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Lucky dip - Avgolemeno - soup or sauce?

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

"This vibrant lemon and egg soup may cause you to weep with joy upon mastery." Meghan Splawn - Kitchn

Like I said the other day, summer has disappeared. It's a cold (18 degrees) and dismal day - not quite raining, so that the plants will get some water, but always looking as if it's about to rain. And this is just the third day of Autumn. Indeed if we went for the equinox version of the change of seasons - March 20/21 - then we would still be in summer. Anyway it's a perfect day to think about a bowl of warming soothing soup. So I am turning to my lucky dip recipe. Well not quite.

My choice of book was one of my old paperbacks. This one was published in 1961, though I see that I bought it at Chadstone in 1970. I have a couple of books by NIka Standen Hazelton, a 'lesser' cook book author of the 60s. She is not a great writer, but her recipes are pretty workable and she covers a lot of ground in this book. Which I think is why I bought it. Although, by 1970 I had quite a lot about Mediterranean and French food, I had very little on the rest of Europe and I wanted to learn.

"I have done my best to keep away from the mystique which seems to surround so much cooking nowadays. Much high-flown twaddle is written about herbs, wines, gourmets, epicures, and the like, when some of the best cooks who ever lived were and are quite illiterate and unsophisticated." Nika Standen Hazelton

So that's all I'm going to say about the book itself at the moment, as eventually I will get to do the First Recipe thing. And here is a brief reference to the dish that I chose to feature, which I am not featuring, if that makes sense. It is Greek pork with celeriac and egg and lemon sauce. There were other options but I decided today to focus on the egg and lemon sauce part of this particular dish and ignored Stifado and the Balkan Lamb stew with parsley, and Meat stew with quinces - interesting though they all could be. This picture is of the pork dish, although with celery rather than celeriac, and that does indeed seem to be the more usual vegetable. I could find no picture of the original one in my book which has no pictures.

No I decided to focus on the egg and lemon sauce - avgolemeno - which literally means egg-lemon. Now I have never been to Greece, where, if you are to believe the cookbooks and the food blogs, egg and lemon sauce is ubiquitous. I have dined in a few Greek restaurants, and I have to say that I am not conscious of it featuring a lot on the menu. I just checked the Melissa menu for example and there is nothing with avgolemono on the menu. Interesting.

I did find another couple of examples where the sauce is added at the last minute to a stew - George Calombaris' Braised chicken and celery fricassee and the Guardian's Thomasina Miers' Greek spring vegetable stew with avgolemono. There are lots of other examples out there where the sauce is poured over a completed dish. The thing is to master the sauce and also to turn it into soup because this is the real deal it seems to me.

So egg and lemon sauce. You need to master this if you are going to make the soup. Yes tricky because you can end up with scrambled eggs, rather than a creamy, velvety sauce if you are not careful. And here I just want to show you two examples of how to say this:

"Although the basic Greek recipe is relatively simple, my experience has shown that it can be really tricky. If you have ever tried making ‘Kotosoupa Avgolemono’ or any other Greek recipe which includes Avgolemono before, you must know that lots of things can go wrong leading to a disaster." My Greek Dish

Now if you were flicking through recipes would you continue reading here? Personally I would be very put off unless it was one of my very favourite cooks. So it was reassuring to find this rather different approach:

"I make the process easy by whizzing the eggs and lemon juice with some of the rice and broth in a blender; this tempers the eggs and creates a creamy, stable base that never curdles. " Jenn Segal - Once Upon a Chef

Actually I think it is probably not that difficult really. You basically beat your eggs and lemon juice together, then very slowly you add some of the hot stock to the egg and lemon mixture, whisking vigorously all the time, until it's smooth and creamy. Then you add that - also very slowly and whisking all the time to your soup - and don't let it boil again.

Elizabeth David says of this national sauce:

"This is simply the Greek way of making a sauce for practically anything ... 'Youvarlakis, or little meat rissoles, served in this sauce are not to be despised, and, as the standby of every Greek cook, how different from the bottled horror and the the stickfast (what does she mean by that?) of English cooking."

I think she would love Ottolenghi's twist on this dish, which he calls Lamb meatballs in avgolemono - shown above - with its pomegranate garnish and shaved zucchini. So exotic, - yet simple - and unimaginable in Elizabeth David's England.

The true home of avgolemono though is in soup - chicken soup to be exact. Chicken soup is one of those things isn't it? One of those things that speaks of home, that nourishes and comforts, and which comes in an almost infinite variety of forms. I'm talking about the soup because when I started looking at avgolemono on the internet, expecting to find a whole lot of stuff about the sauce, what actually came up was the soup. And most often or not it was simply called Avgolemono. Nika Standen Hazelton, prefacing her extremely simple version says "It is one of the best light soups ever invented."

The variations from her version which is simply a chicken broth with a bit of rice and the egg and lemon sauce, to much more complicated versions which involve you in first making the stock with a whole chicken which cooks for hours, and which is then shredded and added to at the resulting soup.

The writers of these recipes - often Greek, will write nostalgically of the soups their grannies made and the villages in which they grew up.

"If I could eat only one soup for the rest of my life, avgolemono would probably be the top contender. It has everything one desires of a soup: bright taste, chicken, velvety texture, some vague feeling of virtuousness. No need for fancy language here: I just really, really, really like this soup." Carey Polis - Bon Appétit

"Almost every culture has a homey version of chicken soup to comfort the sick or the soul weary, or to stave off the chill of cold weather, but the Greeks might just have one of the best: the egg and lemon soup known as avgolemono." Kitchn

And the results do indeed look tempting - somehow luxurious for what is basically a peasant soup traditionally served just after the midnight service on Easter Sunday.

I'm not going to direct you to the various recipes, as you could have a lot of fun searching for what you might see as the definitive version. That centre one is from Simon Gloftis in Gourmet Traveller, and interestingly he said:

"Avgolemono is just so important to Greeks. But maybe it's even more important to Greeks who've left Greece" Simon Gloftis

Soup, and chicken soup in particular, is one of those things that reminds you of home, of childhood, of being cared for, doesn't it? Which is perhaps why it's the emigrés who go on about it so much. I mean all of the recipes I found were written by ex Greeks in a country other than their parents' homeland of Greece.

Alas I'm fasting today so cannot indulge myself, but next time it's a miserable day like today I might well have a go. And the sun is shining now anyway.


I forgot to draw your attention to the fact, that the email I received from Woolworths, was not only addressed to me personally, but also the header told me that this was a message from Brad. And there he is, smiling in a casually open necked shirt with a colourful childlike drawing behind him of bees and flowers. Brad - ordinary guy - not Brad Banducci, the CEO of a company that employs over 200,000 people and for which he usually gets paid around $12 million per annum. In 2019 he voluntarily docked $2.6 million from his pay because of the underpayment of staff. I can't find how much he earned in 2020. I have no doubt that he personally approved the email but I doubt very much that he wrote it. Very clever stuff though - and yes it is a laudable initiative. 70 million seeds being planted is not to be sniffed at. And potentially getting children interested in growing food and then cooking it is also a very good thing. Companies will do good things for image and profit, and if they do we shouldn't really criticise them for it. After all Woolworths does employ over 200,00 people. That's jobs.


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