Inviting Writing: The Secret of Lemon Soup

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This month's Inviting Writing series focused on food and dating. We got some great contributions: sweet stories, quirky stories, sad (but triumphant!) stories. Today's entry, sweet but very tangy, comes from Christie Zgourides, who teaches college English, grows her own vegetables, cooks from a range of cuisines and travels to try even more new flavors.

After the jump, see her recipe for Greek soup, interpreted for the novice. "I pulled the battered, hand-written recipe card from my file," she wrote when we asked for the recipe, "and realized I will have something of a task getting this into a form that someone can actually work from." She did, though, and it looks like a worthy challenge.

Secret Soup Strategy

By Christie Zgourides

I had been dating a guy, George, for a while and his birthday was coming up. He was living many states away from his parents, and had been lamenting that he hadn't had his mom's Greek soup in some time. This was the early 1990s, before the Internet or Facebook, so all I had was directory assistance. As his last name was Zgourides, I thought, how many could there be in a small Texas town? I got his mom on the first call! She secretly sent me the recipes, and I made Avgolemono (Greek) Soup with the eggy foam, chicken served on the side, and a Greek salad. I had never seen Greek soup much less made his family's rather tricky recipe. When he came over on his birthday, he stepped through the door, and without even saying hello, said, "I smell Greek soup!" He went into the kitchen and said quizzically, "this tastes just like my mom's!" Then I handed him the envelope with his mom's handwriting. He was shocked and delighted I had gone to the trouble to contact his mom and surprise him with his favorite soup!

The funny part was the recipe called for three lemons. I had no idea what size, and bought three "Texas-sized" lemons at the store because, well, his family is all from Texas. The soup was so lemony George was the only one who could eat it, and he was delighted because he said he didn't have to add lemon—for the first time ever! He pronounced it better than his mother's.

I topped it all off with a lemon and white checker-board cake. The man loves his lemons.

He has since said he should have had the sense that day to get married, and we finally did a few years (ahem) later. We have been married 13 years, and I have made Greek soup many times since—with far less lemon. So everyone else can eat it. :-) He adds lemon, but still says it is better than his mother's.

When most restaurants serve Greek or Avgolemono Soup, it is without the egg foam on top. There is no way to accomplish that feat in a restaurant setting, however upscale. It simply has to be done at home. The wrong pan or a mistake in temperature ruins it. This is not a recipe for the beginner or faint of heart.

Here is the recipe for Avgolemono (Greek) Soup. Be forewarned: there are as many "true Greek" recipes for this as there are Yiayias in Greece, and everyone thinks their family's version is correct.

1 whole fryer or roasting chicken Salt, pepper 1-2 tablespoons butter 2 celery ribs, chopped 1 cup rice (Rice may be cooked in the broth)*

3 eggs, separated 2 lemons, juiced

1. Place chicken in slow cooker with salt, pepper, butter, celery, and water to cover. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or so. The goal is to cook the chicken until it is falling off the bones and the broth is rich. Times may vary depending upon size of chicken and slow cooker.

2. Cool. Remove chicken. Drain. Pour drained broth back into slow cooker. Let stand overnight in refrigerator. Skim off fat next day. Strain broth. This process should make about 6 cups of broth, and can be used for any soup base. (Short-cut method: simmer chicken in a Dutch oven for an hour or two. Remove chicken, strain broth, use same day. Short-cut method is good, but broth is not as rich and will have more fat.)

3. Cook rice. Bring broth to a low boil in a heavy Dutch oven.

4. While broth is heating, beat egg whites stiff in a small bowl.

5. Beat egg yolks till foamy in a larger bowl.

6. Add lemon juice to egg yolks and beat until mixed. Add rice to broth.

7. Combine stiff egg whites with yolks. Mix together slowly, using the low setting on mixer.

8. Add some hot broth to the egg mixture (to prevent curdling) and continue beating slowing

9. Add mixture to broth and rice mixture, and barely stir into soup. There should be foam on top of the soup.

10. Remove from heat and serve with crackers, de-boned chicken, and Greek salad.

11. Let someone else clean the kitchen.

Yes, if you do this recipe correctly, you may well be juggling the rice cooking in one pot, the broth in another, all while beating the eggs. Just for one pot of soup. It is VERY EASY to get the temperature too high and curdle the eggs. That is why a good quality, heavy pot is a must, to control temperature.

*The original recipe called for cooking the rice in the broth, but my mother-in-law, Katherine Zgourides, and I both decided the recipe turns out better if the rice is cooked separately and then added to the broth.

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