Greek Lemon Chicken Soup, or Avgolemono if you are Greek, is the perfect comfort food. Whether you are Greek or not, there is something so therapeutic and nourishing about an egg-lemon sauce tempered into homemade chicken broth, shredded chicken, rice or orzo pasta, diced carrots, and fresh dill. This is nature’s pharmacy in a bowl when the weather turns cold, and the body needs a little extra nourishment.
I apologize. Undoubtedly, I don’t deserve the right to post a recipe I can’t, for the life of me, remember how to pronounce unless I am looking right at it. Obviously, I am not Greek, but I LOVE to travel the world with my tastebuds. Avgolemono (Ah-vgo-le-mono), as the Greeks pronounce it, is one of my favorite soups and one that is requested weekly in our home.
My daughter asked me the other day what my favorite soup is. Unfortunately, those answers are never easy for me because I wouldn’t say I like having to choose when I love so many things. But if I had to choose a favorite soup, I told her it depends on the season. Technically, you could eat this soup year-round because it is light yet hardy. But Greek Lemon Chicken soup is my favorite soup in the spring when the weather is trying to decide between winter and summer. I love Pumpkin & Butternut soup in the fall, Heirloom Roasted Tomato in the summer, and Potato, Sausage, and Kale in the winter. A rustic, artisan loaf of bread like my No Knead Lemon, Garlic, & Rosemary Bread and a warm bowl of homemade soup are simply some of my favorite things, no matter what time of year.
Preparing the Broth
The base of this recipe is a homemade chicken broth prepared using a whole chicken, filtered water, onion, carrots, garlic, celery, peppercorns, salt, turmeric, and a bay leaf. Please don’t be intimidated by making your own chicken broth. Fortunately, preparing a homemade chicken broth only takes a few minutes of hands-on time, even though it technically takes about two hours. Most of it is “Hidden” time, as my friend Lia Huber from The Nourish Evolution always says. Hidden time is a hands-off time when you are free to work on other things while you wait—active waiting. Preparing broth from scratch only requires 5-10 minutes of hands-on time. The stove will do the rest.
Start with an organic, free-range chicken and cover it with enough filtered water to cover your bird (about 4 quarts). Add a quartered onion, two carrot and celery stalks cut in half, four cloves of garlic, smashed bay leaf, salt, and peppercorns. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat and skim off any foam as it rises to the surface before your broth reaches a boiling point. You don’t want the foam to reintegrate back into the broth, which will give it an off flavor or color. Additionally, after removing all the foam, add the turmeric. Add powdered spices after skimming so they don’t get skimmed off with the foam. Simmer for at least two hours, covered, until the meat falls off the bone. At this time, remove the chicken and separate the meat from the bones.
Save the Bones for Bone Broth
Ultimately, you can keep your bones and any veggie scraps you collect throughout the week in a freezer bag and store them in the freezer for later use. Chicken broth differs from bone broth because it is prepared using chicken meat on the bones. It only simmers for a few hours (like we are preparing in this recipe). Bone broth is usually simmered for about 24 hours using an acid medium like apple cider vinegar to extract the minerals from the bones. They can be used interchangeably, but they do taste different. Chicken broth is rich and flavorful. Bone broth is thinner and more nutrient-dense.
Alternative Boxed Broth 30 minute Version
In a pinch, if I want a quick 30-minute meal, I am not ashamed to pull some homemade broth from my freezer or use Kettle & Fire chicken or bone broth because they use natural grass-fed beef or organic pasture-raised chickens to prepare their broths. You will need to doctor it up a bit. But…if you have the time, make your broth from scratch. You will LOVE it!
The Key Players
Greek Lemon Chicken Soup is known for its beautiful, lemony color. As with any good recipe, your ingredients make the difference. For instance, free-range, organic eggs from chickens that have feasted on bugs and fresh grass will yield dark yolks that will contribute to the beautiful yellow color of this soup. Fresh dill tastes fantastic and adds a beautiful bright green contrast, but dried will taste good in a pinch. Arborio rice is starchy rice that thickens the soup naturally, but if you prefer orzo pasta, it has a beautiful creamy texture. You can’t go wrong with this soup unless you don’t make it.
