Soupe de la Semaine: Vegetarian (but not Vegan) Avgolemono

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Yakko digs Greek soup.

Yakko digs Greek soup.

One of the very first Greek dishes I can remember tasting (long before I ever visited Greece) was a deli-style version of this soup. This version recreates it fairly well (except for the chicken pieces), presuming my taste memory is accurate. The big plus here is that it can be made in a little more than half an hour, and requires practically no prep.

Avgolemono is the Greek compound word for “egg” and “lemon,” and doesn’t necessarily refer to the soup (an egg-lemon sauce that shares the name is used widely with pork, chicken, and grape leaf dishes). That said, avgolemono is often called the “national soup of Greece,” even though research seems to indicate that it likely originated in Portugal or Spain, quite probably among the Sephardic Jewish popuation. [It’s probable that they were also responsible for the original Tarta de Santiago, whose picture adorns the top of this blog.]

A couple of notes. I happen to like the version thickened with potato starch in the winter, when I’m serving it hot. In the summer, I tend to serve it chilled, and without the extra thickener. No need to be too fussy about any of the amounts here; the recipe is easily halved, and you can use less or more orzo or lemon depending on your taste. I recently added the lemon zest and white pepper to the mix, and I find they both give the soup a subtle boost. The beauty part about the orzo (as opposed to rice, which is used in some recipes) is not only that it’s a great way to use up excess cooked pasta if you have it, but since dry orzo only takes 7-9 minutes to rehydrate, you don’t have to cook it separately. If you have leftover cooked rice, you can easily substitute it for the orzo. [Dry rice will take 40 minutes or so to reconstitute.]

Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen named Orrington Farms’ Chicken Flavored Vegan Broth Base & Seasoning as the best commercial starter for vegetable broth, and the latter published a recipe for making your own base. The downside of most store-bought vegetable stocks is that they’re sodium bombs, and many of them just don’t taste very good. The lemon in this recipe does a decent job of masking their weaknesses, but the better a veggie broth you use for a starter, the better the finished product will turn out.

Former White House Communications Director and current ABC News commentator George Stephanopoulos makes a similar, if slightly more complicated, version if you want to watch an ordinary home cook in action.

Ingredients

8 cups / 1.8 litres vegetable stock
4 cups / 800g cooked orzo (or 2 cups / 400g dry)
6 eggs, whisked
2/3 cup / 160ml lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp. / 12g potato starch (optional)
2 sprigs of fresh dill, chopped (optional)
white pepper to taste (optional)

Tempering the eggs and lemon juice.

Tempering the eggs and lemon juice.

Preparation

1. Heat vegetable stock and chopped dill (if you’re using it) in large pot or Dutch oven, to just below boiling. Add dried or cooked orzo when stock is warmed. DO NOT allow this to come to a boil, or it will curdle when you add the egg and lemon mixture, below.

2. While stock is heating, whisk eggs and lemon juice in a separate bowl.

3. Temper egg-lemon mixture by drizzling in 2 cups / 500ml warm stock while whisking continuously. Transfer tempered egg-lemon mixture back to soup pot.

4. if thickening with potato starch, place 1 tbsp. / 12 g in the bowl in which you tempered the eggs. Gradually whisk in a ladle of liquid from soup pot until you have a slurry free of lumps. Transfer slurry to soup pot and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep orzo from sticking to the pot. Soup will thicken noticeably, enough to coat spoon.

5. Zest lemon over soup pot just before serving, and stir to incorporate. Whisk in white pepper to taste (if desired), and ladle soup into mugs or small bowls, making sure to get plenty of orzo. Garnish with dill if desired.

Santa Fe Sunrise

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The Bride and I, a couple of decades ago, opted for Santa Fe as our honeymoon destination. Practically nothing outside Guantánamo screamed “honeymoon” less to me than Santa Fe — going to the desert in the middle of summer seemed unpalatable in the extreme — but it’s always been a good policy for me to pay attention to The Bride’s desires (as evidenced by the fact that, decades later, she’s still The Bride). As it turned out, the greater Santa Fe area is gorgeous, and our day runs out to several of the Northern Pueblos were both charming and informative. [And when I think of it, Houston in the summer makes Guantánamo seem like Ibiza by comparison, so please disregard my previous knock on Santa Fe.]

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The cuisine was something of an eye-opener as well, from Cindy’s Santa Fe Bite-Size Bakery’s addictive chocolate pepper cookies to the local sparkling wine, Gruet. We were served a complimentary glass — one of the many perks of being on one’s honeymoon — and we drank it with some hesitancy at first. New Mexican sparkling wine? Seriously? Turns out that the Gruet family, which had been making sparkling wine in France since 1952, was on vacation in New Mexico in 1983, and decided to put down roots and make both sparkling and still wines south of Albuquerque. Quite frequently, we serve it to our friends, introducing it to newbies with the phrase, “How about some refreshing New Mexican sparkling wine,” just so we can see the look of shock and horror in their eyes. It never gets old. Really.

But I digress.

One day, as I was idly wandering the Interwebs, I came across a blog titled The Domestic Mama & The Village Cook, which featured a dish called “Idaho Sunrise,” which was apparently originally adapted from a recipe featured in Marion Cunningham’s The Supper Book. Basically, it’s a twice-baked potato with an egg on top, stuffed with mashed potato and bacon and chives.

As usual, I decided to tinker with the recipe to suit my palate, and came up with something I like to call the “Santa Fe Sunrise.”

Santa Fe Sunrise

Santa Fe Sunrise

SANTA FE SUNRISE (makes 4)
Ingredients
4 previously baked potatoes
4 tbs butter or sour cream or butter-like substitute
1 can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce OR 1 can diced green chiles
4 oz. grated cheese (pepper jack, cheddar, whatever you have around)
salt, pepper
4 medium eggs
scallions, cheese, chopped tomato (or tomatillo) for garnish
dash hot sauce

Bake the potatoes the way you normally would. Then, slice off the top (see picture) and scoop out as much of the interior as you can while allowing the potato shell to hold its structural integrity (I usually leave about a 1/4-inch “wall” in the interior). Mash together the potato innards, sour cream/butter, adobo sauce OR diced green chiles, grated cheese, and salt/pepper to taste. Refill the potatoes with the mixture, leaving a well deep enough to allow for the egg. [One quick note: the adobo sauce is plenty hot even without the chipotle peppers, which you can reserve for another purpose, and one would be wise to mix in only a little of the sauce at a time, tasting along the way to ensure it doesn’t completely immolate your tongue… unless that’s what you like.] Crack an egg into the well, and place potato back into a preheated 375°F/190°C oven for 17-25 minutes or until eggs are just set (you can tell, because the whites are just barely white, maybe even a little translucent still). Garnish with scallions or chives, cheese , chopped tomato or tomatillo, and a dash of hot sauce, if desired. [I prefer Tapatío hot sauce myself, but Tabasco works just fine, if somewhat inauthentic to the Southwest vibe.]

The excellent aspect of this recipe is that it’s as easily adapted to vegans’ diets (you can sub either a vegan spread or almond milk or vegetable broth for the sour cream/butter and omit the cheese), as carnivores’ (fry up some bacon to a crispy crunch and crumble it into the potato stuffing).

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And no matter how you make it, the Santa Fe Sunrise goes great with a glass or two — or a bottle or two — of the Gruet Brut Rosé… just to keep the New Mexico theme intact, of course.