Saturday, October 24, 2009

Avgolemono Soup

For the past few weeks, the weather has been extremely fickle in Boulder.  Three inches of snow one weekend, and 75 degrees and sunny the next.  After a miserable walk to school in precipitation that was somewhere between snow and rain, I decided that soup was the only food I would accept for dinner.  I chose egg-lemon soup, in homage to my hometown, Detroit, which seems to have a Greek diner at every major intersection (we call them “coney islands” in Detroit).  Egg-lemon soup, avgolemono*, is basically Greek chicken soup, but thickened at the end with a mixture of egg and lemon.  After scouring every recipe source imaginable, I created my own synthesized recipe of the ones I liked best.  I wanted to it hearty and satisfying, so I made it with plenty of chicken and vegetables.  Traditionally, it is made with either rice or orzo* pasta, and after a miniature existential crisis, I went with orzo.  I never knew how much anxiety I could generate over choosing between starches.   

Avgolemono Soup (adapted from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything,”, and Cat Cora)

6 cups reduced sodium chicken stock
1 cup water
2 carrots, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
½ onion, diced
2 bay leaves
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (probably about ¾ to 1 lb.)
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest, grated (optional)
Generous ½ cup orzo
2 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish (optional)

§  In a large stockpot, bring chicken stock and water to a gentle boil (I added a few grinds of pepper).  Add chicken breasts, and simmer in stock until cooked through (about 12-15 minutes).  Remove chicken, and shred meat when it’s cool enough to handle.
§  Add carrots, celery, onion, and bay leaf to the stock.  Simmer for 5-7 minutes, and add orzo.  Simmer vegetables and pasta, stirring occasionally, for about 15 more minutes, or until everything is tender.  Remove bay leaves, re-season if necessary, and remove from heat.
§  Meanwhile, beat 2 eggs until frothy and lemon juice in a large bowl.  Remove two cups of broth from the soup pot.  While whisking egg and lemon mixture, slowly stream in broth (this is called tempering*).  Then add tempered mixture back to the soup pot.  Reheat if necessary, but be careful.  If the soup comes to a boil, it will curdle.  Taste it for seasoning and add lemon zest if you want it more lemony.  Garnish with parsley and enjoy. 

Obviously, I enjoy cooking.  A lot.  However, this recipe was exceptionally fun.  It was a process, and a lovely one, at that.  I poached chicken, chopped vegetables, juiced lemons, whisked eggs, tempered liquids, and loved every minute of it.  I took my time, drank vodka, and listened to my Elvis Costello Pandora radio station.  As much as I loved the soup, I loved cooking it more.  And I don’t mean this to speak against the soup, but rather, to applaud cooking.

Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox now.  To honest, I wasn’t thrilled with the soup when I came off the stove.  It was fine; the broth had a nice flavor, but the texture wasn’t thrilling.  It didn’t have the body I was expecting.  Plus, I enjoyed the process to such an extent, that it would be hard for the actual soup to live up to it.  However, something magical happens with soup when stowed in the fridge overnight.  Somehow, the sum of its parts becomes a cohesive whole, and this soup definitely lived up to this prophecy.  The flavor deepened, and the broth became fuller in body, slightly viscous, without being a thick.  Simply put, the leftovers were divine.  And wouldn’t you just love to return home to a steamy bowl of avgolemono soup that needed just 10 minutes** on the stove?  Of course, you would.   

*See glossary for definitions
**Reheat soup over a gentle heat, and keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t curdle.

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