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03/02/2012

~ Greek Lemon, Egg & Orzo Soup (Avgolemono) ~

6a0120a8551282970b019aff64b0c3970dAvgolemono (ahv-goh-LEH-moh-noh) is a classic, signature soup (as well as a sauce) of Greek cuisine.  Both the soup and the sauce are made of freshly made chicken stock, whole eggs and fresh lemon juice.  (The sauce is much thicker than the soup and is drizzled over dolma, vegetables and main courses.) The flavorful soup stock then has a varying amount of orzo cooked into it.  The amount of orzo you add depends on how thick you like your soup, as its starch acts as the thickener.  My family likes it best when the soup is the consistency of an extremely creamy rice pudding, so I add a generous amount of orzo.  A rich, whisked egg and fresh lemon combination, which gets whisked in at the very end, produces this soup's silky-smooth, creamy decadent texture.  Shredded chicken, from the stock preparation, may be added back to the soup, or served separately.  My family prefers the soup without the chicken added to it.  At serving time, each bowl is garnished with copious amounts of freshly ground pepper!

PICT3310A bit about orzo:  Orzo is a tiny rice-shaped pasta, slightly smaller in size than a pine nut.  It is a great substitution for rice as a wonderful addition to hot soups and cold salads.  Orzo is used a lot in both Greek and Italian cooking, and I loved it the first time I tried it in avgolemono soup.  Over the past few years, I've developed several very special recipes featuring orzo and plan on having a lot of fun posting those for you too!

The following avgolemono soup recipe is the real Greek deal!

My very close friend and confidant, Jeanne Cocolin, gave me this, her Greek family's avgolemono soup recipe.  Her father-in-law's mother brought the recipe with her from Greece when she immigrated to the United States in the early 1900's.  She settled in New Jersey, married, raised five children and eventually opened her own restaurant.  I will tell you this with all confidence and sincerity:  I've tried versions of avgolemono elsewhere, and, they truly do pale in comparison to this one.  Thank-you Jeanne, for giving me permission to share it!

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2  quarts homemade chicken stock (Note:  You can get my recipe for ~ It's National Chicken Stock Day:  In Mel's Kitchen! ~ in Categories 15 or 22.)

1 1/4 cups uncooked orzo

3  large lemons, about 5-6 ounces each, juice and zest

6  tablespoons lemon zest (from above lemons)

1/2  cup fresh lemon juice (from above lemons)

4  extra-large eggs, at room temperature

2  cups leftover shredded chicken from stock (optional)

freshly ground peppercorn blend

PICT2693~ Step 1.  Prepare chicken stock as directed, or, do like I do, and thaw two quarts of it in the microwave and place it in a 6-quart stockpot. Using a microplane grater, zest the lemons, then, using a hand-held juicer, or simply your hands and a strainer, juice the lemons. You will have about 6 tablespoons of zest and 1/2 cup of lemon juice. If you have extra zest or juice, use it, as it will simply add extra flavor to the soup.

Note:  Zest is the perfumy outermost skin layer of citrus fruit, which is removed with the aid of a microplane grater, citrus zester, paring knife or vegetable peeler.  Only the colored portion of the skin, not the white pith, is considered zest.  The aromatic oils in citrus zest are what add depth and flavor to raw or cooked and sweet or savory dishes!

PICT2692~ Step 2.  Bring the soup stock to a boil over medium-high heat.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and gradually add/sprinkle in the orzo and the lemon zest.  Continue to simmer, until the orzo is cooked through, about 12-14 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and allow soup to cool about 10 minutes. While soup is cooling:

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~ Step 3.  In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until frothy.  Slowly, in a thin stream, whisk in the lemon juice.  Measure, then slowly and in a thin stream, whisk 1 cup of hot soup stock into the egg mixture.  

Note:  The process of adding some hot soup to the egg mixture is called "tempering".  It will keep the egg mixture from scrambling when added to the hot pot of soup.

PICT2687~ Step 4.  In a thin stream, add and stir the tempered egg mixture into the soup.  Over medium-low heat, stirring almost constantly, heat the soup until it is steaming and slightly thickened, about 8-10 minutes.  Do not allow to simmer or boil!

~ Step 5.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside for 10-15 minutes, or longer, until the soup has thickened to desired consistency.  My family likes this soup the best when it is the consistency of loose/extremely creamy rice pudding:

PICT2688To serve, ladle into warmed serving bowls and generously garnish with freshly ground peppercorn blend. This soup is best served the same day it is made, but, it reheats reheats nicely in the microwave or very gently on the stovetop. Because the orzo will continue to thicken the soup overnight, be prepared to add a bit of chicken stock to it the next day. And remember:  Don't allow to simmer or boil

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Greek Lemon, Egg & Orzo Soup (Avgolemono):  Recipe yields 3-3 1/2 quarts (more if shredded chicken is added) or 6-8 servings more if shredded chicken is added.

Special Equipment List:  6-quart stockpot w/lid; microplane grater; hand-held citrus juicer or strainer; whisk; 1-cup measuring container; soup ladle

Cook's Note:  As with most really good recipes, you only get out of something what you put into to, so I do not recommend using canned chicken stock, bottled lemon juice, or, rotisserie chicken as time-saving short-cuts to prepare this very special soup.  Many recipes for avgolemono on the internet list the aforementioned as ingredients, and, perhaps that is why so many people find this soup disappointing.  That being said, if you want to make a vegetarian version of avgolemono soup, feel free to use homemade vegetable stock in place of chicken stock.  Also, rice is a perfectly acceptable substitution for orzo!    

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

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