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May 16, 2006

Eat Your Heart Out—May 16, 2006

In Book III of Wilhelm Meister, Goethe writes, “Know’st thou the land where the lemon-trees bloom,/ Where the gold orange glows in the deep thicket’s gloom,/ Where a wind ever soft from the blue heaven blows,/ And the groves are of laurel and myrtle and rose?” Although I believe Goethe is referring to Italy in this poem, when I hear the stanzas and imagine the citrus trees in full bloom I like to envision Goethe writing of the Greek isles, of idyllic hideaways where little children eat Avgolemono soup made with fresh ripe lemons and frolic through the sun-drenched countryside.

Avgolemono literally means “egg-lemon” and is prepared either as a sauce to accompany fish or poultry, or as a soup, frequently with the addition of rice or orzo. The eggs provide richness while the lemons add a tart flavor and additional complexity. To make Avgolemono soup, the egg whites are prepared separately and folded into stiff peaks with lemon juice and the broth is tempered into the egg mixture to produce a rich and creamy soup.

The recipe itself is quite simple, but you must be very careful in preparing the soup as it is very easy for the egg mixture to coagulate if it becomes too hot. I prefer a version of the soup made with orzo, which keeps its shape better than rice does when cooked and served in soup, but if you want to make this soup with rice, just substitute it for the orzo and adjust your cooking time. Alternatively, if you don’t feel like cooking, a delicious version of Avgolemono soup is served on weekends at Salonica; their version is succulent, with strong hints of lemon shining through.

Egg Lemon with Orzo Soup (Avgolemono)

4 cups homemade or good quality chicken stock

1/3 cup orzo

4 eggs, separated

the juice of 3 lemons

the rind of 1 lemon, finely grated

2 Tablespoons butter

salt and freshly ground pepper (ample amounts)

1. Heat the stock in a large pot until it reaches a boil. Add the orzo and cook until done, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat but keep all the contents in the pot.

2. In a saucepan, heat the lemon juice and lemon rind until the juice begins to boil. Remove from heat and let cool.

3. Using a high speed on a hand mixer, beat the egg whites in a bowl until hard, frothy peaks form. Then add the yolks and beat until smooth. Add the cooled lemon juice/lemon rind mixture and beat again.

4. Temper the egg mixture by adding a bit of soup to the bowl and stir. Then working in quick batches, add the egg mixture to the soup and stir until well blended. Turn the heat back on, but make sure to not boil the soup—it will curdle! Rather, heat until warm. Then add the butter and generous amounts of salt and pepper, or to taste. Serve immediately.