, black cabbage and even different fruits.
Turkish soups are usually named after the main ingredient used in making them. For instance, if the main ingredient is mercimek (lentils), the soup is called Mercimek Çorbasi. If yogurt is the main ingredient, the name of the soup is Yoghurt Çorbasi. These two soups are the most well-known in Turkey, along with Tarhana Çorbasi (Dried Curds Soup) and Ezo Gelin Çorbasi (Turkish Red Lentil Soup).
In learning about these different soups, I found “the” definitive list of fourteen soups that hold “pride of place” in Turkish cuisine. Most can easily be found in the larger cities of Turkey like Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Bursa and Adana, where there are many restaurant choices. However, there will still be exceptions in some areas where a “Soup of the Day” is the only soup on offer. Go another day, try another soup, and eventually you might sample all fourteen of these traditional Turkish soups.
#1: Mercimek Çorbası (Lentil Soup)
Considered the oldest Turkish soup, it is a kahlvati (breakfast) specialty and the most popular soup in Turkey. Made with red lentils, carrots, potatoes and onions, it is eaten with bread and a squeeze of lemon juice on top for added flavor. Locals will also add a spoonful of red pepper and/or chicken stock for even more flavor. It is healthy, filling, and a good protein substitute for vegetarians. It is also an amazing source of iron for those suffering from anemia.
#2 — Tarhana Çorbası (Tarhana Soup)
This is the first “instant” soup invented by the Turks. The main ingredient is a kind of sourdough powder. The dough is made with a mixture of garlic, onion, meat stock, tomato, fresh parsley, dill (an aromatic herb), dry mint added with aygut (a special cream obtained from skimmed yoghurt), fresh yoghurt, fresh yeast and flour. It needs to be sun-dried so it takes a good deal of time but when this step is done, the soup itself is easy to prepare. When water, stock, tomato paste, and red pepper are added to the dried dough, it becomes Tarhana Soup. It is usually served garnished with crumbled cheese on top.
#3 — İşkembe Çorbası (Tripe Soup)
After a long night of drinking, any Turkish friend is likely to suggest eating İşkembe Çorbası (Tripe Soup) as a guarantee of no hangover following a night of heavy drinking. Many believe this soup to be an excellent remedy for this malady, so it is always possible to find restaurants serving this soup, even after midnight. It is made with cow’s stomach and eaten with garlicky vinegar. It is a common dish in Balkan Cuisine and in Mexican Cuisine, where it is known as Menudo.
#4 — Isırgan Çorbası (Wild Nettle Soup)
This is a favorite soup for Turks because it is easy to cook, and the best part is that the main ingredient is free. Nettle grows everywhere, even in the concrete jungles of larger cities in Turkey. It is a highly nutritious plant and the best time to pick it is before it develops seeds. Gloves definitely need to be worn because the sting and rash from this plant is painful but does not last long. Potatoes are added when the soup is cooked. Turkish cooks consider potatoes as the “body” of this soup, giving it the right texture.
#5 — Badem Çorbası (Almond Soup)
This soup comes from the kitchens of the Ottoman palaces, especially the palace in Edirne, the city famous for its almonds. It is known to have been served to the guests at the circumcision feasts of the sons of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Since that time, Turks have continued to cook this delicious soup. The main ingredient is, of course, almonds that are mixed with flour, milk, a pinch of nutmeg, and beef broth. Usually garnished with pomegranates, the end result is a savory, sweet soup. It is healthy and rich in Vitamin E, Magnesium and Potassium. Research has shown that almonds can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
#6 — Ezo Gelin Çorbası (Turkish Red Lentil Soup)
Once upon a time in the early 20th Century, a bride named Ezo lived in Southeastern Turkey, near the Syrian border. This soup was her gift. It was named after her by the locals and then became known as Ezo Gelin Çorbası. Made with red lentils, bulgur, rice, hot red pepper paste, and dried mint, it is very hearty and a good source of fiber and protein. While it is also a kahlvati (breakfast) specialty, it is not as much of a favorite as the #1 soup on our list, Mercimek Çorbası (Lentil Soup).
#7 — Sultan Çorbası (Sultan Soup)
Do not let the name of this soup mislead you! It is NOT the favorite soup of all the Ottoman sultans. If you do a Google search for this soup, you will find a wide variety of Sultan Soup recipes. In other words, there is no certain recipe for it but one popular way to cook it. You will receive the most popular version of this soup if you order it in the restaurant of a large city in Turkey. It is a nourishing soup made with chickpeas, flour, blanched almonds, egg yolks and heavy cream. As expected from the last two ingredients, it is high in calories.
