Soups are a really versatile food. Take a protein, add a veggie, add a liquid, and there you have it: soup.
Beef stew is a great way to turn a cheap cut of beef into a very satisfying meal. Chicken soup can turn one chicken into a balanced dinner for four, and warm you to your bones on a cold winter’s day. A good seafood chowder is like a vacation to the shore, but without the traffic and sunburns.
All of these soups, while they are great food, are complex.
Avgolemono, a Greek soup, is a perfect light lunch or appetizer. This version uses four ingredients and can be made in under half an hour, including cleanup (if you use pasta- rice takes longer).
Avgolemono should be smooth, silky, with bold flavours and no distractions. You’ll taste the chicken, the egg, the lemon, and the pasta- there is nothing else to draw attention from the simple elegance of the soup.
- 4 cups of chicken broth
- 1/4 cup small pasta such as orzo or pastina- or substitute rice
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 3 eggs
- Heat the broth to boiling.
- Add the pasta (or rice) and cook until al dente- the pasta package will tell you how long to cook it.
- While the pasta is boiling, beat together the eggs and lemon juice, and set aside in a bowl of at least one quart.
- When the pasta is cooked to al dente, turn the heat down to simmer and scoop out half a cup of hot broth. Add the broth gradually to the egg mixture, whisking the whole time. This is called tempering the eggs.
- Keep adding broth to the egg mixture until more than half the broth has been added, then whisk the tempered egg mixture back into the pan with the rest of the broth.
- Heat until thickened, usually not more than two minutes.
Serves two as a light lunch or four as an appetizer.
Tzatziki (t-ZA-zee-kee) is a Greek sauce, usually served with grilled meat. If you enjoyed gyros, you’ll find this cool, crisp flavour to be a perfect accompaniment. It complements grilled lamb nicely as well.
The sauce is based on yogurt, with cucumber and spices. Americans often add dill or mint (either of which I enjoy) while Greeks and purists would more likely stick with the basic recipe. I’ll show you the basic recipe and a few add-ons.
Most American supermarkets have Greek-style plain yogurt available these days. If you can’t find Greek style yogurt, buy plain yogurt and thicken it as shown in the picture, and the next paragraph.
The secret to unsoupy tzatziki is to drain the watery ingredients. Set up a funnel, lined with a coffee filter. The funnel should be in a jar such as a mason jar, to catch the draining liquid. This draining funnel will be used to extract excess whey from the yogurt and excess water from the cucumbers. A picture is worth a thousand words…
This dish is most easily made in a food processor. If you don’t have a food processor or just hate to clean it after using it, you can finely mince the garlic and cucumbers and simply mix them in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients.
- 16 oz plain Greek yogurt (or plain plain yogurt, drained as described above)
- two cucumbers, peeled and seeded
- two tablespoon of lemon juice, preferably fresh-squeezed
- two tablespoons olive oil
- two teaspoons of minced garlic (or four cloves, smashed in a garlic press)
- salt and pepper to taste (usually 1/2 tsp of each or less)
- 1 TB fresh dill, chopped
- 1 TB fresh mint, chopped
- If you have Greek style plain yogurt, skip this step. If you have the standard plain yogurt (I know, I keep harping on plain, but I wake up sweating with the thought of somebody making tzatziki with strawberry yogurt), drain the yogurt for at least two hours to firm it up.
- After the yogurt has drained, remove it to your mixing bowl and put a new coffee filter in the funnel.
- Add the peeled, seeded cucumbers food processor. Pulse until the cucumbers are quite finely diced but not mushy; the pieces should be between the size of a grain of rice and of a kernel of corn when you’re done.
- Drain the cucumbers for fifteen minutes.
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix well.
- Chill for at least one hour, and serve with veggies, pita bread, and/or grilled meat. If you’re using dill or mint, a sprinkle of the spice across the surface of the dish is attractive and warns tzatziki purists of the flavour before they sample the sauce.