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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Comforting, Olive-oil-fried Potatoes, and Eggs

Slightly soggy, not particularly crunchy olive-oil-fried potatoes, accompanied by an olive-oil-fried egg, or just yogurt, or a piece of tangy feta, was the ultimate comfort dinner for my sister and me.

 

Many older Greeks share the experience; I guess now pizza –ordered out or microwaved– has replaced our beloved tiganites patates (fried potatoes) which need dedicated mothers to peel, cut, and fry the potatoes from scratch, since the frozen kind was never an option…

 

Shallow frying any kind of vegetables, meatballs, or fish in olive oil is the tradition for home cooks around the Mediterranean. My mother was re-using the frying olive oil 2-3 times, passing it through a fine sieve after frying the potatoes. She was keeping it in a separate bottle, to have it handy for the next time she had to fry potatoes, zucchini or meatballs. Of course, after frying meatballs or fish the oil had to be discarded. My mother sometimes added pieces of dried bread or leftover rice to soak up this frying oil and feed the semi-stray cats that roamed around our vast garden in the outskirts of the city, where I grew up.

I was very pleasantly surprised when I found this humble childhood comfort food served at the prestigious Paco Meralgo tapas restaurant in Barcelona. Called “ous de pages ferrats” (meaning ‘fried farm eggs’ in Catalan) the dish was exactly like our favorite childhood dinner; only it had two, instead of just one eggs with the fried potatoes. My friend, the renowned chef and humanitarian José Andrés has demonstrated on US television his special technique for frying each egg in olive oil so that the white is cooked and firm, but the yolk stays wonderfully soft and runny.

 

Apparently, Catalans as all Spaniards share our affinity for olive-oil-fried eggs, as it is obvious from the famous ‘Old Woman Frying Eggs,’ Diego Velázquez’ early 17th c. painting. Like the old lady in the painting, Stelios Trilyrakis at his Dounias tavern, fries his incredible potatoes in a clay pot over live fire. No wonder people from all over the world brave the long, winding, and often harrowing road to drive to the village Drakona, high in the mountains of western Crete, not just for the potatoes but for all the delicious age-old traditional dishes Stelios prepares.

 

Fried potatoes are always my favorite comfort food, and when, ten years ago, my dear friend, the famous chef and author Deborah Madison asked me to send her my favorite recipe for her book ‘What we Eat when we Eat Alone,’ I described my beloved olive-oil-fried potatoes which I often accompany with a simple sauce of yogurt with some spicy Dijon mustard these days; my deep-flavored fried eggs, usually from our neighbor’s hens, I prefer to enjoy with toasted slices of my home-made bread.

 

 

 

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Pizza Gialla: Peppery Cornbread with Cheese from Southern Italy

This ‘yellow pizza’, as its name implies, is a savory, rich and gluten-free cake that is often added to vegetable and greens’ soups in the Italian south.

From my Mediterranean Hot and Spicy

 

Corn-Pizza-Gialla-430

 

Unlike American cornbread here the cornmeal cooks in milk until almost as thick as polenta, and then it is mixed with cheese, eggs and hot peppers. The hearty cornbread is delicious on its own, but I also like to serve it along grilled vegetables. Dice any leftover bread, dry it in a low oven and keep in an air-tight bag to add to vegetable or bean soups, as Italians do, or mix with yogurt for a hearty breakfast.

 

Serves 6-8  (more…)

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