Chicken Soup Avgolemono

Egg-and-lemon-thickened chicken soup is the iconic, typically Greek variation on a much-loved, comforting, winter soup.

It is the traditional one-pot Christmas dish on Rhodes and other Dodecanese islands. Christmas in the Greek islands is not the big feast celebrated in the United States or northern Europe: Easter and the Virgin Mary’s Assumption (August 15) are the important island festivals.

 

The addition of ginger and a piece of lemon peel is my twist on the basic recipe I got from my mother. I think their flavor and aroma deepens the broth’s taste. I prefer making the soup lighter, with vermicelli instead of rice, or even plain — just the broth and pieces of chicken. In that case you may want to add one more egg if you want to make it thicker, creamier.

Sometimes instead of chicken meat,  meatballs such as the Scallion Meatballs,  are cooked in a chicken or meat avgolemono  soup.  

 

 

Until the late 1960s, chicken was considered a great delicacy on the islands. It was the most expensive of all meats and, except for important feasts, it was usually reserved for children and the sick as the lighter of all meats.  The free-range chickens or capons of Greece need a long time to cook, and even then, their flesh can sometimes be tough and stringy. But they make the most delicious soup or youvetsi.

Instead of chicken you can make the soup with de-fatted broth from beef bones or make an exquisite fish soup (psarosoupa) boiling down fish heads, bones, and small fish. I try to always have various homemade stocks in my freezer so that I can make not just soups, but flavor risotto and all kinds of sauces.  

 

 

 Makes 6 to 8 servings as a first course, 4 to 6 as a main course 

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PASPALAS: The Rustic Pork Confit of Kea

Like many foods we grew up with and take for granted, I have somehow overlooked until now the humble fried bits of pork used on Kea as general flavoring for eggs, greens, and any vegetable or bean dish.

 

Kean women prepare it each winter with leftover scraps of pork and fat, after the traditional slaughtering and butchering of the family pig. In the old days, the bits were heavily salted so that they wouldn’t spoil as they were stored in clay jars to be used much like Maggi cubes –a common European food flavoring– throughout the year. Costas calls paspalasthe Kea bacon,’ but unlike bacon it is not smoked and it is already fried when you use it to flavor eggs and other dishes.

 

Read about Pig Slaughtering on Kea as I had described it at the Atlantic.  

 

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The importance of this rustic flavoring became apparent when I prepared it in the kitchen of Zaytinya—Jose Andres’ Greek and Middle Eastern restaurant, in Washington DC. During my annual January visit, a few years back, we were trying traditional winter dishes from Kea and other Cycladic islands for a pork and xinomavro wine feast, and Chef Michael Costa was immediately taken by paspalas’ intense and versatile flavor. We made several batches, using pieces of locally grown pork that the chef and his sous-chefs butchered in the kitchen. Besides the Kean scrambled eggs–also called ‘paspalas’ –we filled jars with the pork confit for future use. Bonnie Benwick, the former food editor of Washington Post got enamored with it, as well as with the eponymous scrambled eggs from Kea, and  made the dish famous in her column!

 

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A Festive Winter Lunch

Since we do not celebrate Thanksgiving in our part of the world, and all over Europe, turkey, duck, occasionally goose, and on Kea usually rooster, is the central dish we serve for Christmas.  

 

 

I, too, cook poultry for our friends and us, and instead of potatoes I roast pieces of quince, carrots and maybe some yams and/or mushrooms. A very satisfying baked polenta –from David Tanis’ brilliant recipe— will accompany the bird, and I will probably begin with a salad of roasted butternut squash with a tangy tahini-garlic-lemon sauce, and/or braised red and white cabbage with cranberries. 

 

 

Preparing and Roasting the Bird: I start at least two days before the feast. I get the bird well in advance, as in most cases it has to be ordered since I like to get local meats and avoid the frozen turkeys. I ask my butcher to spatchcock the turkey or rooster I plan to roast. The technique looks much easier than it actually is, especially if you deal with a big bird and you have not particularly strong hands, as is my case. I reserve the backbone to boil along with the neck and the gizzards, to make the stock that I will use for basting and for the vegetables in the pan. 

I rub the bird inside-out with plenty of sea salt and a fair amount of coarsely ground black pepper, along with dried oregano, cumin, allspice, and ground coriander seeds.  Don’t be stringy, use at least 1/2 cup of this spice mix, or of my aromatic Aegean Herb & Spice Mix. Place the bird cut-side up in a pan lined with kitchen towels, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The next day turn the bird upside down on the pan, usually adding more spices, and store in the refrigerator again until the day you plan to roast it. On that day you need to take it out of the fridge 3-4 hours before you put it in the oven to bring it to room temperature. (more…)

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My Pasticcio

Greek pasticcio (or pastitsio) is a béchamel-topped dish of macaroni mixed with ground meat cooked with onions in a cinnamon-scented tomato sauce, then mixed with cheese, and béchamel. I often use up leftover meat or poultry instead of ground meat for my  pasticcio.  The dishes’ name is Italian (it literally means “a mess”) but pasticcio as such does not exist in Italy, though its roots are in the elaborate timbales, the pastry-enrobed meat-pasta-vegetable pies prepared for special occasions.

 

Read about its origins and get the recipe for the old Pastry-enrobed version.

 

 

Makes 6-8 servings  (more…)

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Braised Chicken with Quince

On Chios, quinces are paired with free-range chicken; on Crete, with lamb; and on Lesbos, with veal. With quince from our trees on Kea I make a stew with the  delicious local veal shank, but I also cook pork with quince. I give any meat extra flavor by tying the cores of the fruit in cheesecloth and adding them to the cooking broth. This recipe is a somewhat faster version variation of my Veal Stew with Quince.

 

 

Serves 6 (more…)

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