Trachanas – Traditional Greek Comfort Food

One of the staples found in almost every Greek pantry is a honey-colored wheat-based mixture that resembles fine gravel in size and texture. But cooked into soup or stews, Trachanas (”Trah – hah – NAS”) as the dry pasta is known, becomes a versatile and delicious comfort food.

Found throughout the Mediterranean, Trachanas embodies many of the basic Greek traditions, both in its preparation and history. The etymology of the name is unclear, but trachanas can be found throughout Greece and Cyprus as well. Originally, Trachanas was made during the Fasting Days of the first two weeks of August. According to Orthodox teaching, milk and other dairy products could not be consumed then, so milk produced by farm animals needed to be used in a different manner in order not to be wasted. Cracked wheat was soaked in soured milk, mixed into a paste and then spread thinly and left to dry in the hot sun on long tables for 2-3 days. The dry mixture was then sifted through large screens to produce a uniform grain size, and stored for later use. This way, an entire year’s worth of pasta could be prepared in two-weeks time. Village women took great pride in the cleanliness of their preparation and the quality of their trachanas, and the friendly competition that arose between friends and families over who made “the best.”

Today some Trachanas is made commercially, but most people choose to buy it from small cooperatives or monasteries. The best option, of course, is to find someone who has made it themselves and wants to share. Homemade Trachanas is also wrapped specially and, along with honey or preserves, given as a parting gift to visitors or relatives, a tradition that dates back to Homer’s time.

Nutritionally, Trachana is very high in fiber, proteins, carbohydrates, magnesium and folic acid, helping to ensure healthy skin, eyes and heart. Depending on whether the milk used is sweet or sour, the pasta has a mild or tart flavor once cooked. Trachanas can be cooked into soup with vegetables or meats, or used in place of rice for meatballs or stuffed grape leaves. Try one of these simple soup recipes on a cold Autumn evening when you need a comforting taste of the warm Greek sun!

Trachanas Soup with Tomato & Feta – serves 2-4
1 cup dry trachanas (sweet if possible)
4-5 cups stock* (beef is best but chicken or vegetable are fine also)
1 tbsp butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 soft ripe tomatoes, skinned and grated, approximately 2 cups (you can substitute canned chopped tomatoes for speedier preparation)
125 gms feta cheese, washed and grated coarsely

Fresh thyme and chopped parsley
Salt & pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottom 2-quart saucepan.
On medium heat, sauté the onion until soft, then add the tomato and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Add the dry Trachanas and stir until well-combined, then keep stirring and cook for 1-2 minutes more.
Add the stock to the pan and stir well; bring to a boil and then reduce to medium heat and cook until the pasta is al dente.
Serve the soup garnished with grated feta and the chopped herbs. Enjoy!

Creamy Trachanas soup with Vegetables – serves 2-4
2 Tbsp. Olive oil
1 medium carrot + 1 small zucchini, grated
1 onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. dried mushrooms, soaked in ¼ cup stock or white wine
1 cup dry Trachanas (the sweet variety works best)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried chile flakes
Salt & Pepper to taste
3 ½ - 4 hot cups vegetable stock*
Grated lemon zest + Sour cream or thick Greek-style yogurt for garnish

Saute the onion, carrot and zucchini with ½ tsp salt + the oregano and chile flakes, in the olive oil until tender.
Add the mushrooms and cook 1 minute on medium heat.
Stir in the dry Trachanas and sauté it with the vegetables until any liquid is absorbed. Add the stock slowly and bring to a gentle boil, then simmer until al dente.

Serve and top with a generous swirl of sour cream or thick strained yogurt, and sprinkle with the lemon zest.