Thursday, September 29, 2011

Avgolemono with Lamb Meatballs

Greek Lemon Soup 

Eureka! An unexpected find! There was one lonely roll of ground lamb lurking at the back of a freezer drawer, camouflaged amidst similar-shaped chubs of pork sausage and some homemade cookie dough. Mmmmmmmmm, we enjoyed juicy, feta-stuffed lamburgers and a Fattoush salad for lunch, but that still left half a pound of ground lamb for another day. In the week’s cold, stormy weather (link) it was an easy decision - Avgolemono Soup. With Lamb Meatballs and an accompanying Greek Salad and pita chips. That meal defied the weather, bringing hints of sunshine into Kumealon Inlet. While it wasn’t a Mediterranean location, I could close my eyes and dream of blue skies and sandy beaches. 

There must be hundreds, even thousands of Avgolemono recipes online and in print cookbooks, each with slightly varying ingredients and techniques. Go ahead, Google it and see for yourself. Chicken broth thickened with eggs, a handful of rice, lemon juice, and parsley, dill and/or mint are common to most versions. Parsley is a typical garnish. That’s it, a very short list of basic ingredients for the cook. Even the addition of meatballs doesn’t take it beyond ordinary pantry staples. What’s so special about the combination? Somehow the lemony tang, the lamb meatballs, and the custardlike broth work magic together so the resulting soup holds more flavor than you would anticipate.

We prefer the warm version, with the added flavor derived from lamb meatballs. That said, avgolemono is delicious with or without the meatballs, as a sauce or even chilled as a hot-weather soup. This is versatile, tasty comfort food; what more can you ask of simple ingredients?

Avgolemono with Lamb Meatballs
Serves 6
3/4 lb ground lamb, or lean ground beef or Italian sausage without casings
1 finely minced onion
4 TB long grain white rice
1/4 cup fine dried breadcrumbs
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, divided
2 TB chopped fresh mint or dill
3 eggs, divided
Salt & pepper
6 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup lemon juice

  1. In a bowl, combine meat, onion, rice, breadcrumbs, just 1/4 cup of the parsley, mint or dill, and only 1 of the eggs. Knead with your hands until well mixed. Form the mixture into tiny, 1/2 inch, meatballs.
  2. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the stock to a boil. Add the meatballs, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer gently until the meatballs are cooked, 25-30 minutes. (I add a tablespoon or two of rice to the broth.)
  3. In a bowl, beat the remaining 2 eggs until very frothy. Gradually beat in about 1 1/2 cups of the hot soup, beating constantly to prevent curdling. (This step tempers the eggs so they won't scramble when added to the soup.) Continue to beat until thickened, then slowly stir the egg mixture into the hot soup. Heat through, but do not allow the soup to boil (or it might curdle and separate).
  4. Ladle into warmed bowls, sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup parsley and serve hot. Remember to close your eyes and dream of blue skies and sandy beaches.
  5. Notes: For a hot-weather version of Avgolemono, skip the meatballs and chill in the refrigerator after adding the thickened egg mixture back into the soup. Serve chilled or near room temperature for a smooth, custardy summer soup. (Mixed reviews on this version: I love it, but ex-neighbor Cindy wrinkled up her nose and turned down a second spoonful.)              

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