Bulgarian Cold Cucumber Soup

August 9, 2010

in Recipes, Soups & Stews

I gotta tell you, my husband has a relatively low level of interest in my excellent blogging adventures, but he was very excited that I was, finally, going to post the recipe for this all-time favorite of ours.

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Now this Bulgarian classic, called tarator, is as common there as ranch dressing is in the US or borscht in Russia – no restaurant menu is complete without it. It’s also incredibly simple to make, and with the hot summer that we’ve been having here, a bowl of this is a wonderful way to cool off. (At this time, please resist the temptation to ask me whether I’ve ever heard of tzadziki.) This can either be served in a bowl as soup or in a glass as a drink.

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We start with yogurt. Plain yogurt. Note that I scorn the storebotten stuff and always make my own. But if you don’t have time or inclination to do so, you’ll need to buy the regular kind, not Greek-style. You can really use any amount, whatever your appetite and your soup pot’s capacity allow.

Note on buying yogurt in America: Please take time to read the list of ingredients – there are only 2 ingredients in plain yogurt: milk and yogurt culture. If you see “pectin,” run promptly in the opposite direction. Yogurt does not need any pectin – manufacturers just add it to prevent yogurt from separating, for the fear that an average American consumer, with her characteristic lack of familiarity with real food and her exaggerated obsession with food safety, would spot the whey seeping out and decide the yogurt is going bad.

Let’s reprise: Yogurt + Pectin = Anathema.

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Anyhow, next, our job is to whisk this yogurt round and round until it’s all nice’n’smooth. This is done so as to better blend it with the water we’ll be adding to it shortly. Now my homemade yogurt for some reason is not especially lumpy to begin with, so you won’t see that much of a difference in the picture, but this step is important with the storebotten kind.

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See? Smooth.

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This zinnia has nothing to do with this recipe beyond adding color to the post – I just had to photograph it because zinnias are beautiful this time of year, and this seemed as good an occasion as any to show it off. I mean, it’s seasonal! That’s what we are all about here, right?

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Pour in the water… Depending on the fat content and the acidity of your yogurt, you might have to add more or less, but with my particular yogurt, I find that I need to add a little more water than the amount of yogurt I’ve used. Note: Back in the Old Country (both Bulgaria and Azerbaijan, in my case), yogurt had lower fat content than the American yogurt. I attribute it to the superiority of the capitalist economy, but whatever the reason, if you find yourself on the other side of the pond, beware that you might not want to use as much water as I do here. In fact, back in Bulgaria, I used 2 parts of yogurt to 1 part of water – that’s how much difference there is.

The American cows are bigger, too.

Wow! What happened here? Well, it’s hard to take good pictures of grated cucumbers in the dying sunlight (believe me, I tried), so I had to fast-forward here a little bit. Let me just sum it all up for you:

What else goes in tarator:

  • 1-2 grated cucumbers, depending on how thick you like it. Note that I’ve also seen tarators where the cucumbers were cubed, but I prefer the smoother texture you get with using grated.
  • 1-2 T oil (I use the Driftless Organic sunflower oil exclusively for all of my cooking needs, but for you that would probably be olive. Or, if you want to be cool like me, you can order it online. What? You don’t find me cool? Well, then at least consider the oil.).
  • garlic in some form or another. Sofya prefers garlic granules, but only out of habit – back in Bulgaria, when my Bulgarian friends first taught me how to make this (same friends that are responsible for my life-long love of the Bulgarian pop-folk music, or chalga – think Shania Twain who lost half of her clothes), they were using this “tarator spice mix,” which included dried dill, garlic granules, and salt. As a result, the only true tarator, in my mind, is the one made with the granules. But feel free to use pressed fresh garlic if you are above jarred blends.
  • dill in some form or another – dried or fresh, whatever you have.

However, because I like nothing better than defying convention, my land-of-the-free blend of choice does not include any dill but uses parsley instead. And that’s fine. I’m mostly after the garlic granules anyway.

