Avgolemono: The Lemony Greek Chicken Soup You Should Try

A hearty soup is good for cold weather, empty stomachs, bad days, and runny noses and everyone has a favorite dish whether it be French onion or roasted tomato. There is simply something comforting about eating a bowl or cup of warm and tender meats and veggies around the kitchen table, maybe even paired with some sourdough or grilled cheese sandwiches to soak up the flavorful broth at the bottom.

It seems like no matter where in the world you travel, every country or even province you visit will have a different traditional soup. If you visit Ireland you must try the beef stew, if you hop over to China you will find various versions of their famous hot & sour soup, and if you go to Greece grab a big bowl of avgolemono soup. Never heard of it? Avgolemono soup (pronounced ah-vgo-le-mono) is most easily described as a lemony chicken soup, but honestly, it is so much more than that (via YouTube).

How to prepare the ingredients of avgolemono

Avgolemono, like chicken soup, often involves bringing chicken, onion, carrots, and celery to a boil in chicken broth. You can make your own chicken stock easy enough at home if you have an instant pot, but if you prefer, you can always buy it at the supermarket as well. When it comes to working with your chicken, America's Test Kitchen recommends using boneless, skinless breasts because they are light in flavor which pairs better with the zippy, bright flavor of this soup. The Test Kitchen says to halve the breasts, then poach and shred them before throwing them in the broth. But, to each their own, if you have a particularly favorite piece of chicken meat, feel free to throw it on in!

Here is where the dish deviates from chicken soup pretty drastically. According to The Mediterranean Dish, avgolemono, while not only being the name of this soup, is actually the name for the traditional egg and lemon sauce whisked in, which is famous for its creamy and zesty nature. Essentially, avgolemono is made by whisking eggs with a substantial amount of lemon juice into a foam and then tempering by ladling in some warm broth. Adding the avgolemono should be the final step in your recipe to create a creamy, smooth-tasting soup (via Dimitras Dishes).

The history of avgolemono

Avgolemono can be used on more than just this soup, it can be used to dress veggies, dolmades, and even pasta and meat dishes. Serious Eats says that the name avgolemono literally translates to "egg-lemon" which is a perfectly on-point description of what this sauce is made of. It is meant to bring thickness and creaminess to the soup's broth and is enjoyed throughout the Mediterranean.

Avgolemono soup is specifically notable for the heartiness of the chicken and vegetables stewed in the broth, being complimented by the light creaminess and the citrus aspect the avgolemono brings to the entire dish. According to The Cambridge Student, avgolemono soup is commonly served during Christmas and Easter in Greece but may have in fact been introduced to the country by Sephardic Jews. Sephardic Jews to this day enjoy avgolemono as much as the Greeks in today's cuisine, but they call it "agristada." As for the history and pronounced love of the lemon in Greece, and why it is added to almost every dish, Kosterina claims that wild citrus trees have been around for millions of years, but spread to the Mediterranean around the fifth century B.C. where their juices were prized for complimenting the rich and sometimes heavy tasting recipes. They quickly became well-beloved and were a simple replacement for vinegar.

Orzo vs. rice

This might get a little controversial, so bear with us. Most traditional Greek avgolemono soup today uses orzo pasta. There are quite a few websites that will have you use rice in your soup and that is completely acceptable. Epicurious says that using your choice of orzo or rice as a carb base for this soup is fine, however, for those of you looking for an authentic Greek experience, let's introduce you to orzo, and explain why it is so perfect for avgolemono soup.

Southern Living describes orzo as "rice-shaped pasta." It can be made from semolina flour, whole-grain flour, and even gluten-free flour, and though it is about the same shape, and doubles in size like rice, these two things are not the same. Orzo tastes soft and creamy which is what makes it perfect for the avgolemono soup whereas rice tends to be a touch harder and grainy in texture. According to The Herbeevore, orzo was originally an Italian invention but has been heavily adopted and absorbed into Greek cuisine. Again, rice is a fine substitute, and, in fact, many recipes online call for it, but if you truly want the creamiest version of avgolemono soup, try using orzo pasta next time instead. Trust us; you'll taste the difference!