25 January 2015

Greek Lemon Chicken Soup for the Soul - Avgolemono Soup with Orzo

Soup for the soul
Today is a good day to be inside puttering away in the kitchen. With an upcoming trip to the Yucatan only weeks away I am dreaming of my first real sojourn many years ago. Greece is thousands of kilometres from the Yucatan but it was the vision of sun-drenched beaches and the need for something soothing with what I had on hand that instigated my endeavours. Today in my own kitchen I am taking an armchair journey and replicating an iconic Greek soup that can be found in almost every taverna in Greece; at least that would be my expectation. I remember as if it were yesterday being in a taverna in the mountainous regions of Greece in the tiny town of Metsovo in the northern most part of the Zagoria region. I was in the central square near the orthodox church nursing a lingering cold with a tasty version of this soup. Early evening had been a wonderful time to arrive. As we descended through the mist, dazzling lights twinkled in the ravine. Stone houses with grey slate roofs and sharply projecting balconies lined the steep serpentine alleyways. An oasis off the square promised a tasty bite or two to nourish my soul and my weary body while savouring every bite of the local version of Avgolemono. A frugal soup that can be made in a pinch with what is on hand. 

Sniffling I observed the elderly men sitting on a bench lined up like crows in black flat caps, dark baggy pants and wooden shoes. The older women coming from the market with their freshly picked garden greens wore dark blue or black with embroidered trim and brightly coloured aprons, jackets and scarves. 

Metsovo, Greece
Growing up in a British household this is not the chicken noodle soup I grew up with, but nevertheless this iconic Greek chicken-egg-lemon soup has been a favourite of many children for millennia. It is hearty and cheering on a windswept, winter day as the mercury rises. On top of being a wonderfully warming high-protein soup, it is surprisingly easy to make! Some orzo is simmered in the stock until tender, the yolks and lemon juice are tempered by some of the warmed stock. The eggs soften the acidity of the lemon, which leads off the flavour profile of this heartwarming soup. This is a quick weeknight version that does not require hours on the stove.

Metsovo, Greece
In the event, the soup is too lemony or thick for your tastes, you can thin it with another cup or two of chicken stock. If you prefer a thicker soup, reduce the amount of stock by a cup or two.

Fresh parsley and/or dill are more than garnish with this soup. Don't skip it and take your own armchair journey.

** Greek Avgolemono (Chicken Lemon) Soup**

2 large chicken breasts, cut into 2 to 3 inch pieces, seasoned generously with salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 half medium onion, diced small
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 stalks of celery, diced small
2 large carrots, diced small
8 cups chicken stock* (3 quarts)
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs of thyme
1 cup starchy rice such as Arborio (for a gluten free version) or orzo pasta
1 to 2 teaspoons salt, divided
3 eggs, whisked
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice ( juice of 2 lemons)
1 teaspoon black pepper
Fresh parsley or dill

Cut chicken breasts into large pieces (2 to 3 inch pieces, about the same thickness). Season pieces on both sides generously with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a large pot, heat olive oil on medium heat. Add the diced onion, celery and carrots. Saute for about two minutes. Add garlic. Add a little more olive oil if necessary and add the chicken breast pieces. Lightly brown the chicken on both sides, stirring vegetables to avoid over browning.

Add chicken stock, rice (or orzo), bay leaves and sprigs of thyme and 1 teaspoon salt (depending on the saltiness of your stock). Bring to a slow boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 15 – 20 minutes until chicken and rice (or orzo) are cooked.

Turn the soup down to low. Remove 1 cup broth and set aside in a separate small bowl. Allow to cool slightly.  Remove chicken from the soup with tongs and shred the meat with a fork. Set aside. (This will make about 3 cups of shredded chicken).

In a separate medium bowl, whisk the eggs. To this add 1/2 cup lemon juice. Whisk in about 1/4 cup of the chicken stock that was set aside to cool into the egg mixture to temper the eggs. This prevents the eggs from curdling. Add the remaining 3/4 cup stock slowly as you continue to whisk.

From the soup pot remove the bay leaves and the sprigs of thyme. Take the egg/lemon mixture and slowly add it to the large pot of soup that is simmering on low, whisking quickly to incorporate.

Return the shredded chicken to the pot until heat through. Add the black pepper and adjust the salt if necessary. Serve hot and top with fresh parsley or dill. Avgolemono will thicken as it sits.

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. What a lovely and evocative post! This is one of my favoutite soups yet I have never made it. With this recipe I should do something about that!

  2. I've heard so much of this soup, but I've still never tried it!

  3. I absolutely love this soup - it seems to be a panacea for all illnesses and I make it quite often at our house. I have never made it with orzo though and look forward to preparing your recipe for some delicious diversity. Thanks for sharing this recipe as well as the fabulous details of your time in Greece - Cheers!

  4. A fabulous soup. I love Greece and its delicious food.



  5. You have the prettiest presentations and fascinating and gorgeous photos and stories Val. I just want to jump inside the screen and join you.

  6. I always have this at a Greek restaurant but have never made a pot. I am going to print it out for my burgeoning soup file. Winter is long here and soups are frequently on the menu. Thanks for the lovely "visit" to Greece.


  7. This looks amazing. Thank you so much for sharing. Warm greetings from Montreal, Canada.

  8. Loved the little tour in Greece, we'd love to go there one of these days. Your soup sounds delicious and perfect for a cold winter day!

  9. One of my first bosses, who had a Greek heritage, introduced me to this soup and I think that's when I fell in love with lemons! Thanks for reminding me, Val, of what I've been missing . . . and Bon Voyage!

  10. I do love an armchair journey through food, Val, and you've taken us on a lovely, warming, nourishing one. :-)

  11. One of my favorite soups and it's perfect for a cold snowy day like today.

  12. This look delicious Val!!! xoxo

  13. This is one of my fave soups. I used to order it at a local restaurant (now gone) and it was creamy, and filling-- and of course, lemon is what rounds it off perfectly. Lovely.


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