Avgolemono – Greek lemon soup

Last weekend, we took a trip to Yosemite. It was my second time there and Greg’s first, and I can confidently say that we left every shred of our will to climb right there on those hiking trails– we averaged about 5-7 miles per day, and easily a couple thousand feet of elevation over the three hikes we took. The downside of this, besides having every muscle from one’s waist down absolutely screaming in agony (it’s tough to go from watching tv and eating Pringles to hiking up ridiculous mountains), is that somewhere in the midst of the hiking, the chilly night temperatures, and generally running ourselves ragged over the course of our four-day trip, someone managed to contract a nasty cold. Armed with both of the ‘quils (Day- and Ny-), he attacked that cold, and I figured the least I could contribute (besides rolling out the garbage cans for trash pickup day) would be some soup. Now, I am all for chicken noodle, and even keep a box of the Manischewitz matzo ball mix on hand (probably a travesty of matzo ball soup, but I got hooked in college and can’t give it up), but my go-to sick-busting soup is avgolemono, or Greek lemon. I have searched high and low for just the right combination of eggs, orzo pasta or rice, and lemon juice, and while a local diner makes my absolute favorite version of this, I think that I’ve just about hit on the right homemade version for nights when a trip to the diner (which only serves breakfast and lunch– for shame!) isn’t possible.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 quart chicken broth, preferably homemade [But who am I kidding? I usually use those little concentrate packets from Trader Joe’s. They’re pretty potent, though, so use only three of them to make a quart of broth– it will be plenty chicken-y.]
½ cup orzo or long grain rice [Choose orzo. Trust me on this one. It gets all soft and melty in the soup, and you will want to crawl right into the bowl.]
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon) [Adjust to taste.]
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped dill or parsley [I’ve used dried dill– remember when using dried spices to cut the amount by 1/2 to 1/3!]
2 chicken breasts
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced or run through a garlic press [Depending on how garlicky you want your soup to be, of course. Remember, garlic has immune-system benefits!]

Cut chicken breasts into about 3/4-inch chunks, and season with salt and pepper [I’ve also added the dried dill at this point to, in order to help with the whole “layering of flavors” thing.] Pour olive oil into a large saucepan and heat over a medium-high burner. Add the chicken and cook until the outside is done, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Pour in the chicken broth and bring it to a boil. Add orzo; cover, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, or until orzo is al dente. (If using rice, add another cup of chicken broth. Simmer according to package directions, or until grains are tender.)

While the orzo is simmering away, beat eggs in a medium bowl until thick. Whisk in lemon juice and zest. Gradually add ½ cup hot broth from saucepan, whisking constantly. Add 2 more ½ cups of broth, whisking after each addition.

Pour mixture back into saucepan and reheat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until egg cooks and soup slightly thickens. Do not boil, or eggs will curdle. Add salt and pepper to taste, then sprinkle with dill or parsley. Serve hot or cold.

Update: The soup worked (and the ‘quils might have had a hand in it, too)– so take heart, friends! It is tasty and will cure what ails you.


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