Lemony Chicken Rice Soup, Avgolemono
Avgolemono soup is a simple, gluten-free Greek soup of lemon, egg, chicken and rice. Supreme comfort food! Avgolemono is even better after it has had time to sit and gain body, creaminess, from the rice. Make it early in the day, or a day in advance, and reheat it carefully over medium low heat.
The Abood law firm on Allegan Street in downtown Lansing was situated directly behind one of the city’s favorite restaurants. Jim’s Tiffany was golden yellow on the outside, and inside bedecked with stained glass Tiffany-style chandeliers over every table.
Mom would get us all cleaned up and well dressed (our mid-70s finery: jumpers, gauchos, or the little matching suits my sister and I wore that made everyone think we were twins). We would meet Dad at the law office and march across the back parking lot into Jim’s through the kitchen door. The whole family, seven of us, single file. This first exposure to a restaurant kitchen was as exciting to me as the delicacies I was about to eat off of the Greek menu in the dining room just beyond. It was a clanging place, a towering mass of stainless steel and heat and mouthwatering scents.
Emerging from the kitchen, we had our table. The big round table toward the back of the restaurant. My little thrill was being handed a full-sized adult menu, and the familiarity of the Greek food, not so far from the Lebanese we ate at home. Still, my parents ordered for everyone, roasted chicken and lamb. I always kept my fingers crossed that a table nearby (because it wasn’t going to be at our table; no idea why) would order the saganaki so we could watch the melty cheese go up in flames and shout out “OPA!” with them.
It didn’t matter to me what was going to show up on our table for dinner; I cared only about my cup of creamy, lemony chicken rice soup, avgolemono. It strikes me now how similar that looked to my favorite repeat meal of chicken fricassee at Bill Knapp’s. The soup went down easy (except for the one time it was burned), and between that and the rice pudding (I see a theme here), I reached my childhood version of nirvana.
Jim’s was iconic in town and in the family. I imagine plenty of hands were shaken and deals made over dinner there among the business and political crowd (Lansing is our capital city, but you knew that). Jim’s was also the favorite, second only to Jacobson’s, of the ladies who lunched, even though they weren’t your typical ladies who lunch. They were my mom and Aunt Hilda and Aunt Louise (who is not my actual aunt and who is now…my mother in law).
Did they talk about all of the children, their husbands, their recipes, their hearts’ desires? Order the lemony chicken soup? They were in the midst of one of those lunches when Dad walked in one snowy winter day, put his hands on Louise’s shoulders and told her to come with him. I imagine they walked out the back, through the kitchen, and when they got to the other side Dad told her that her husband had collapsed playing racket ball, and couldn’t be revived. No doubt Jim’s has played its role in her difficult thoughts of that day, perhaps as a comfort imagining those peaceful moments there before her life was to change forever.
Our Jim’s. Our memories, sweet and bitter. All of this in my bowl of soup, a recipe that’s been on my mind for years and years and still more years. I tried three different ways to make it for you, the trickiness being in the eggs—they make the soup creamy and rich—combined with the hot stock: you don’t want scrambled eggs. You want soup, a soup that is just like you remembered, but perhaps even better now for all of the memories its steamy aroma and flavor so generously give.
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 2 cups cooked white rice
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 egg yolks
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Sumac, for finishing
- In a medium saucepan, heat the stock to boiling and reduce to a simmer.
- In a blender, puree 1 cup of the hot stock, ½ cup of the cooked rice, and lemon juice. Add the egg yolks and puree again.
- Add the remaining cooked rice to the simmering stock, then add the egg mixture about ½ cup at a time, stirring to combine after each addition. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Simmer until the mixture is slightly thickened.
- Serve the soup in warmed bowls with a pinch of sumac on top of each one.
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Thanks Maureen, this recipe sounds delicious. Will be making it soon. I love the way you add a little story to the recipe….
Thanks for sharing
Thank you for the wonderful and moving family story. I grew up in Michigan – Detroit and Berkley – enjoying your references to places in my home state.
thank you, what a wonderful story, I have one of an Italian restaurant in Tampa Fla where you had to go through the kitchen to get to the bathroom. What wonderful things came out of that kitchen.
