Jan’s friend needed a soft soup after her oral surgery and Jan’s family is descending upon us. Blended soups are the order of the day. In addition to Ezo Gelin and Maafe, I will be making another soup I have made before, Avgolemono.
Avgolemono soup is a Greek soup that may have its origins with Sephardic Jews in Iberia before they were expelled. In its simplest form it has only four ingredients: chicken stock, some kind of starch (usually rice or orzo), a souring agent (usually lemon juice, but pomegranate and sour orange juice may also be used) and eggs. While the simple soup may be nice, it would not make a complete meal.
To make it a meal soup I am adding some vegetables; onion, celery, and a bit of carrot. I also plan to add plenty of garlic. I do not want an overwhelming garlic flavor, so I decided smooth the garlic’s flavor by roasting it first. To provide some protein, beyond the chicken stock, I added some chicken thighs.
I liked the look of soups that had a very yellow cast to them. One way to achieve this color is to use a lot of egg yolks to thicken the soup. However, my wife would object to all that cholesterol. Another way is to add a coloring agent, either turmeric or saffron would work. I personally feel that turmeric imparts a flat taste, so I plan to use saffron. It has a milder flavor and if the origin of this soup is in Iberia, saffron is more in the original tradition.
While I have not changed the ingredients very much in this dish, since the last time I made it, I have changes some of the techniques I used. The first time I made this soup, the eggs did not thicken the soup properly. It was more like an egg drop soup with little threads of egg white. I have tried “tempering” eggs, but I have never gotten this thickening technique to work as advertised.
Recently, I have been making a lot of citrus fruit curds and I have never had this “curdling” problem with them. The secret is fat and an egg beater. The egg beater breaks the white’s proteins into small bits and the fat binds to them to prevent them from clumping back together into white lumps. Adding the beaten eggs to the other ingredients, before heating, avoids the danger of curdling. I decided to use this trick with my Greek soup.
Karl’s Avgolemono Soup II (Greek Egg and Lemon Soup)
15 large cloves garlic
2+ Tbs. olive oil, separate uses
4 chicken thighs
1 onion, diced finely
2 stalks celery, diced finely
1 small heirloom carrot, finely grated
¼ tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. Mediterranean oregano
½ tsp. lemon zest
¼ tsp. pepper, to taste
8 cups chicken stock, separate uses
Pinch saffron threads
1 cup orzo
3 lemons, juiced
½ cup parsley, chopped finely
1. Put the garlic in an oven proof covered bowl with a drizzle of olive oil. Toss to coat the cloves with the oil and roast in a 350° F oven for 40 minutes, stirring once half way through.
2. Add one tablespoon of oil to a soup pot and brown the chicken well, until almost completely cooked.
Note: For this soup, because of the needs of my diners, I cut the chicken into very small bits and browned them well to develop a lot of fond. I then processed them in a standing blender to turn them into small bits, but not a paste, that could be swallowed without chewing. For most people you would probably want to cut them into small bite sized pieces.
3. Add the vegetables and salt and deglaze the pot with the moisture released by the vegetables.
4. Sauté the vegetables for five minutes until just starting to pick up some color.
5. Add the oregano, zest, pepper, and half of the chicken stock. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
6. While the soup is simmering, mash the garlic to a fine paste.
7. Grind the saffron between your fingers into a small cup and add a quarter cup of the hot water to the cup and let it sit for 10 minutes.
Note: For a creamer soup, you may add the garlic and saffron water and blend the soup at this point before adding the chicken and orzo.
8. Add the orzo, chicken and garlic paste and continue simmering about 10-12 more minutes, until the orzo is fully cooked.
9. Remove the pot from the heat and add the rest of the chicken stock to cool the soup.
Tip: By cooling the soup almost completely there is less chance of the eggs “curdling.”
Note: If you have used the blender on the soup base, use the chicken broth to rinse out the jar at this point.
10. Whisk the eggs in a bowl with one tablespoon of olive oil until frothy.
11. Pour the saffron liquid through a fine meshed sieve into the bowl of eggs and whisk well to mix.
Tip: This catches any large threads of saffron.
12. Stir the lemon juice into the soup.
Tip: This further cools off the soup.
13. Whisk the egg mixture into the soup .and return it to the heat on medium high.
14. Slowly bring the soup back up to temperature, stirring frequently, until the soup is thickened, about 2-4 minutes.
Tip: Do not bring the soup to even a slight boil or the eggs might “break” and turn the soup watery.
15. Stir in most of the parsley and serve, garnished with parsley.