#8 — Hamsi Çorbası (Anchovy Soup)
Hamsi, Black Sea anchovies, are the most popular seasonal favorite in the winter. These little fish become the main meal in many restaurants and homes in the Black Sea region. Anchovy Soup is served in many creative ways — with pilaf, dolma, sütlaç (Turkish rice pudding), and even jam. Yes, fish jam! It may not be easy to find the different types of hamsi dishes even in the larger cities of Turkey. However, Hamsi Buğulama (Turkish Steamed Anchovies and Tomatoes) and Hamsi Çorbası (Anchovy Soup) are easy to find. And any recipe using hamsi will definitely include the use of butter and garlic.
#9 — Ayran Çorbası (Ayran Soup)
Ayran is a traditional Turkish yoghurt drink consumed by the Turks for thousands of years. It is refreshing, healthy, and easy to make and Ayran Çorbası is no different. Yoghurt, the main ingredient, is cooked with chickpeas and barley. The result is a wholesome vegetarian soup which contains a great amount of protein. Many researchers claim Ayran has some anti-cancer properties and also helps increase body muscle mass.
#10 — Paça Çorbası (Trotter Soup)
Although not technically a “Turkish soup”, it is a common soup in the Middle East, and Turkish people are known to consume it uncontrollably. It is made with lamb legs or head, cooked with garlic and Turkish chili pepper. If you are searching for Paça Çorbası in Turkey, look for lamb heads in the windows of the local soup kitchens. The same as #3 on our list, İşkembe Çorbası, this soup is said to have a very pungent taste useful as a hangover cure.
#11 — Yayla Çorbası (Yayla Soup)
In the Turkish kitchen, there are many different yoghurt soups that feature a wide variety of grains and herbs. This smooth soup features yoghurt, flour, egg yolks, mint and rice. Although flavored heavily with mint, the flour and egg yolks stabilize the yoghurt. This soup is creamy, filling, tasty and very healthy. It is often served from the kitchens of hospitals in Turkey.
#12 — Lahana Çorbası (Cabbage Soup)
In their cooking, the people of the Black Sea Region use cabbage in a variety of dishes including soup and dolma. This vegetable soup is made with black cabbage which comes from the Eastern part of the Black Sea Region. It has long, dark green leaves instead of the normal round shape which characterizes cabbage. Along with the main ingredient, this soup has onions, white beans, rice or bulgur, corn flour, red pepper and chicken stock.
#13 — Mantar Çorbası (Mushroom Soup)
Vegetarians should not be misled with the main ingredient of this soup being mushrooms, because it is usually made with chicken broth, flour and cream. Usually consumed in the winter, this soup is said to go well with Pilaf & Almonds.
If you are a picky eater, take the time to find your favorite version because there are dozens of different ways to cook Mantar Çorbası.
#14 — Lebeniye Çorbası (Lebeniye Soup)
Yoghurt is an essential part of Turkish cuisine. Gaziantep, a city in South-Central Turkey, has been an important trade center since ancient times. It is famous for pistachios and various kinds of soups with yoghurt as their main ingredient. Among these Lebeniye Çorbası stands out because it is the specialty of the holidays.
Ayran and hulled wheat are combined in the same dish with beans and chickpeas. This is a very refreshing and satisfying soup that is easy to cook.
Soups are a very important part of Turkish cuisine. The Turks take pride in making tasty, nutritious bowls of soup using the freshest ingredients they can find. Find a Turkish soup recipe, make a trip to the market for the ingredients you need, grab your soup pot… and make some soup! Afiyet olsun!
Copyright by North America-TEN and Mary Bloyd
Author: Mary Bloyd is a retired corporate manager living in Centerville, Ohio USA with her husband. Mary loves cooking for family and friends. Taught by a professional chef how to use spices and herbs, make stocks and mother sauces, she developed a curiosity about all foods and cuisines. After discovering the wonderful storytelling of Turkish dizis and films, Mary became interested in and has written many articles about Turkish cuisine, traditions and culture. She loves to travel, is a journal-keeper, writer of short stories and poetry, and is currently working on her first book, a personal memoir.