25 April 2013

Take a Walk on the Greek Side with Spring Pea Avgolomeno

Spring Pea Avgolomeno
The forsythia and almond are in full bloom, orchards are blazing with colour and the hummingbirds have returned. A visit to the farmers market yesterday cemented the idea in my mind and ultimately in my kitchen. Spring is when everything seems to come alive!!!!! The days are longer and the markets begin to burst with the colours of the bountiful fruits and vegetables of the season. This is the time to enjoy fresh rhubarb, sweet garden peas and furled fiddleheads. It is the season for asparagus and escarole and a wide variety of lettuce hand plucked from the garden for green salads. The delightful fragrance of chives, mint, chervil and tarragon fill the air to season our dishes. All of these tastes of Spring are bursting from our gardens, forests, markets and window boxes.

The beauty of cooking with ingredients that are freshest in the Spring months are their pure simplicity. The standout flavours are the fresh, natural ingredients themselves... the pop of a freshly shelled pea or the bite of arugula. Top poached halibut with a citrusy vinaigrette and serve with asparagus sautéed in a bit of olive oil and topped with a dash of sea salt or sauté fresh peas with spring onions in butter and delicate chervil for a side that is surprisingly ripe with flavour.

With the arrival of Spring here in the Okanagan my mind always wanders to 5 glorious weeks I spent in Greece in April and May a few years ago. Who could resist the call of long walks along ancient pathways, terraced hills blooming with wild thyme and capers, and leisurely days on the beach in early Spring on an idyllic island. I long to curl my toes in the sand on my favourite local beach here in the valley or sit on the patio with a cooling drink but in the mean time I will dream of my first day on a bewitching island in the Cyclades. L'il Burnt Toast and I flew from Vancouver to Athens and since we were already at the airport I decided to fly directly to Santorini. My first glimpses of Greece from the air left us breathless.

Nea Kemeni
When you hear the words "Greek Islands" if it conjures up beguiling images of azure sea, dark bare rock and mountains, undulating hillsides of olive groves and vineyards, blinding whitewashed villages and ancient ruins, then Santorini is a good place to start. On my first trip to Greece the lure of this magical island like the siren call of Greek mythologies most alluring seductresses was too much to resist. Our first view of the island left us wanting more. If you can get past the kitsch in the main town you will find an island that offers both culture and hedonism and get lost in the quiet rhythm of life on an island in early Spring. There is something magical about the white and pastel houses with their bright blue windows and doors, blazing hills and volcanic beaches. Oh did I forget the sunsets for which it is famous. Santorini is a unique and enchanting island. Just the mere thought of returning there someday, puts a smile on my face and makes me want to dance.

Door with bouganvillea
It's everything you imagine from photos you have seen. It's magical, beautiful, captivating, and has that mysterious feeling about it. I remember staying just outside the old centre of Fira filled with mischievous aisles full of unique shops and tempting gelato stands. Just a few minutes walk along the pathways we were welcomed by the perfect view that we only dreamed of seeing. The volcano of Nea Kemeni can be seen from the precipice. On another day L'il Burnt Toast and swam to an island hot spring reached only by boat and climbed the volcano while it was around 40°C outside. Yes in the Spring! Sweating and gasping for a breath of fresh air, we did finally made it to the top!

We were feeling adventurous so rented an ATV to explore the furthest reaches of the island with its picturesque villages, abandoned lands and red, black and white sand beaches. The sky and sea in Santorini are deeper blue than you thought possible while each house and building positively beams with whitewash. I felt like I’d be wearing sunglasses for the rest of my life. Each and every time we ventured into the caldera it took our breath away on this semi circular island. Towns are built into the side of the cliff with some definite gravity defying buildings hugging the edge of the caldera. The precarious looking nature of the architecture results in some jaw-dropping views. We walked around the many winding pathways and enjoyed the views. It’s hard not to fall in love forever with the island while wandering around it.

Eating is a lively social activity on the island. You dine outdoors at just about every restaurant from the simplest taverna to the most expensive place, on a terrace or street side. Sharing a cactus juice our first night we watched the orchestra of our first sunset unfold. The sun, slowly but surely, sank down. Its colour turned from bright yellow to an amazing orange-tangerine colour. With no clouds in the sky, it was doing its solo performance so flawlessly. I think about the people living there all their life and enjoying this view every night. This was by far the most amazing sunset I have ever seen in my whole life. Where is the most beautiful sunset you have ever seen? As the sun was swallowed by the night, a bright moon accompanied by twinkling stars replaced the empty sky. It was just breathtaking.

