At least once a week, we simmer the vegetable trimmings that we’ve collected over the past few days. Onion peels or wilted tops from green onions, carrot peelings, the tops and bottoms of squash that we’ve trimmed off, the germ from garlic, even corn cobs. Those trimmings, while they’re edible and have a lot of flavor, might not look perfect in a finished dish. So, we save them to make stock. It’s a nice way to use up all the vegetables that people have worked very hard to produce for us.
This means, of course, that we have a lot of stock each week. Most times, we make a simple tomato vegetable soup, but this time we thought that we’d make a soup that we’ve had numerous times at Greek restaurants, but have never attempted at home: Avgolemono. It always seemed too difficult, because the most important step is to temper the eggs with hot broth before adding them to the soup. Several years ago, we’d have just thrown up our hands and said, “that’s way too hard!” But, today, having tempered eggs dozens of times (custards for ice cream, puddings, pastry cream, and so on), we just think of it as another step that we need to do. Oh, the recipe is based vaguely on this recipe.
Now, if you haven’t tempered eggs before, this is a great recipe with which to begin. If you don’t temper the eggs correctly and they cook while you’re adding the hot broth, you’ve just made egg-drop soup, which tastes just as good, and no one will be the wiser. Isn’t that great!
Use fresh lemon juice, as the stuff in the green bottle tastes nasty in dishes where you want the lemon to shine. Also, since you’re using the zest of the lemon, consider using organic lemons, or at least wash them very well to remove the “food-grade” wax applied to make the lemons look shiny. The squash and the mushrooms are really optional; we wanted a little bit of something in the soup besides orzo and we had those in the fridge. Other vegetables would be great, too. Orzo, in case you don’t know, is pasta shaped like grains of rice. You can use rice instead, if you prefer. Eggs, well, those come from happy hens, of course.
Procedure in detail:
Cook vegetables. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and cook until translucent, but not so long as to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the squash and mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until tender and cooked through, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Add broth. Pour in the broth and heat until it comes to a boil. Once boiling, add the orzo. You want the broth boiling when you add the pasta so that it’s less likely to stick together. Reduce the heat and simmer until the orzo is done.
Taste and season. Taste the soup and add salt and pepper as needed. Because the flavor and salt content of broths can vary so much, we won’t even hazard to guess how much you’ll need.
Temper eggs. Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl until the whites and yolks are thoroughly combined, about a minute. Now comes the only tricky part. Take the soup off the heat, and use a ladle to scoop up about 1/4 cup of broth. While whisking vigorously, sloooowly, drizzle in the hot broth. Repeat, adding until you’ve incorporated about a cup of broth. As you work, you can increase the speed at which you add the broth. Finally, add the egg broth mixture to the soup.
Add lemon. Place the soup back on low heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest.
Heat through. Heat the soup, stirring often, until it thickens slightly, but do not allow it to boil. It won’t thicken like pudding by any means; more like a thin gravy. If the soup gets too hot, it will “break,” meaning the eggs will separate from the broth and you’ll be left with bits of egg floating in your soup. Not a disaster, but not what you want. The easiest way to make sure that you heat it enough is to use a thermometer. If you have one, feel free to use it and heat the soup to 175°F. If not, heat the soup until it’s barely simmering.
Serve immediately. This soup will not hold, so, check it for seasoning again, dish it up, and enjoy immediately.
This made for a nice lunch. It reminded us of one of our favorite Greek restaurants, one we used to visit regularly when we lived in New England. It was a small café, run by a Greek family, right beside the Concord River. They made some really good Greek food, including a great Egg Lemon soup. Now, our version probably can’t compare to soup made using a true Greek recipe, but we still think it deserves four stars.