Anyhow, just add cucumbers, oil, and any of the combination of the above spices to the yogurt-and-water mixture, stir everything together, chill, and serve! This soup really benefits from chilling.

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And if, like me, you love a good piece of culture-shock, serve this to your unsuspecting American guests.

Tarator: The Bulgarian Cold Cucumber Soup

  • 1 qt plain yogurt (not Greek-style)
  • 1 qt water (or more or less, to taste)
  • 1 large cucumber, preferably seedless, grated
  • 1-2 T olive or other oil
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed, OR 1-2 t garlic granules
  • 2 T chopped fresh dill or 1-2 t dried (or to taste)
  • salt to taste

Blend yogurt with a whisk until smooth. Gradually pour in the water, stirring the entire time. Add oil, garlic, dill, salt, and stir everything together. Chill and serve. Can be served in a bowl or a glass.

{ 10 comments }

1 Brian @ A Thought For Food August 10, 2010 at 9:09 am

Oh my… this just looks perfect for these brutally hot days we’ve been having. I love cold soups and am always looking for something to do to mix it up a bit (besides the typical gazpacho).

Great post!

2 Leslie August 10, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Nice looking soup. I love you’re writing style too :)

3 Lisa August 10, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Sofya,
I have been a lurker on your blog for a while & love all you do.
I am not Russian, but feel like I may have been somewhere in my ancestry.
I can’t wait to try this recipe, as soon as my pathetic cucumbers give up the ghost & produce more than 1 every 3 days.
I, too, get excited with a full stack of firewood and some fresh meat to process!
Keep those recipes coming!
Balshoye Speciba!
(or however you type that on an English keyboard)

4 Sofya August 11, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Thank you guys!

5 Jackie@ Auburn Meadow Farm July 20, 2011 at 11:27 am

Oh my goodness – how simple is this and how perfect for this miserably hot weather!

I followed your crock pot yogurt recipe first, then finished up with this and I’m hooked.

I won’t mention how much tzadziki I make all summer – similar but love the soup-y texture and you are absolutely right about the granulated garlic…

I’m really enjoying your blog and Facebook posts – thanks for making the effort to share your ideas.

6 Sofya July 20, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I am glad this worked for you, Jackie!

7 Maria May 21, 2013 at 12:18 am

This is one of my favorites in summer. There’s one more ingredient though, although they usually skip it in in Bulgarian restaurants – walnuts. I myself use fresh garlic and dill and prefer to stay out of the granule stuff, as it usually contains monosodium glutamate and other artificial flavors that make you love it and that are not good for your health… You may also try to use walnut oil, if you don’t have walnuts, it really adds a different flavor.

8 Tegan August 20, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Oh my gosh. This was the perfect dinner on a hot summer night post-wisdom teeth removal. Love it. I added a whole avocado and blended it in the blender, I know that’s not very traditional but it really filled me up and tasted great with ice cubes and a little salt. Thanks, Sofya!

9 Svetlana May 31, 2014 at 7:41 pm

I recently discovered your blog and can`t tell what a surprise was to find my beloved tarator recipe on here…
Since I was born and raised in Bulgaria, I grew up on this stuff. I make it all year round, but agree, it is fantastic in a hot summer day.
Thanks for spreading the word Sofya,
by far this recipe is the closest to the real thing, I have ever ran onto.
Just a few little corrections:
The cucumber should be diced very small, not grated
No granulated, dried or processed garlic or dill should be used ever.
1-2 cloves fresh garlic smashed to paste/ can use garlic press or food processor if u like/
Fresh dill

Sunflower oil is important do not use olive oil or other, changes the taste completely

10 Sofya June 20, 2014 at 4:18 pm

I disagree with your corrections – I ate much tarator in Bulgaria over the course of five years and encountered it with both grated and diced cucumbers, as well as people adding granulated spices. They taste so much better than the sharp bite of fresh garlic, in this dish. Sunflower oil like you have in Bulgaria is hard to find in US, although I am one of the few people having access to fresh-pressed sunflower oil with full flavor.

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