Egg-lemon soup

Oh, hello, cold and flu season.  I was wondering when you might show up.

My coworker has a hellacious sniffle.  Several of my friends are feverish.  The woman standing next to me on the train this morning kept wiping her nose with her hand and then grabbing hold of the handrail.  So when I caught myself feeling a little woozy at work and desperate for sleep, I knew exactly what I needed to do.

Bring on the soup!

There’s no use denying it.  Even as a grown-ass woman, when I get a cold I start whining for my mommy.  When I was a kid, being sick was the only way to get pampered in our household.  In every other circumstance we were expected to buck up and handle ourselves; but when the sniffles or the stomach flu came knocking, my parents were more than happy to wait on us hand and foot.  (And they had an unfailing ability to figure out when we were faking.)

My mother had two methods for feeding sick kids.  If she was up for some serious pampering, she would make chicken stock from scratch and float as many matzo balls as we wanted in it.  If she just wanted us hydrated and quiet, she would heat up some boxed broth, toss in a handful of rice, and call it a day.  Matzo ball soup was a full meal, but required a full afternoon’s work; broth and rice was easy, but it never made me feel like I’d actually eaten anything.

Now that I’m (supposedly) an independent adult human, I have to make my own damn soup when I’m sick.  And more often than not, I find myself splitting the difference between homemade and lazy.  My go-to balm is avgolemono, the Greek egg-lemon soup.  The ingredients–broth, eggs, lemon, maybe some rice or pasta–are always hanging around in the kitchen.  It takes marginally more effort to put together than, say, a cup of ramen–but not by much.  And the result is a thick, velveteen-textured soup with a bright lemon ping, great for warming cold bodies and flushing out ills.

There is one small element of technique involved here: you have to temper the eggs.  It’s the same process involved in making custard, and it sounds a lot scarier than it actually is.  If you drop the beaten eggs directly into the hot broth, they’ll scramble; if you whisk them with about a cup of hot liquid, then stir them into the soup, they’ll stay full and frothy and give the soup its royal-robe texture.  In essence, it’s the difference between avgolemono and egg drop soup (which is delicious, but another show).  Total extra effort, in this case: about 30 seconds.

I’ve knocked at least two colds clean out by sucking down a quart of this soup and then sleeping for twelve hours.  The one-two wallop of protein and citrus is a powerful restorative, at least for me.  I can’t promise your results will be the same, but I highly recommend trying.  And if you skip the rice or pasta, this soup is perfect for ladling into mugs and sipping in front of the newspaper or TV.  It’s terrific stuff.

Avgolemono (Egg-Lemon Soup) (serves 2-4 healthy people, or one very hungry sick person)

4 cups (1 quart or 32 oz) chicken or vegetable broth

1/4 cup orzo or rice (optional)

2 eggs

2 tbsp lemon juice (about one medium lemon’s worth)

Salt and pepper to taste

In a small saucepan, bring the broth to a boil.  If using orzo or rice, add to the broth and simmer until cooked.  Turn off the heat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and lemon juice.  Ladle off about 1 cup of hot broth from the pot, and whisk it a drizzle at a time into the egg mixture, until the mixture is pale yellow, foamy and warm to the touch.  Stir the egg mixture back into the broth, and add salt and pepper to taste.  (If you end up with a few strands of scrambled egg in your soup, it’s not the end of the world.)  Ladle into bowls or mugs, and enjoy.  I’m partial to a blanket and some bad television, but garnish however you like.

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