I am sure you enjoy a steamy chicken soup on cold winter days but maybe, just maybe, it is the same boring taste, more or less, every single time. It’s time for a change, a new recipe, a new flavor approach to that glorious soup. I've got the right recipe for you: Greek lemon chicken soup with orzo is the cream of the Mediterranean crop. So, why wait?
Imagine a creamy and luscious thick soup made with chicken broth (the real thing) and flavored with veggies. The gracious simplicity of chicken soup but the Greek way: with avgolemono meaning a sauce with egg (=avgo in Greek) + lemon that makes the absolute steamy, comfort-soothing, unexpectedly fulfilling soup. This soup is deeply rooted in Greek cuisine and has been enjoyed for generations.
Why you will love Greek chicken soup
Greek lemon chicken soup with orzo and egg-lemon sauce (avgolemono), is an iconic dish in Greek culture. Chicken and orzo are quite common ingredients but what makes this dish special is the egg-lemon sauce. Avgolemono is an emulsion based on the process of mixing ingredients that aren’t supposed to stay mixed. Egg and lemon sauce may sound peculiar to some of you and I totally get it! Dairy and citrus are not traditionally mixed in most cuisines worldwide. Not the case for Greek cuisine though!
That being said, you are going to love avgolemono sauce for its:
The avgolemono sauce gives the soup a rich and creamy texture without the use of dairy. Kind of culinary miracle or food science! Skip the heavy cream in your soup. You won't need it!
The combination of lemon juice and zest in the avgolemono sauce provides a bright and zesty flavor that enhances the richness of the broth. It also adds a refreshing and tangy contrast to the savory chicken.
Greek lemon chicken soup is all about tender chicken pieces, rice or orzo, and vegetables like carrots and celery. These ingredients come together to create a well-balanced and hearty soup with varying textures and flavors.
Comforting and nourishing
Avgolemono soup is known for its comforting and nourishing qualities. It's often served when someone is feeling under the weather or in need of a comforting meal.
In Greece, it is not only the best remedy for cold but also a physical and emotional relief. The warmth soothes aches and pains, while the nutritious ingredients provide sustenance to weakened bodies. Moreover, the tangy lemon and creamy egg mixture is believed to have therapeutic qualities that can help alleviate symptoms of illness and provide an overall sense of well-being.
While chicken is a common protein used in this soup, it can also be made with other meats or as a vegetarian version, making it adaptable to various dietary preferences. I usually prefer chicken for this recipe but I couldn't praise more the delight of mushrooms as a vegetarian substitution in this recipe. To die for!
It is a surprise how this luscious and complex flavor soup can be so easy to prepare. Not to mention the easy-to-find ingredients. If you love the Mediterranean Greek way of eating, it is most likely to already have the ingredients in your fridge and pantry. Come on! Make that soup.
The combination of flavors and textures in Greek lemon chicken soup with avgolemono is soul-satisfying. It warms the heart and soothes the palate, making it the absolute, favorite comfort food.
Consequently, next time you wonder what to cook for dinner on a cold winter night, don’t hesitate to make avgolemono chicken soup and enjoy its unique benefits.
The history behind the recipe
There is always a historical background for Greek recipes or at least stories. You don't find food history interesting? No problem ... Jump to Recipe
It’s hard to find the roots of the magnificent culinary discovery of adding eggs and lemon to chicken broth. However, historians give credit to Sephardic Jewish cuisine with their “agristada” plate. It is believed that this dish and its specific cooking technique came to Greece with Jewish immigrants settled in Salonica, North Greece, in the 16th century.
Greek chicken soup with egg-lemon sauce embodies tradition, comfort, and nourishment for the Greek people. It has been cherished for generations, serving as a symbol of warmth and hospitality, especially during times of illness or adversity.
This dish is a reminder of family gatherings, celebrations, and the rich tapestry of Greek culinary heritage. It is part of the Greek Christmas table all over Greece and an all-time favorite for Sunday family lunch.
It's a testament to the enduring power of food to bring people together, soothe the soul, and provide both physical and emotional sustenance.
I have a question and I really want to find an answer. Why, on earth, do we need store-bought chicken stock or broth to make chicken soup? I mean, you cook chicken that is supposed to give you all the juices and ultimately its broth. Why choose rotisserie chicken or chicken breasts and add a highly processed ingredient? You know the one in cans with added sodium and probably ingredients you cannot even read.
Alternatively, I recommend cooking chicken from scratch and taking advantage of every part of it. You may easily even make chicken broth or stock and use it next time you choose rotisserie chicken or chicken breasts for soup. The one you made in a flash with your own pretty hands.
Whole Chicken: Using a whole chicken, preferably free range, which includes the breast, thighs, legs, and wings, can result in a well-rounded and flavorful chicken soup. Ask the butcher to cut it into pieces and make your life easier.
Chicken Thighs: Chicken thighs have more flavor and tenderness compared to breasts. They are commonly used in soups for a richer and juicier chicken flavor.
Chicken Drumsticks: Drumsticks are another option for those who prefer dark meat. They offer a juicy and flavorful addition to chicken soup.
After cooking, you can remove the meat from the bones. Enjoy the shredded meat in your soup and keep the bones (chicken carcass) to make broth or stock. See how below on the recipe card.
Plenty of veggies because we love their flavor, their nutrients and they make our soup luscious and colorful. I usually use onion, celery, and carrots but you can experiment with other vegetables too.
Egg and lemon for the avgolemono soup.
