There is one last Coptic (Christian Egyptian) feast to celebrate in January!
On January 19th, every year, Copts or Christian Egyptians celebrate Epiphany, the remembrance day of Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan river by John the baptist. Two days prior to the feast, Copts abstain from eating meat and dairy products.
EPIPHANY FOOD TRADITION
A deep-rooted Coptic tradition mandates that Copts should eat three things on Epiphany Feast: Kolkas (Taro) Soup, sugar cane, and oranges.
An interesting analogy is behind the association between Epiphany and Kolkas or taro soup, as Taro or Kolkas (derived from the Latin name Colocasia esculenta) has a dark, thick, and stiff skin, that once removed, a white, pristine flesh is revealed.
The coptic narrative suggests that this muddy skin of Taro (Kolkas) resembles the sinful nature of humans that belies the Christian soul before baptism.
To cook the Taro, the skin has to be peeled away and the flesh is immersed in hot soup to simmer which alludes to baptism. The greens mixed into the soup such as the Swiss chard and cilantro, symbolize the new life of a Christian after baptism.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF TARO SOUP
Taro root is a great source of fiber and offers a variety of significant health benefits, including improved blood sugar management, gut and heart health. Click here to read more about Taro health benefits.
In this Egyptian Kolkas (Taro soup), the benefits of Taro is doubled up when it is mixed with deep green leaves and rich broth .
To finish up the soup, a mixture of crushed garlic (natural antibiotic) and ground coriander is fried in sizzling butter and added to the simmering soup. This mixture is called Taklia (resembles the Indian Tarka) and it takes any dish to a whole new level of deliciousness.
WHAT MAKES A PERFECT EGYPTIAN SHORBET KOLKAS OR TARO SOUP?
A decadent Taro soup calls for:
a. Good Quality Broth
For the stock, I personally prefer to use homemade bone broth (find the recipe here). Alternatively, you can either use homemade or low-sodium store-bought vegetable or beef stock. For what it is worth, chicken broth is my least favorite broth to use in this dish.
b. Fresh Greens Cooked to Perfection
To cook the greens, first blend the Swiss chard with 1 cup of broth, run the mixture through a fine mesh sieve, add the green liquid to the rest of the broth and let it simmer. Add the Taro cubes to the simmering soup.
Now, cook the solids. In a frying pan, add the butter over low heat, once it sizzles, add the crushed garlic and the green solids and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the crushed coriander to the green solids, butter, and garlic and cook until it’s fragrant. Add this garlic-greens’ solids and coriander to the Taro soup, adjust the seasoning. When the diced Taro becomes soft and fork tender turn off the heat.
C. Slime-Free Taro Cubes
Soak the Taro cubes in cold water overnight in the fridge. Then rinse it under running tap water before you add it to the simmering Swiss chard soup.
I tried many tricks to get rid of the Taro sliminess, yet this one works best.
HOW TO PEEL TARO ROOT?
Taro root is infamous for being too slimy and hard to peel, yet the instructions below will make that daunting task a piece of cake.
Use gloved hands and a sharp knife and DON’T wash the Taro before peeling it, as it will get too slimy and hard to grab with your hands.
Start with removing the two ends of the Taro (see the photo below) and then peel away the skin in horizontal stripes.
When you have peeled it entirely, slice it in thick slices (1 inch thickness) and then dice each slice.
Soak the diced Taro in cold water overnight in the fridge. Rinse the diced Taro with tap water right before adding it to the boiling soup. Don’t let it boil more than 5 minutes on low heat so it doesn’t get too mushy.
What is Taklia?
Taklia is an old Egyptian cooking technique where crushed garlic and ground coriander are cooked in sizzling ghee, butter or oil, until the mixture becomes fragrant and then it is added to a simmering soup of stew. In addition to Taro Soup, this technique is used to amp up the flavor of the iconic soup Molokhia.
In the case of using vegetable stock as a base for this soup, it becomes a full-fledged plant-based dish with a high nutritious value.
I suggest breaking the workload into two days.
- Peel the taro, cube it, and place it in cold water in the fridge overnight.
- In case you are using homemade broth, make it a day in advance.
- Assemble the dish. In a heavy bottom pan, heat the broth on low medium heat. Add the green water (retained from draining the blended greens) and let it boil for 3-5 minutes.
- Simultaneously, in a shallow frying pan, add the greens’ solids, and add the butter and crushed garlic. Once it sizzles, stir in the crushed garlic and then add coarsely crushed coriander and keep stirring. Once that mix becomes fragrant, mix it into the simmering soup.
Taro and head in Arabic (kolkas and rass) rhyme together, so the joke goes that those who don’t eat kolkas (taro soup) will wake up the next day be-doun rass (beheaded).
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Kolkas (Taro-Greens) Soup
- 1 medium taro, diced
- 2 sprigs chard and/or spinach
- 1 sprig cilantro
- 1 cup and 1 1/2 cups vegetable or bone broth, separated
- 2 tablespoons butter or ghee
- 1 tablespoon coriander, freshly and coarsely crushed
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- Salt and pepper
- 1 lemon, juiced
- Peel the Taro: Don’t wash the Taro root, it gets too slimy to handle. With gloved hands and a sharp knife, peel the taro horizontally, then slice it in 1 inch thickness, dice the slices and then soak them in the fridge overnight or no less than 5 hours to get rid of its sliminess.
- Cook the Taro: Heat the broth in a heavy bottom pan, when it starts simmering, add the diced Taro. Let the Taro boil while you prepare the greens and make the Taklia.
- Prepare the greens: Remove the stems, and keep the leaves of the chard and fresh cilantro. In a blender, blend the greens’ leaves with 1 cup of stock. Run it through a fine mesh sieve, add the green liquid to the remaining broth and keep the solids to cook them with the crushed garlic and ground coirander.
- Prepare the Taklia: Heat the butter in a frying pan over low heat, add the crushed garlic and the greens’ solids, cook until the solids gets slightly darker, add the crushed coriander and stir for one minute, or until the mixture is fragrant. Turn the heat and immediately add the Taklia to the simmering soup. Taste and adjust the seasoning of the soup.
- Serve: This soup is best served hot, along with vermicelli rice and lemon wedges.
- Don’t wash the Taro before cubing it as the water makes the skin too slimy to grab and peel away.
- To sharpen the taste of the soup, it is possible to add a cube of beef or vegetable bouillon.
- You can create an easy vegan version of this soup by using vegetable oil instead of butter and vegetable broth instead of beef bone broth.