Monday, 21 December 2009

Egg and lemon soup (Σούπα αυγολέμονο)

Five minutes: that's about the amount of time I would say I spend washing my hands and face, brushing my hair and teeth, and applying a dab of perfume and maybe some lip balm on a cold morning, before going to work. That's after I've spent 10 minutes toasting bread, warming up milk and serving it all up for the kids' breakfast. So Xanthe Clay is way ahead of me when she makes the classic Greek soup, avgolemono, in just five precious minutes:

(Thanks for link, Peter)

Is chicken stock really truly that kind of brown colour? Is pre-cooked rice an ingredient or a fast food? Maybe this is the way soup is served in a fast food restaurant; it needs five minutes to cook, and if not eaten in the next five minutes, it will go off. To cook such a soup from scratch, admittedly, it would not take 5 minutes to make, but whoever heard of a whole meal being cooked in 5 minutes, except in fast food restaurants?

This kind of video is supposedly an attempt to get people cooking some kind of 'real food', which is all the rage these days, judging by discussions among 'top chefs' like Alice Waters and Anthony Bourdain:

(Thanks for the link, Elissa)

And I congratulate Xanthe's effort in this direction. But let's not forget, as Alice Waters says: where did each of Xanthe's ready-to-eat ingredients come from and how easy is it to actually cook the same food from scratch without wasting, beg your pardon, spending too much time in the kitchen? Xanthe's version of avgolemono soup serves 2 people and can be made in just 5 minutes. She probably needed a longer time buying her ingredients from the supermarket; in how much of a rush can 2 diners possibly be?

My mum used to make avgolemono soup very often on cold winter nights in New Zealand, especially after she came home with my father and her children from the fish and chip shop my parents owned and operated. It would be 7.30 at night, and she'd go into the kitchen as soon as we came home. She'd tell us to take our baths or finish our school homework, while during this time, she'd whip up the evening meal. Even though convenience foods were widely available in 1980s New Zealand, she hardly ever used them. Nearly everything she cooked was related to the food she remembered from Crete, and it was cooked from scratch.

I can still remember how she made avgolemono soup. As I write this, I remember our house in Wellington, the kitchen table, the cutlery and crockery; most of the time, I used to help her mix the hot stock with the egg and lemon sauce. "Pour it in drop by drop!" she'd tell me. "Wait till I've blended it in well!" she'd ask me. "Don't let the egg cook!" she'd warn me.

kid-friendly egg and lemon soup
This soup took longer than five minutes to cook; by planning ahead, it is never a toilsome soup to make.

Here's my version of quick and easy avgolemono soup, using Xanthe's ingredients list as a base, which you can make for dinner after you've come home from work, to feed your family a nourishing winter warmer in the cold days that are ahead of us - and making use of all the fresh ingredients available around you. Making chicken stock does not require the luxury of time; you can make it in the 15-20 minutes it took Xanthe to buy her ready-to-gloop ingredients from the supermarket (and if time really is a hassle, then make your stock 1-3 days before: it keeps this long in the fridge).

For a family of 4, you need:
2 fresh chicken drumsticks (We usually buy whole chickens - I reserve the wings and neck to make really good stock, but you won't get much meat out of them if you intend to add bits of chicken to the soup)
the juice of 1-2 lemons, depending on how tangy you want it to be, placed in a medium sized bowl
2 eggs (we like our avgolemono less eggy and more lemony)
a fistful of raw rice (I am using Asian egg noodles today instead, for a more kid-friendly meal)
salt and pepper (you can add some chopped parsley as a garnish, like Xanthe did, but this is definitely not what the average working wife and mother who lacks time would feel the need to do when serving up a nutritious meal right after she's been at work...)

Place the chicken parts in a medium-sized pot and cover with cold water. Let the water boil away for about 15 minutes. Depending on the kind of chicken used (ie how the chicken is reared), it may require more or less cooking time (which is why I prefer to use chicken wings and necks for stock making). Strain the stock into another pot. If the use of too many pots in the kitchen perturbs you, then it's best to make your stock the night before so you can maintain control over the dirty dishes; my urbanised friends always freak out when they see the detritus of my kitchen - that's before they've tasted the food of course, after which they've forgotten about the kitchen chaos. Maybe they realised it was worth the effort. But they probably wouldn't invite me to cook in their kitchen.

My chicken stock always comes out golden, never brown, in colour. I only ever watched my mother make chicken stock in New Zealand, and her Kiwi chicken also gave her golden, never brown, liquid. The stock in the above photos looks fatty, but you can skim the fat off before you use it, like I did for this soup. This pot produced 4 servings of hearty chicken soup.
making chicken stock

Make sure your chicken stock is very hot, then add the washed rice (or noodles). Let it boil away, without stirring (which will make the rice go mushy), for as long as it takes to cook the rice/noodles. At this point, start making the egg and lemon sauce. Break the eggs into the bowl containing the lemon juice, add some salt, and use a fork, whisk or hand-mixer to blend everything together. Remove the meat in small bits from the chicken and set aside. Switch off the stock pot.

soup making
Making a hearty chicken egg and lemon soup; even the dog gets her share today (bottom right-hand corner: the tub contains the chicken bones and skin).
avgolemono soup avgolemono soup

Now comes the tricky bit. Stir a shotglass-full of the hot stock (clear liquid is preferable - strain away the rice) into your egg and lemon sauce and whisk it in really well. Keep doing this until at least a third of the stock liquid has been added to the egg and lemon sauce, which should be cool rather than hot at all times. Now turn up the heat for the soup pot to very low, tip the egg and stock mixture back into the soup pot and stir it gently but constantly, so that the egg does not 'cook'. Add the chicken meat and stir till the soup has warmed up, and has a thick soupy texture, but don't let it boil because the egg may start to cook, and that's highly undesirable.

kid-friendly egg and lemon soup
Avgolemono soup with all the trimmings: a selection of cheeses, two different kinds of olives, extra lemon for tanginess, and paximadi (Cretan dry rusks) for dunking.

Serve hot, ladled into soup bowls, and sprinkle (read: garnish) with pepper. I had also added a carrot to the chicken as it was boiling, so I could make this soup more nourishing; the carrot was sliced into thin rounds, and added at the same time as the chicken pieces (along with some tinned corn - remember, we're making this soup kid-friendly).

Real food, for real people.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.