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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