When we last checked in with our favorite seasonal soup specialist, Nicole Chaszar of The Splendid Spoon, she was making a cool tomato and dill soup that deftly captured the flavors of summer’s peak.
We thought we’d stop by her Greenpoint kitchen again to see what she’s up to now that we’ve entered the season’s home stretch, and found her making cacik, a cold soup featuring cucumber, yogurt and mint, that she became obsessed with on an August trip to Istanbul.
So Nicole, how was Istanbul? And tell us about this cacik.
I really love cold cucumber soups. I’ve always made them in mid and late summer when cucumbers are in season. They’re really refreshing and seem perfect for this time of year.
I was in Istanbul with my husband Brian this summer, and we discovered this really great cucumber soup there. At just about any place you eat in Istanbul, there was always a hot soup and a cold soup on the menu, and the cold soup, without fail, was this cucumber soup called cacik. I loved this soup. I couldn’t stop eating it. And as soon as I tasted it I knew I’d have to recreate my own version of it back here. It’s made with tangy Greek-style strained yogurt, fresh mint and dill, and in Istanbul it’s generally served over barley.
Istanbul has a really beautiful café culture. People everywhere sit outside and drink tea, snack on small plates, and just socialize. It’s similar to Spanish café culture, where they have wine and tapas. In Turkey, it’s tea and mezze.
The city is amazing. There are fifteen million people living there. It’s huge. Much bigger than New York. There’s the European side on one side of the Bosporus where everyone seems to work, and the Asian side across the water where everyone seems to live. It’s got a fascinating history, a really diverse population, and a mix of religions and cultures that I guess is similar to New York in some ways, but feels very different. It’s so much older. The whole experience of being in this place that’s both ancient and modern, of hearing the call to prayer ring out over the city five times a day…it was all unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.
The water plays a big role in the life of the city. It seemed like everyone in Istanbul would be at the shores of the Bosporus with their fishing poles. You’d see people everywhere hauling home plastic tubs full of fish they’d just caught. And the water was just teeming with boats and ferries zipping back and forth taking people from one place to another.
It definitely felt like a city on the cusp of something. It’s so big, and is growing so fast, that you can tell they’re trying to figure a lot of things out on the fly. We were constantly getting totally lost because streets all over the city have the same names. So we kept ending up in completely different neighborhoods than we’d intended, and then relying on the locals to help us figure out where we were and how to get to where we were trying to go. And that’s actually a great way to explore a city! [laughter]. Getting yourself into a pickle in a foreign country and finding your way out of it is all part of the fun, right?
Anyway, we were there in August, and it was really hot. A lot of the streets are really narrow and paved in really old cobblestones, and when the sun was out, it felt like you were being baked in an oven. So whenever we sat down somewhere to eat, that cold cucumber soup felt like the most refreshing thing you could ever imagine.
The food in Istanbul in general is amazing. There are a lot of really rich flavors. You might have a little plate of grilled eggplant marinated in olive oil, another little plate of tomato salad that had a dressing at the bottom that you’d sop up with a really hearty, crusty bread, and another with pieces of grilled lamb dripping in fat and salt and seasoning. It was all so good, but it was rich, and so another thing I loved about the cacik soup was that the coolness of the cucumber and mint and dill combined with the tang of the yogurt really balanced and contrasted beautifully with all the rich flavors of the other foods.
I also loved the texture. I’ve always made pureed cucumber soups and strained them so they were super, super smooth. It hadn’t occurred to me to serve it over a grain, like they do in Istanbul with the barley. I loved how when you’d take your spoon and scoop from the bottom of the bowl, you’d get this almost…surprise, of this really earthy, nutty tasting barley that worked really nicely with the cool and tangy flavors of the soup.
Another nice thing about it is that it’s really easy to make. [laughter.]
So how do we make it?
The cacik is mostly raw, but not entirely. I start with a base of garlic and scallion sautéed in some good olive oil. I just heat the olive oil in a pot, chop the garlic and scallion, throw them in, and let them cook for fifteen minutes or so until they soften a bit and develop a little color. That creates a nice warm earthy base to balance the coolness of the cucumber and herbs and the bright tang of the yogurt.
