Saturday, December 8, 2007

Youvarlakia Avgolemono: Greek Soup of Lemon Broth and Meatballs

After nine months of living with a Greek (and I mean real Greek, not 3d generation Greek-American), I never got tired about hearing about (and eating leftovers of) Greek foods. Everything---from the creamy and crunchy tyropitakia to the balanced and rich moussaka---appealed to me. On several occasions, she taught me how to make a couple Greek staples, like the spanakopita and stuffed peppers. All my encounters with Greek food were reminders of exactly what I adore so much about the cuisines of the Mediterranean---they focus on creating dishes that are simple, fresh, and delicious. Greek cuisine emphasizes enhancing the true flavor of the key player being prepared, as opposed to drowning it in some heavy or over-spiced sauce. This culinary philosophy speaks volumes to me. Those who really know me know that this is a deep reflection of my (at least attempted) appreciation for the more simple things in life.

One of my favorite DC Restaurants, Zaytinya, which serves mostly Greek and Turkish cuisine has really mastered this art, and I think it's because they don't try to do too much with everything. Don't get me wrong. I love Bobby Flay's jaw-dropping flavor combinations as much as the next guy, but its not always the approach I take in my own cooking endeavors.

Now that we don't live together, I try to keep in mind so many of the premises of Greek cuisine which she so graciously passed down to me. With the awful weather and an approaching week filled with assignment deadlines and final exams, I figured some Youvarlakia Avgolemono, a meatball soup in a lemon broth, was just what I needed.

Youvarlakia Avgolemono
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse

1 small onion, grated
3 tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 1/2 pound ground beef
2 3/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon plus a pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cooked rice (original recipe called for white, but I used brown)

4 cups water
4 cups broth (original recipe called for chicken, but I used vegetable)
6 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 eggs

In a mixing bowl combine the beef, rice, 2 eggs, onion, 3 tablespoons of the parsley, salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper and mix well. Using your hands, shape into balls. Add water and broth to a large saucepan or Dutch oven and add 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a low boil, then add the meatballs, one by one, and simmer until the meat is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the meatballs from the cooking liquid and set aside, covered, to keep warm. Strain the cooking liquid and return the cooking liquid to the saucepan and keep warm over low heat.

In a small bowl whisk the eggs until smooth. Add the lemon juice and whisk to combine. Slowly add 1 cup of the hot liquid to the egg-lemon mixture, whisking to combine. Slowly whisk this mixture into the remaining hot liquid in the saucepan; do not allow to boil or the sauce will curdle. Cook, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. (The liquid will still be brothy.) Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a pinch of black pepper, return the meatballs to the broth, and serve immediately, in shallow soup bowls, garnished with the remaining parsley.

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