I've loved tarator (in Bulgarian "таратор") ever since I was a child. I still remember being elated every time we had it served for lunch on the balcony of our kindergarten, back in the mid 80s, in my hometown of Sofia (Bulgaria). I would request more and more of it until the "lelkas" (older caregiver ladies) refused to give us any more. I loved it when my beloved grandma would make it for us kids in-between heavy sessions of outdoors play. I enjoyed it at summer camp or at the beach, both as a cold soup or a refreshing drink served with ice cubes and extra salt and pepper on the side. And to this day, about 25 years later, tarator is my go-to order at any cafe or restaurant while visiting Bulgaria in the summer - I simply must have it at least once per day (let‘s be real... oftentimes more). My point is, I think I may be addicted to this yogurt, cucumber and dill soup. Its cooling, savory flavor instantly brings up memories of warm weather, sunshine, sea water, and the anticipation of adventure. In short, to me TARATOR tastes like carefree bliss. That's why I wanted to share this recipe with you.
After moving to the States in my early 20s, I "discovered" tarator was a Balkan/Mediterranean/Middle Eastern thing. Oh the shock this proud Bulgarian experienced!!! I used to think it was uniquely Bulgarian, but it turns out it's popular (in different versions) all over Southeastern Europe - from former Yugoslavian countries like Northern Macedonia and Serbia, to Greece and Turkey - and even as far east as Lebanon and Iran. What may differ is whether it's served as a cold soup (like Bulgarian tarator), a sauce (like Greek tzatziki) or a relish dip (like Turkish cacik or Cypriot talattouri); whether you use fresh dill or mint (or a number of other herbs, spices or veggies); the type of yogurt that goes into it (strained, diluted, etc); or whether you add walnuts (or nuts) at all. But fundamentally, tarator is a blended cucumber and yogurt deliciousness. Borrowing from my personal experiences but adding my educated nutritionist's twist, I'm happy to present to you my version of this amazingly delicious and healthy recipe, the Bulgarian tarator, Dr. Rosa style.
Tarator is a great appetizer, side dish, or (if not too hungry) light meal on its own. If you're as crazy as me, you'll occasionally have it for breakfast, lunch AND dinner...abundantly. This recipe also makes for great leftovers - tarator can be refrigerated for about a week. Keep in mind, however, that garlic flavor gets stronger over time, so consider yourself warned. I find is D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S! Ingredients can be purchased at any store, yet, as you'll see in the photos below, I got everything at my favorite, Trader Joe's.
STEP 1: In a very large bowl, shred cucumber (or finely cube it, like my grandma used to). It's better to use an organic cucumber, so you don't have to peel it adding extra nutrients, flavor, color and crunch.
STEP 2: To the bowl with shredded cucumber, add chopped dill, minced (or crushed via press) garlic, chopped walnuts, salt and pepper. Freshly ground sea (or garlic) salt and black pepper are best. You can always add more to taste later. Don't mince the dill too finely or you'll end up with a weirdly green soup. Some recipe variants call for the use of mint instead of dill. While I find a pinch of minced mint delightful, too much mint tends to overwhelm the palate (I didn't use mint for this particular photoshoot). Similarly, don't chop walnuts too finely as you DO want some pleasant crunch to your tarator.
STEP 3: Add sunflower oil to the mixture (and/or half-half sunflower plus olive oil - all because of taste and nutrition) and stir well until ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. This helps emulsify the oil, coat ingredients evenly and blend flavors. Otherwise, if you add oils at the end (after adding fluids), you may end up with an oily layer floating on top of your tarator - not particularly appealing. I used Trader Joe's organic toasted sunflower oil for its amazing warm, nutty palate which reminds me of a brand of intensely-delightful Bulgarian cold-pressed sunflower oil. By the way, sunflower oil (rather than olive oil) is the most commonly used oil in Bulgarian cuisine... if anyone cares about authenticity.
STEP 4: Add yogurt to the bowl. Speaking of authenticity, it's rather difficult to find Bulgarian yogurt in the US. Plus, Americans aren't yet used to the rather sour flavor of "real" (i.e., Bulgarian... hehe) yogurt. Thus, we'll simply use plain, non-fat Greek yogurt, which is abundant and easily available. I promise I won't go into details about bacterial cultures and the difference between strained Greek vs endemic Bulgarian yogurt. Let's just admit that the Greeks are much, much better at marketing! ;) Plus, due to the straining process, their yogurt is quite high in protein!
Use the emptied yogurt container (or another similar-sized bowl) to add kefir, buttermilk, milk, and a little bit of the water. Whisk until thoroughly blended, then transfer to the large bowl with the rest of ingredients. Gradually add more water until mixture's consistency is rather runny than thick. You can use a fork or a whisk to continue blending ingredients and adding frothiness to your tarator.
STEP 5: It's time to add finishing touches to our gorgeous soup. Add a drizzle of cold-pressed, extra-virgin avocado oil (my brand new Trader Joe's find), a pinch of minced dill (or mint) for decoration, and if you like, extra pepper and salt to taste (but please watch your intake if you're hypertensive or sensitive to sodium). Cover and refrigerate as long as you wish or just add ice cubes if you don't want to wait.
As refreshing, cooling and light as tarator can be, it also packs some impressive nutrition. This chilled soup is abundant in protein, calcium, and an array of probiotics (from blending various fermented dairy foods like strained yogurt, kefir and buttermilk). Tarator is also rich in vitamins like riboflavin (B2), cobalamin (B12), and K, as well as the minerals copper, manganese, phosphorus and selenium. This makes it likely beneficial for maintaining the body’s energy supply, its production of red blood cells and DNA, proper blood clotting, as well as the functioning of the nervous, immune, digestive, and skeletal systems. On the other hand, you may need to weigh your drive for flavor against adding too much sodium (from salt). Moreover, if you must watch you saturated fat intake, opt for using reduced-fat or fat free milk and buttermilk instead of whole versions.
Hope you enjoy and please let me know what you think in the comments below!
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