The Lemon Soup Request that Turned into a Greek Feast

My mother was a very social young woman by the looks of her day-to-day itinerary growing up in West Orange, New Jersey. Her parents ran a beauty parlor out of their home that was visited frequently by family and clients, who often arrived unannounced. Those who know Lisa now as a 24-hour infomercial would be surprised to know that her distaste for interpersonal interaction kept her suctioned her to the bottom of tables at Girl Scout meetings, which goes to say that her friendships were anchored in a small network of girls from the neighborhood.

Two of her best friends were sisters named Penny and Gail, who came from a large Greek family. Every time she went over to visit their house, mom was required to kiss their Pappous (Greek for "grandpa") on his cheek even though, according to my mother, Pappous appeared to have been dead for a minimum of four years. Penny and Gail's mother referred to all of the children under her watch as "brats" and would chase them with a wooden spoon when they were naughty, which was often because the sisters had a penchant for stirring up trouble, like teaching my mom Greek slang. 

Recollections of dinners at their home bring forth memories of white rice with ketchup—a "specialty" invented at the table by Gail—and lemon soup, a traditional Greek dish that was called to mind only recently when we were eating this 30-minute Baked Tofu with Coconut Kale from Food52. She described the lemon soup fondly as a "creamy" concoction that she hadn't tasted since dining in the company of the corpse of Pappous and his two troublemaking grandchildren. To appease the nostalgia of her tastebuds, I did some research during my inbound commute while the gentleman next to me snuffed out the possibility of a morning nap with his passionate typing and found that this soup had a name, which was Avgolemono. It exists in the family of Mediterranean sauces and soups that are made with egg yolk, lemon juice and broth, and can be found in Arabic, Balkan, Turkish, and Sephardic Jewish cuisines. 

"As a sauce, it is used for warm dolma, for vegetables like artichokes, and for stew-like dishes where the egg-lemon mixture is used to thicken the cooking juices, such as the Greek pork with celery and the Turkish ekşili köfte," says Wikipedia. "As a soup, it usually starts with chicken broth, though meat (usually lamb), fish, or vegetable broths are also used ... Its consistency varies from near-stew to near-broth. It is often served with pieces of the meat and vegetables reserved from the broth."

I ran this information by Queen Mother, who said that she never saw it served with chicken, and thus decided to experiment with this recipe and omit the chicken. It calls for chicken stock, salt and pepper, cooked white rice, egg yolks, fresh lemon juice and chopped fresh dill, which are all very accessible pantry staples, save for the dill. Popular opinion in our home states that soup is "not a meal," so I had to conceive of supplementary eating materials to complement our lemon delight even though I am of the minority who argues that soup can be a spa treatment for the internal organs. Soup opinions aside, instinct told me to also make homemade hummus, fresh pita bread, and a big Greek salad topped with dolmades. Here are the recipes that I used in case it's too cold to travel out to your favorite diner to get your feta fix:

Greek Salad (Pioneer Woman, go figure) — + anchovies, even though they are not traditional; Stuffed Grape Leaves (Tori Avey)—but with brown rice

Greek Salad (Pioneer Woman, go figure) — + anchovies, even though they are not traditional; Stuffed Grape Leaves (Tori Avey)—but with brown rice

The process for the soup was easier than making most other soups because it barely requires any preparation. If you can pour stock into a saucepan, cook white rice by following the instructions on the back of its package, and separate egg yolks from their whites, you are capable of making this warming, zingy soup happen. I will confess that I am guilty of one mistake, though. My oven was set at 475° for the pita bread, which made my stovetop extra hot. My finished soup was sitting on the stove while I finished baking the last loaves of pita, which resulted in the soup thickening more than it should have. Some extra broth remedied this, and according to my mother, it tasted just the way she remembered it. Still, I am in search for a pita bread recipe that yields fluffy, oily, salty loaves like the one that's served at my favorite diner in New Jersey. Pappous, steer my cursor in the right direction like an Ouija board if you can help me find resolve.

Olive Digest Rating—Avgolemono Soup:

Ease: 5/5

You will need a food processor or an immersion blender to reach the finish line; serve it right when it's done.

Taste: 5/5

Imagine if lemons and porridge conceived a fragrant, humble child

Likelihood of Trying Again: 5/5

Mom pulled through with a clutch recommendation.


Analyze and Discuss

Is ketchup on rice a thing???