There are a number of recipes that are now considered Greek although they originated from other regions or cultures. We discovered this with the history of moussaka and this is also the case with avgolemono.
What is avgolemono?
Avgolemono, literally “egg-lemon” in Greek, is a term used to define soups or sauces made with eggs and lemon juice mixed with broth and heated until thickened to make a delicately silky, creamy and tangy sauce. The sauce is always made from the liquid in which the meats, fish or vegetables have been cooked.
The name in Arabic (tarbiya) and Turkish (terbiye) literally means “treatment” or “improvement”. In Arabic, it is also called beida bi-lemoune (egg with lemon).
What is the origin of avgolemono?
In Sephardic Jewish cuisine, avgolemono is actually called agristada or salsa blanca. Agristada was prepared by the Jews in Iberia before their expulsion from Spain. At the time, it was made with verjuice (agraz), pomegranate juice, or bitter orange juice, but not vinegar. After the popularization of lemon in the Mediterranean around the tenth century, the citrus became the standard souring agent. The Jews from Spain (Sephardim) were actually at the forefront of citrus cultivation during the Middle Ages as they were growing citrons for the Sukkot festival. Therefore, the practice of using lemons in sauces like agristada first became widespread among them.
Sopa de huevos y limon (egg-lemon soup) is the ladino name given by Sephardic Jews. Jews from Salonika, as well as Turkey and the Balkans, traditionally serve different versions of this soup after the fast of Yom Kippur.
The same sauce is present in Balkan cuisine as well as in Italian cuisine where it is known as bagna brusca, brodettato, or brodo brusco.
In Greek homes, women usually make avgolemono with egg whites and egg yolks. Professional chefs tend to omit the egg whites and thicken the sauce with cornstarch.
The whites may be beaten into a foam separately before mixing with the yolks and lemon juice, or the whole eggs may be beaten with the lemon juice. The starch of the rice or orzo contributes to stabilizing the emulsion.
In Greek villages, people make a kissing sound when adding the avgolemono to the soup or dish. It is known as a magical trick to keep the egg from curdling. This is the moment when you need to pay attention to how slowly you add the broth to the egg mixture, while constantly beating.
Avgolemono is used in a variety of dishes, including the standard traditional chicken soup called soupa avgolemono or kotosoupa avgolemono that I chose to prepare today. The same sauce is also found in other delicious soups like psarosoupa avgolemono (fish soup), magiritsa (lamb offal soup made for Easter), prasoselino soupa (leek and celery soup), patsa (tripe soup) or yuvarlakia (meatball soup).
The Greeks are really fond of soups but also sauces and dips, like tzatziki, Bechamel sauce used in preparations like moussaka or pastitsio, or skordalia, a garlic-based sauce typically served with batter-fried fish, fried vegetables (eggplant and zucchini), poached fish, or boiled vegetables (mostly beets).
Avgolemono is almost as famous as the emblematic fasolada, but other delicious traditional soups include kakavia (fish soup), fakes (lentil soup), kreatosoupa (lamb and barley soup) or domatosoupa (tomato and rice soup).
This was the first time I made avgolemono. I decided to go with the version with the egg whites beaten separately, which probably helped getting a silkier and creamier texture. If you read 196 flavors regularly, you know by now that I am not a soup fan and especially not a chicken soup fan, which is “hospital food” to me… but that was before I discovered this soup. Yes, I have to say that the addition of avgolemono to this chicken soup changes everything.
The creaminess of the eggs combined with the citrusy flavor take this soup to a whole new level… ok, maybe not the level of my favorite soup of all time, marak temani… but we’re not far!
So, don’t waste your leftover chicken soup or chicken broth. Beat some eggs, add some lemon, maybe some dill too, and surprise your friends with this mouth-watering Greek delicacy!
- 1 whole chicken , cut in pieces
- 2 carrots , cut in 1-inch slices (optional)
- 1 cup rice , ideally short grain
- 4 eggs , separated
- Juice of 2 lemons
- ¼ cup minced fresh dill
- Dill sprigs (for garnish)
Place chicken pieces and carrots (optional) in a large pot with 8 cups of water. Cover and simmer for one hour.
Take the chicken pieces and carrots out of the pot and let cool.
Bring the remaining broth to a boil, salt to taste. Add the rice and simmer covered for 20 minutes. Remove from heat.
In the meantime, remove the chicken flesh from the bones and tear into small pieces. Set aside.
When the broth is done simmering, take 2 cups of the chicken broth and set aside.
Beat the egg whites until stiff.
Combine the yolks with the lemon juice and beat well. Add mixture to egg whites and stir.
Then slowly add 2 cups of the hot chicken broth to the mixture while beating constantly to avoid curdling.
When the eggs and the broth are well incorporated, pour this mixture back into the remaining broth and rice. Add minced dill, stir well, and simmer for a few minutes without boiling.
Add the chicken pieces and carrots and stir well.
Serve in bowls, with fresh ground pepper and garnish with dill sprigs.