Avgolemono is a traditional Greek dish that, in fact, possesses ancient Mediterranean roots.
This deliciously creamy yet acerbic soup consists of a mixture of beaten eggs and lemon that is then stirred into hot chicken stock. The combination of lemon, egg, and chicken make this the perfect supper for this time of year; in this transition period between autumn and winter, avgolemono bolsters in its capacity as a soup, however, its lightness in taste, characterised by its citrus fragrance, serves as a reminder of sun-drenched holidays long gone.
Whilst the soup has become synonymous with Greek cuisine and is indeed a big deal from Athens to Thessaloniki (it is usually served on special occasions such as Christmas and Easter), its origins are far more complex. Several food historians have traced the origins of avgolemono to southern Europe, suggesting that the recipe travelled to Greece with Sephardic Jews.
Indeed, a soup closely tied to avgolemono is still a big part of Sephardic Jewish cuisine today: the agristada or salsa blanca. Agristada was prepared by Jews in Iberia before they were expulsed from Spain. At the time, the souring agent used in the soup was not lemon, but verjuice (the juice of unripe grapes). Lemons only became popularised across the Mediterranean around the tenth century, and it was then that the avgolemono we know that is loved by so many communities across the region today was born.
The ladino name given to the soup by Sephardic Jews is sopa de huevos y limon (egg-lemon soup), whilst Jews from Salonika, as well as Turkey and the Balkans, traditionally serve alternative versions of the soup after the feast of Yom Kippur. It is also present in Italian cuisine, where you will find it called bagna brusca, brodettato, or brodo brusco.
This soup is incredibly easy to make; however, you must abide by one rule: keep your heat low! When working with eggs like this, what you do not want is to add eggs to stock that is overly hot – they will curdle, and you will be left with perfectly edible, but not so appetising, scrambled eggs. The key to this recipe is a little bit of restraint. Allow the serenity of gentle stirring to take control and drift away to some fantasy Greek island in your mind…
N.B. To make this a full meal, I would heartily recommend that you add some pre-cooked rotisserie chicken to the soup.
Avgolemono (Serves 4)
1 litre chicken stock, made from a cube
50g orzo (or rice)
salt and pepper
3 tbsp lemon juice
1. In a large saucepan, bring the stock to the boil.
2. Add the orzo (or rice) to the stock and cook until al dente (for orzo, this will be around 7 minutes, for rice around 20 minutes)
3. Season the stock and reduce the heat to a low simmer
4. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and the lemon juice until combined.
5. Ladle about a quarter of the hot stock into the egg-and-lemon mixture, and then whisk to combine.
6. Add this mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining stock and orzo.
Stir until the soup becomes opaque and thickens as the egg cooks (this should take 1-2 minutes).
7. Add cooked chicken, if desired, and serve.