It is dry in Tucson. My sinuses hurt. Breathing is difficult and exhaustion has set in. At lunch a friend and I venture into a little Greek restaurant. We go there because of the geraniums and twinkle lights.
Athens on 4th is a small, family run restaurant of the best kind; clean, bright and decorated with trailing plants and alluring photos of the sparkling Greek coast that hang on whitewashed walls. I scan the menu. Avgolemono, a Greek chicken soup. I’ve never had Avgolemono. It turns out to be a creamy, citrus delight. A perfect combination of lemon infused broth, rice and shredded chicken. It’s zingy warmth slips down my throat and I can breathe again. Exhaustion gives way to life.
A year later at my home in North Carolina we are expecting a wintery mix of snow and ice. In the Friday twilight following an active week of teaching, office work and design I am ready for soup. Specifically the lemon chicken soup I had back in Tucson. Problem is, I can’t remember the name. Avignon? Avglo, Avgolemon? Fortunately some brilliant college kids invented Google.
I type “Greek Chicken Soup” into the search field. “Avgolemono” comes to life in blue links and bold sub-descriptions. I follow a few, each one purporting they learned this recipe from their “real Greek grandmother.” If this works, I will tell my progeny I learned this from the Greek grandmothers of the internet.
“Place a whole chicken in a large pot of boiling water with the vegetables and simmer for two hours. Remove chicken and add 1c. white rice or orzo pasta…”
Oh. I am not going to make my own broth. Not when I can buy 32 oz of perfectly good broth for $1.99 at Trader Joe’s, which I always have on hand for occasions such as this. Some modern culinary conveniences such as prepackaged broth and flash frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts are just swell. Where once it would have taken two to three hours to make (more if killing and plucking your own chicken), I can have Avgolemono in about thirty minutes. And unlike other soups, it is best fresh. No need to endlessly simmer here.
I click the back button and scroll through a few more recipes, finally deciding on one with only 5 ingredients, including ready made broth.
I set the stove on medium high heat, then pour one and a half packages of broth and 3/4 cup of white rice into my Faberware soup pot and bring to a boil. After years of preparing only the more wholesome and trendy brown rice, cooking plain old 20th century white rice gives me a kind of rebellious thrill, and a touch of guilt. In a separate pot I bring 5 cups of water to a boil then add 1 prepackaged, flash frozen boneless, skinless chicken breast.
As the broth boils and the rice softens the wind picks up and snow begins to fall. I drink in the steam rising from the cook pots. The chicken is done, the rice is almost ready. I remove the chicken from the water, let it cool, then shred and add to the broth and rice. Now comes the tricky part.
“Turn the heat down to low. Beat two eggs and the juice of two lemons. Whisk one cup of the hot broth into egg and lemon mixture. If the broth is too hot, the egg will curdle.”
Unlike broth, I refuse to use prepackaged lemon juice. Some things are not worth a sacrifice in quality. Ever used generic toothpaste?
“Slowly pour the egg and lemon mixture into soup, whisking continuously until combined.”
My soup turns yellow like the center of a daisy.
“Add salt and pepper to taste.”
Nah, I don’t need it.
With a big ol’ grin, I ladle the Avgolemono into my favorite ceramic bowl and serve alongside a small slice of hearth bread and a salad of pre-washed baby spinach, pre-pitted black olives, mini tomatoes, and goat cheese drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and a spritz of balsamic vinegar.
In my pj’s and slippers I wrap myself in a blanket and carry my colorful meal to the table, dip my spoon into the sunny concoction before me, raise it to my lips and…ahh… the warm tang of lemon lingers on my tongue. Avgolemono. Warm and creamy and perfect.