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Avgolemono (Greek Egg-Lemon Soup) with Asparagus

(recipe, Adam Ried)

Introduction

Subtle, suave, silky avgolemono got a grip on me when I took my first bite in a Greek diner as a kid, and it’s never let go. As an editor at Cook’s Illustrated, I developed an avgolemono recipe for the magazine more than 10 years ago; it’s the foundation for this recipe and has been a regular in my cooking rotation ever since. Even if the larder is bare, when don’t you have lemons, rice, and eggs on hand? With so few ingredients, homemade stock really shines in avgolemono. Wonderful in its pure, unadorned form, avgolemono also takes well to seasonal additions. In the spring I’ve used fava beans, or the asparagus in this version. In the early summer, green garlic goes beautifully (for the 20 minutes you can get it here in Boston), and later in the summer, I’ve been known to add corn kernels or sautéed zucchini. Sliced steamed leeks work well in the fall, as do a handful or two of baby spinach leaves in the winter. Incidentally, I think that asparagus tips are prettiest for this soup, but you can also use the slender tops of the spears, cut into 1-inch lengths, if you wish. Otherwise, save the spears for another use. Adding some chicken, along with or in place of any of the other additions, makes avgolemono hearty enough to serve as a main course. I use two boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 pound total), cut into ½-inch cubes and added along with the rice.

Ingredients

  1. 1½ lb. asparagus
  2. Salt and pepper
  3. 2 qt. homemade chicken stock or packaged low-sodium chicken broth
  4. Zest (removed with a vegetable peeler in large strips) and ¼ cup juice from 1½ medium lemons, plus very thin lemon slices for garnish
  5. 1 large bay leaf
  6. Pinch of ground cardamom, or 2 whole cloves
  7. ½ cup long-grain white rice
  8. 2 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
  9. 2 large egg yolks, preferably at room temperature

Steps

  1. Prep the asparagus: Bring 1 quart of water to a rolling boil in a small saucepan over high heat. Fill a medium bowl with ice water and set aside. Cut the tips off the asparagus spears and reserve the spears for another use. Add the asparagus tips and 2 teaspoons salt to the water, and cook until the asparagus tips are bright green and tender, 1½ to 2½ minutes. Drain the asparagus and immediately transfer them to the ice water to stop the cooking. Drain them again, dry them with a kitchen towel, and set aside.
  2. Infuse the stock: Bring the stock, lemon zest, bay leaf, and cardamom or cloves to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Cover the pan and set it aside off the heat to infuse for 30 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard the zest, bay leaf, and cloves if you used them.
  3. Cook the rice: Return the pan to medium-high heat and bring to a strong simmer. Add the rice, adjust the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the rice is cooked through and tender, about 18 minutes.
  4. Finish the soup: Whisk the eggs, yolks, and lemon juice in a medium heatproof bowl to blend. Whisking constantly, slowly ladle about 2 cups of the hot broth into the egg mixture. Continue whisking until the egg-and-broth mixture is uniform, then pour it into the pot with the rest of the broth. Cook, stirring constantly, until the soup thickens slightly and wisps of steam appear, about 5 minutes (do not allow the soup to simmer or boil). Add the asparagus tips, 2 teaspoons salt, and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, to heat the asparagus through, about 1 minute longer.
  5. Serve the soup: Taste and adjust the seasoning with additional salt and pepper, if necessary, and serve immediately, garnished with lemon slices.

Note

Because of the egg, avgolemono thickens a lot as it cools, and can be tricky to reheat. If you have leftovers that you want to warm up, use super-low heat so you don’t curdle the egg, and gently whisk in a little extra stock to loosen the consistency if you need to.