While that’s going, I prep the cucumber. The cucumbers need to be deseeded and peeled. The skin on regular cucumbers is pretty thick and waxy, and the seeds are as well. So I just cut them lengthwise, scoop out the seeds with a spoon, then peel off the skin and chop the cucumber to make it nice and easy to puree. These cucumbers are from our friends at Glebocki Farms just about an hour upstate.
Then I prep the herbs. I use a lot of fresh mint and dill in the cacik. Just pluck the leaves off the stalks. After that, I make sure I’ve got my yogurt ready, and a little red wine vinegar that will work with the garlic and scallion to balance all that coolness and tang with a little more warmth. And that’s it. As soon as the garlic and scallion are done sautéing, everything goes into the pot.
I know it sounds funny, but I love pureeing this soup. [laughter.] You start with this pot full of solid pieces of stuff that just transform so easily, effortlessly, into this soup. It’s because there’s so much water in the cucumbers. It’s like magic. [laughter.]
And what about the barley?
So I’ve actually used faro here instead of barley. You could use really use any kind of grain that has a nutty flavor. I just think faro is perfect, and I love the faro I get from Cayuga Pure Organics, a farm upstate that specializes in grains. It’s pretty hard to find local grains, actually – Cayuga is one of the only regional farms I know of that focuses on them.
The faro is really easy to make too, but like any grain it takes a while, so you’ll probably want to do it ahead of time. I start by soaking the faro for about a half hour, then drain it, rinse it, and put it in a pot of water. You bring the water to a boil, then simmer the grain for about twenty minutes. When it’s done, you drain it and rinse it with cold water to stop the cooking, and put it in the fridge so it’s nice and cold when you’re ready to serve the soup.
When everything is done and you’re ready to serve, you can just add a little mound of faro to the bottom of the bowl and pour the soup over it. I like to use a garnish to give everyone a hint of what’s in the soup, so I add a little dollop of yogurt, a sprig of mint, and maybe a little ice cube on top.
Last question – other than the soup, what was your favorite thing that you ate in Istanbul?
One day we took a boat to these islands off the coast of the city, which the Ottomans used centuries ago to exile unruly princes to keep them out of trouble. The islands were beautiful, and there was fresh seafood everywhere. At one place I had this really simple dish of fried mussels on a skewer served with a kind of version of tartar sauce made with Greek yogurt – of course. It was so delicious. I don’t know why no one seems to fry mussels here. Someone should!
Turkish Cacik, by Nicole Chaszar of The Splendid Spoon
• 4 large cucumbers
• 4 scallions
• 1 large garlic clove
• 17 oz strained Greek-style yogurt such as Chobani or Fage (may substitute traditional yogurt
for a soup with thinner consistency)
• 1 cup of dill (stripped, loosely packed)
• 1 cup of mint (stripped, loosely packed)
• olive oil
• 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
• black pepper
• 1 cup farro
1. Soak farro 30 minutes, then drain and place in a pot of salted water. Bring to a
simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
2. Drain cooked farro and rinse with cold water. Place in a covered container in
3. Peel and seed cucumbers, then chop into 2 inch chunks.
4. Slice white and light green parts of the scallion, then sauté in olive oil.
5. Slice garlic, add to scallion mixture, and sauté another minute or until everything
has softened nicely.
6. Remove from heat, and add yogurt, chopped cucumbers, herbs, red wine vinegar
and salt and pepper to taste. Puree with an immersion blender or in batches in a
7. Cover and cool in refrigerator for 1 hour.
8. To serve: Toss farro lightly with a splash of red wine vinegar, pinch of salt and
pepper. Gently mound farro on the bottom of each bowl. Ladle soup over farro and
float an ice cube on top.
To order your own soup delivery from The Splendid Spoon, see their website.
Photography by Morgan Ione Yeager. All rights reserved.