On a recent Saturday afternoon, one of the neighborhood boys knocked on the door, looking for my daughter. She is only a toe-dip into middle school, so I was unprepared for the heart-baring conversation that followed. Not with my daughter, who has two older brothers and is currently indifferent to male attention. But with my dear husband, who was shattered by the realization that he cannot stop the relentless march of puberty. It was a raw discussion, and as we emerged from the coat closet, I knew two things: I’d earned a medal for saving this young man’s life, and I still had to get supper on the table.
It is ironic that the need for comfort food occurs when you have the least wherewithal to prepare it. Whether you’re suffering from a lack of energy, time or money, may I suggest avgolemono? This bright, velvety soup is spun with minimal effort from humble ingredients: broth, eggs and lemon juice. It’s modern-day alchemy, only better, because you get to eat it. The hardest thing about avgolemono is knowing how to pronounce it. Say “ahv-gho-LEM-oh-no” with soft, throaty consonants, and the breathiest “g” you can muster.
Your ingredients may be few, but should be high quality. If you don’t have homemade chicken broth, reach for reduced-sodium chicken broth in the soup aisle at the grocery store. (You can always add more salt, but you can’t take it out.) Bring the broth to a boil and then drop the heat to low, keeping it on standby while you whip up your egg(s).
Many avgolemono recipes call for an abundance of egg yolks, which give the soup a thick, custardy texture without using any dairy. But eggs can be a controversial ingredient in the world of healthy cooking. While I think they are a fantastic source of inexpensive protein, folks who watch their cholesterol are less enamored. For this recipe, use one or two eggs as determined by your own personal nutritional goals.
Sure, you could add your eggs directly to the hot broth, but then they would scramble right before your eyes. Instead, use a fun little cooking trick called “tempering” to gently raise the eggs’ temperature. Start by whisking the eggs and lemon juice until they are well combined. For the freshest taste, use real lemon juice. As in, straight from the fruit, not a plastic fruit-shaped container.
Continue to whisk with one hand while using your other to slowly pour a cup of warm broth into the egg-lemon juice mixture. Then, just as slowly, whisk the whole shebang back into the big pot of broth. The eggs will be flawlessly incorporated, making your soup as silky as heavy cream, without all of the saturated fat. To maintain the texture, once you’ve added the eggs, the temperature should always remain below boiling, even when reheating. If your avgolemono boils, the eggs will separate from the broth, and your soup will be tasty, but ugly.
A little starch gives the avgolemono some bulk. White rice and orzo (rice-shaped pasta) are both common additions. In the interest of healthy cooking, I suggest whole-grain brown rice, which has more fiber than the others. If you have some noodles that are halfway to forgotten in the refrigerator, use them, even if that’s not exactly traditional. And while you’re rooting around the icebox, consider adding any roasted or rotisserie chicken and cooked veggies you find, too. When it comes to giving leftovers a new beginning, avgolemono is your friend.
The contrast of the sharp lemon flavor and smooth egg texture makes avgolemono unforgettable. If you find yourself contemplating it on a day when you are not solving anyone’s crisis, play with the ingredient proportions. Try increasing the lemon juice, or reducing the amount of broth to make a hollandaise-ish gravy for asparagus and fish. But when life gets complicated, as it always does, return to this simple recipe, and let cooking be the stress you let go.
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 cup cooked whole-grain brown rice
1 egg and 1 optional egg, if desired
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or parsley, for garnish
In a large pot, bring the broth, salt and pepper to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to low, carefully reserve a cup of hot broth, and add the cooked rice to the large pot of remaining broth. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg(s) and the lemon juice until foamy. Continue to whisk the egg mixture while you slowly drizzle the cup of hot, not boiling, broth into it. Slowly return the egg-broth mixture back into the large pot of broth, whisking constantly. Cook, on low, until the soup becomes opaque, approximately 1 minute more. Taste and adjust salt, pepper and lemon juice. Garnish with chopped dill. Makes 4 servings.
Per serving, with 1 egg: 120 calories (percent of calories from fat, 26), 19 grams protein, 15 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 5 grams fat (trace saturated fat), 53 milligrams cholesterol, 148 milligrams sodium.
Per serving, with 2 eggs: 139 calories (percent of calories from fat, 29), 21 grams protein, 15 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 7 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 100 milligrams cholesterol, 166 milligrams sodium.