During our time on the island I discovered culinary delights such as freshly caught seafood and Santorini’s cherry tomatoes, incredibly sweet from the harsh sun and dark volcanic soil. Greek wine is something top international restaurants have already cottoned onto, but, I was pleased to discover some excellent local wines from Santorini at every restaurant.

Back here in British Columbia a sure sign of Spring is the resurrection of fresh peas which brings us to todays soup with a Greek twist. This is not what we usually think of as pea soup; instead, it’s a light broth with whole peas finished with the lemon and egg yolk mixture known in Greek cuisine as avgolemono.

When you find fresh, tender peas in the pod, by all means use them,  the rest of the time, use petite peas frozen at their peak of perfection. Other bright green seasonal vegetables will also work in this avgolomeno, visually as well as in terms of flavour.  Try blanched and peeled fava beans, sliced asparagus, baby spinach, or quarter or half slices of slender zucchini. When reheating this soup, warm it over low heat without bringing it to a boil, to prevent the eggs from curdling.

I was reminded of Santorini and a restaurant run by a woman who lived in the States for 16 years. She had the largest menu of any restaurant I have seen to this day. There were at least 30 different items served with avgolomeno from cabbage rolls to lamb. Mama also served up a North American style breakfast. I had blueberry pancakes and bacon which was a welcome change when I tired of the Greek style breakfast they serve for tourists.

Santorini casts its spell. It has an attraction that only people who have ever been there can describe. There is part of you that senses something isn’t right when you return back home. The environment, the people, I don’t know what it is. The atmosphere is magical and the perfect place to start a sojourn in Greece.

**Spring Pea Avgolemono**

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium leek, white parts finely chopped
1 cup frozen or fresh peas
4 cups chicken broth
2 large eggs
1/4 cup lemon juice (juice and zest of 1  lemon)
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
Lemon wedges, for garnish

Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks, a pinch of salt and pepper; cover and cook 5 to 7 minutes, or until vegetables are softened, stirring often.

Stir in broth. Season with salt and pepper. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 10 minutes. Add the peas to the stock and cook just until tender (frozen peas are already tender and just need to be heated through). Add dill, parsley and lemon zest. Remove from heat.

Whisk together eggs and lemon juice in a bowl. Add 3 ladles soup broth to egg mixture, whisking constantly, then pour the mixture into the soup. The egg will cook in a few seconds, thickening the soup slightly. Ladle the soup into cups or bowls and serve immediately.

Serves 4

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison.
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  1. Greece is such a beautiful country and I love Greek food. A wonderful avgolemono!



  2. How I love, love, love these photos, Val. :-) They are life-giving and soul-lifting. :-) I just planted peas in my winter garden and can't wait to taste them next Spring. This sounds delicious. :-)

  3. I love all of the fresh flavors of spring and am so happy they are here again! What a lovely soup to celebrate!

  4. Your hummingbirds have arrived - mine just left the nest!

  5. I love your pictures of Greece, they are gorgeous photos. Greece is on my bucket list of places to visit and I think I have moved it up higher on my list after reading your post. I think traveling to different destinations really gets your culinary juices flowing. I love your light and spring inspired avgolemono. Wishing you a super weekend. BAM

  6. Spring arrives - today. And I cannot think of a better way to celebrate it than with this soup. Greece is still a hope! Gorgeous photos.

  7. You are ahead of us weather and bloom-wise but it's coming, slowly this year. What gorgeous photos of your trip. I've never had nor made an avgolomeno but this version with spring peas sounds delightful.

  8. Your photos of Greece are beautiful! What a great time of year to visit. And, I love the addition of peas to an avgolemono. Delicious!

  9. Oh my gosh! We were just talking the other day about how great it would be to visit Greece. Your pics prove how gorgeous it is. And the food has to be the best. Your soup looks great also.

  10. I have to try your Greek dish with our seasonal delicious peas... maybe I get magically transported to Greece! Big hugs, darling!

  11. Your opening paragraph makes me happy Val and thank you for taking us on such a beautiful trip today.
    The soups soups perfect!

  12. This is beautiful soup and one I want to make!

  13. Lovely photos, all of them. And appetizing soup: may I have a glass? Avgolemono soup has been on my to-do list for a while so I totally appreciate your reminder.

  14. Mmm ... this is just so tantalizing! Spring peas! Can't wait! Your pictures of Santorini are just so beautiful! In my dreams ...

  15. peas might be my favorite vegetable. that's a bold statement. :)

  16. I wish we had some of that Greek heat! Love your pic of octopi! That's hilarious. So nice to meet you in person at the Food and Wine Writer's Conference.

  17. Greece is on our bucket list. Never been an lover of this soup, but I like your version...I always like going out for Greek...never tire of it.


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