Barrett's recent post about Greek lemony potatoes served as a very timely reminder to me that my little lemon tree had some gorgeous fruit begging to be used. It's a little difficult to decide what to do with your darling organic baubles once you have them. You don't want to waste a millimeter of the lovely unwaxed peel that has never been touched by a pesticide. But most recipes calling for lemon peel either only call for the peel or are so involved as to make them impractical for anything but a lazy Sunday afternoon.
So I decided to compromise. The peels are now sitting in a Tupperware container in my freezer, waiting for a later use. And the juice became the star ingredient of a soup I had all but forgotten existed: Avgolemono.
Avgolemono (a.k.a. That Greek Lemon and Rice Soup) can be found in a lot of cheap Greek diners in Chicago. When I was at university we frequented a place known in our circle as the Slime. (I think it's actual name was the Salonika, but due to certain qualities of its gyros the nickname was more popular a moniker.) The Slime had mildly disturbing runny omelettes and gyros. But the dishes the restaurant was actually good at making both involved rice. The rice pudding, which arrived at your table in a neat little half-circle with a sprinkle of cinnamon, looked industrial and everything that is disgusting about school lunches. But like some items on my school's menu, it was actually very tasty: creamy, with just a bit of bite and with exactly the right amount of sweetness.
And the other dish was the Avgolemono. Like the pudding, the rice had a enough texture to make the soup interesting and make it substantial. Unlike the pudding, it had a sharp, salty flavour supported by savoury chicken broth. It was a great hangover cure.
As I often do when trying to reproduce a classic dish, I turned to epicurious for help. Although I rarely reproduce an epicurious recipe exactly, I find it's a good starting point. If nothing else, the database is large enough that I can usually find several different recipes and mix and match to my own ideas of how it should be done. This time, epicurious came through in a kind of a backwards way: the reviews on their recipe almost universally panned it. But nearly all of them mentioned the recipe posted by a cook in Boston that was perfect. I had to page back a ways to find the famous Cook from Boston and read what she had posted:
Terrible adaption of a Greek classic. I'm 34 and have been making this since I could stand up on the stool in my Yia Yia's kitchen (my grandmother who is now 80 yrs. old). Soupa Avgolemono: 8 c. homemade chix stock, 1 c. orzo, 4 eggs/ separated, juice of 3 lemons, fresh ground black pepper. This recipe will make a perfectly balanced salty, rich, filling, comforting soup. Boil broth, add orzo and simmer until tender 20 min. Whip whites until medium peaks, add yolks beating continuously, add juice, beating. Temper eggs with 2 c. broth, adding in constant slow stream while continuing to beat furiously so you do not curdle the eggs. Add egg mixture back to remaining broth and serve. When reheating, do not re-boil - heat slowly until very warm or you may curdle the eggs. Garnish with thinly sliced lemon. I sometimes add more than juice of 3 lemons, as the sourness is the best part of the taste! You should taste lemon, richness of eggs, salt of chicken, and starch of rice, in that order and you've made it perfectly. You can also add thin pieces of shredded chicken meat (pull off bone in strips), although classic recipes don't include chicken, vegetables, garlic or any of the ingredients many reviewers added to "fix" this recipe. Try mine and you'll be hooked for life!
And she was right. Her recipe is creamy and salty and sour in a perfect balance. It's extremely rich; something about the whipped eggs makes it feel even more decadent than the soup I remember. Of course with this few ingredients, it's even more important than usual to start out with fresh delicious ingredients. The one fault I have with her recipe (and it's really not fair as s/he obviously wrote it quickly in a comments section) is that if you use a home-made broth it isn't nearly salty enough. Or at least mine wasn't. Salt generously.
So many thanks to a Cook from Boston! Thank you for visiting epicurious and imparting the wisdom of your Greek Grandma. Isn't the Internet grand?