Maureen, tears of joyful childhood recollections, and tears of sorrow-memories, words, recipes all combine to give me a most poignant beginning to my day–by the way, how do you now address Louise, as “auntie” or “Mom”?!
Much love from snow covered Albuquerque-a foot of spring snow, still falling, and another front on the way in a few days-as a Los Angeles kid (where it was a golden summer 365 days a year), I never ever tire of living in the four seasons!
Thank you Diane, you California girl! You know, I still call her Aunt Louise…
and rightly so–our Aunties are always our dear Aunties!!
Like any good recipe or technique there are so many variations. But, it seems memory is always a key ingredient…
This looks like a delicious and easy version of my favourite chicken soup! I have a version too but it’s much more time intensive and some times, you need it ASAP. Lovely photos too!
This looks delicious! I love how food and stories always intertwine! There are so many stories that surround food! Thank you for sharing!!
This is one of my favorite soups, and so hard to find on a menu- it’s just so unusual and tasty. Thank you! I’ll be making this sometime this week.
As a 1/4 greek, this is one of my favorites … and a soup I’ve never been able to master at home. I cannot wait to try your version!
Beautiful post, Maureen. The photography is just beyond incredible. Stunning and professional xx
Yummy! This looks so good! I love how colorful everything looks in your pictures. Can’t wait to try this recipe!!
Loved your story, this soup and your photos!
I worked at Lieberman’s in the mid-seventies and well remember the wonderful smells coming from Jim’s as I left work for the day through the back door. I couldn’t afford Jim’s very often, but managed it a time or two – enough to become enchanted with the ritual and spectacle of their saganaki. I’ve learned to make a version of it myself and have passed the fun to the younger generation in my family, though we usually do it in the kitchen – a far cry from the beautiful golden ambience at Jim’s. Thanks for reminding me of those days!
Perfection. Tastes just like the soup I would regularly order at a small Greek restauant when I was a teen. I’ve been trying to recreate that special taste and consistency for years with some delicious results but never attained the goal I wanted. But this is it. This is the same soup that was served to me in that tiny little corner cafe where I took my lunch break every day. Thank you so much!
Maureen! I love this story. I only went to Jim’s Tiffany once, but what a magical place and from what I remember everything I tasted was amazing. BTW – This soup is one of my all time favourite things to eat, even though I think I only ever had it once from Pegasus in Greektown! Had the Saganaki too.
Lovely, one of my favorite Greek soups. Lebanese have a similar version “Shorbet Bayda” it is more white in color as the name suggests probably also due to the lack of egg and is finished with finely chopped fresh parsley. I remember my aunt’s husband who was Greek making this for us and my mom used to make her Shorbet Bayda, they always had a friendly argument over which was better. Now being an adult and liking them equally I make a lemony chicken soup with rice and beat a whole egg and carefully incorporate just before serving along with the parsley. Delicious!
I make a similar recipe but for a little healthier version, I substitute white quinoa (or brown rice) for the white rice. And I use a lot more lemons. I also use leftover roast chicken from Sam’s or Costco. My sister sometimes uses canned chicken. Both good!
Great idea Ginny, I’ll have to try this with brown rice. And I LOVE your idea of a roasted chicken from the market. Easy way to add tender chicken to any soup.
Maureen, THANK YOU for the memories of Jim’s!! I worked in the Abood Law Firm and maybe every couple of months would meet a girlfriend for lunch there. I can only imagine your dad escorting your family through the back door of the restaurant. I’m disappointed that Camille didn’t “show off” you cute kids when you were in his office (via the back door at the offices). We secretaries would have enjoyed meeting you young ones. I haven’t been back to Lansing in MANY YEARS…probably 20+. Jim’s probably is gone by now. If so, is there any other Lebanese restaurant there (or elsewhere in Michigan) that you could recommend? I will be making this soup soon!! THANKS for the stories!
Diane I love this so much! We did spend some time in the law offices but a little later as teens, summer jobs. Try Woody’s for casual great Lebanese and also Sultan’s and Zeitun, all in the Lansing area.