- For the broth:
- 1 whole, organic, free-range chicken
- 2 large carrots, cut in half
- 2 stalks celery, cut in half
- 1 large yellow onion, quarterd
- 4 garlic cloves, smashed
- About 4 quarts filtered water (enough to make sure the bird is fully submerged)
- 1 tsp. ground turmeric or 1 inch knob of fresh
- 1 bay leaf
- 10 peppercorns
- 1 T sea salt
- For the Soup:
- 1 cup Arborio rice or Orzo pasta
- 1 cup chopped fresh carrot (not the carrot from your broth)
- reserved shredded chicken (from the whole chicken you used in the above broth)
- 1 T fresh, chopped dill or 1 tsp. dried dill
- For the Avgolemono Sauce:
- 8 free-range, organic eggs
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- salt and pepper to taste
- To prepare the broth:
- In a large soup pot or dutch oven, add a whole chicken, filtered water, carrots (not the chopped carrots you will add with the chicken and rice later), celery, onion, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaf, and 1 Tablespoon sea salt.
- Bring to a rolling simmer on medium heat and skim off the foam as it rises to the top.
- After the broth has been skimmed, add the turmeric. You want to add any powdered spices after you skim so that they don't get removed in the process.
- Turn down the heat and cover for 2 hours until meat is fall-off-the-bone tender.
- Remove the chicken carcass from the broth and allow to cool before separating the meat from the bones.
- Filter the broth through a strainer and then add back into the pot.
- For the soup:
- Bring broth to a boil and add the rice or orzo, reserved chicken, and chopped fresh carrot.
- Lower the temperature to a rolling simmer and cook rice or orzo according to package times. I believe it is 15 minutes for rice and 8 minutes for orzo.
- While the grains are cooking, prepare your Avgolemono sauce:
- Whisk 8 eggs in a large bowl
- Fresh squeeze 1/2 cup lemon juice and add to the eggs.
- Temper the sauce with hot broth from the soup, one ladle at a time, until the sauce bowl is hot to the touch.
- Pour tempered sauce into the soup and simmer an additional 5 minutes.
- Add fresh or dried dill and any additonal salt & pepper to taste.
- Serve in pretty bowls and EnJOY!
- P.S. Sourdough bread dipped in this soup is simply divine.
Putting It All Together
As with anything you do for the first time, you need to find your rhythm. Once you do, pulling this soup together in a matter of a few hours will be a breeze. As I said, most of the time is not hands-on. Technically, with only 5-10 minutes of prep work, the rest is just waiting for the broth with a few additional steps. Just enough time to nap, read a few chapters in your book, do a few loads of laundry, or catch up on those thank-you notes on your to-do list for a few months.
Once you have your broth and chicken, the rest is smooth sailing. Just remember, it is important to strain the broth through a gravy separator to remove the fat and a strainer to remove any floating bits so the broth is clear. After the broth has been filtered, add it back to the soup pot and add the reserved chicken meat, rice or orzo, and diced carrots. Simmer on medium until rice or orzo are al dente (about 15 minutes for rice and 8 minutes for orzo)—flavor with a bit of salt and pepper to taste. While the rice or orzo is cooking, prepare your Avgolemono sauce.
Preparing the Egg-Lemon Sauce (Avgolemono Sauce)
Whisk eight eggs together and then add 1/2 cup of fresh-squeezed lemon juice. I like my soup lemony, but lemons can vary in their tartness, depending on which kind of lemons you use. I prefer regular lemons when I am looking for a tart lemon flavor. Meyer lemons are sweeter and have less of a pucker factor. I save those for lemon meringue pie or Preserved Lemons. You can always add more lemon flavor after adding the sauce if it is not lemony enough, but you can’t remove it, so this will involve your personal taste. Please don’t use bottled lemon juice. That is only good for cleaning. Use the real deal when adding lemon to a recipe. Just say’n.
Temper the Avgolemono Sauce
Don’t skip this step! Tempering eggs is crucial to the texture of this soup and the difference between a silky, lemony sauce and a soggy scrambled egg soup. Yuck! Tempering is easy peasy, too. After you whisk the eggs and lemon juice, spoon some hot broth into the sauce and stir; keep scooping until the sauce bowl is almost hot to the touch. Then, you will know that the eggs are tempered to the temperature of the soup and will not curdle. When the temperatures are synched, add the sauce to the soup and simmer for another 5 minutes to incorporate. Add fresh dill and serve in pretty bowls. Serve with crusty sourdough bread smothered in butter and prepare to be delighted and fully nourished.
P.S. Thank you, Meme, for the special time we shared over a bowl of Greek Avgolemono Soup. Your beautiful blue bowls show off this lemony yellow soup brilliantly. You are a special treasure to me. I love you.
P.P.S. I have said Avgolemono so many times while writing this post that I’ve got it now. I am fully qualified now to create this post:)