ORZO, RICE OR YOUR FAVORITE GRAIN
The traditional choice for Greek chicken soup is typically short-grain white rice. Short-grain rice has a slightly sticky texture when cooked, which helps thicken the soup and gives it a creamy consistency. The "sticky texture" is exactly the part where both my sons disagree. They used to hate this soup when they were young and I thought it was the taste. Nope. It was the sticky texture of the rice.
Experiment with your favorite grain and make the version of your favorite Greek lemon chicken soup.
How to make Greek chicken soup
Let’s jump into the secrets of the ultimate chicken soup and the easiest homemade chicken broth at the same time. Kill two birds with one stone post.
In a nutshell, you simmer the chicken along with some veggies, take out the skin, and bones, drain the broth, and simmer the grain you want in it. At the same time, you make chicken stock with the chicken parts you used to throw away. Easy!
PREPARE THE CHICKEN AND BROTH
Place the chicken in a big heavy-bottomed pot and pour in water. Add the veggies and simmer on medium-low heat.
Let it cool enough to take out the bones, the skin, and other parts of the chicken you don’t eat.
Don’t throw them away. You can easily make extra broth. This is an optional step but I would urge you to take it. It follows the Mediterranean zero-waste lifestyle/cooking and you are going to have homemade broth to make another delicious soup in no time.
Place all of the discarding bones, skin, giblets (if any), and cartilage in another smaller pot in another small pot with enough water to cover them. If you like, add vegetables like onions, carrots, celery, herbs, and seasonings (e.g., bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns) and season with salt and pepper.
Let your broth/stock cool enough and store it in freezer bags or food containers. Enjoy the fruits of your labor with this delicious homemade chicken broth/stock next time you want soup for dinner. I am telling you, ditch those chicken broth, stock cans for good...
PREPARE THE ORZO OR OTHER GRAIN
Drain the broth and make the orzo or any other grain of your preference. I read once a chicken soup recipe with rice cauliflower. Why not? Take whatever you want to eat and let it simmer in that glorified bath of chicken broth.
Follow the packaging instructions and make it the way you like it. For example, we like it "al dente", meaning firm and not too soft.
In case you need more liquid in your soup add some extra water but don't overdo it.
MAKE THE EGG-LEMON SAUCE
I will be honest here, as usual. Sometimes I am too busy but (often) I am too lazy to make the additional step of making avgolemono sauce. Which is ridiculous, quite frankly! I mean, it takes 5 minutes! But still... lazy as a sloth same days. Don't follow my example. I am a bad influencer lol. Seriously, you really have to make it, guys!
To make the egg-lemon sauce I use 1 egg for 2.2lbs (1 kg) of chicken. You may use more eggs if you want to make it super extra creamy but I believe it works nicely with just one egg. During my online research for this recipe, I've seen large quantities of eggs for making avgolemono sauce. I beg to differ and respectfully disagree: it isn't about the egg quantity but it is about making the magic with just one. In a few words, the cooking technique.
The secret to making a luscious, creamy Greek chicken soup is to whisk vigorously the egg white for at least 5 minutes. Clever, right? And so simple!
At the end, the egg white is still liquid but foamy, with some bubbles and the egg looks slightly opaque. Perfect. Now it’s time to incorporate the egg yolk and lemon. Add VERY slowly and gradually spoonfuls of hot broth to temper the egg. Why? Because if you add the hot broth into the cooler one (egg and lemon sauce), can you imagine what happens? Right!! The egg is going to boil and give a stiffening liquid scramble egg mass. Epic culinary disaster!!
Start with stirring tablespoons of broth and then increase the quantity while the sauce’s temperature rises. Add the sauce gradually and stir again. Simmer for 1-2 minutes MAX to let the sauce incorporate and take out all its flavor. Then remove from heat and serve immediately with chicken meat on the plate.
Garnish with dried oregano or thyme and I really enjoy my chicken lemon soup with red hot chili flakes.
Meal prepping this recipe
Of course! One more reason to love this soup.
Because you may prepare the chicken, keep the meat and veggies in a food container. Then store the broth in another airtight food container. When you are ready to serve, heat the broth, cook the orzo, and then prepare the egg-lemon sauce and incorporate it into the orzo. Done!
How to serve Greek chicken soup
Do you smell it? You do. Wait until you taste this masterpiece.
Now that your soup is ready, it stands exquisitely as a main dish for a cold winter day by the fireplace for double comfort, inside and outside. Don't forget that delicious homemade whole-wheat and pita bread you made, perhaps they are still warm.
A salad will complete the meal and it won't take time because either this politiki salad (traditional cabbage salad), this beetroot yogurt salad, or this black-eyed pea salad has already been waiting in the fridge since yesterday to amaze you.
We should not forget the wine, guys! Everything tastes even better with the right wine. A white Burgundy Chardonnay or a Greek Assyrtiko, is the perfect pairing for this dish.
How to serve leftovers
The following day the soup will be thicker because the orzo will have soaked up a lot of the soup liquid during storage in the refrigerator.
I don't find that to be a big problem as long as you proceed with a gentle heat.
Add tap water and turn the heat up to low on the stovetop. Stir regularly to prevent food from sticking to the bottom of the pot and add water to preferred consistency. It takes some time but it is even more delicious the following day.
I wouldn't though recommend keeping it for a second day because the orzo will be even more soggy.
How to store and freeze
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge and make sure to consume them the following day. The orzo gets soggy so you can't store it long enough.
I wouldn't also recommend freezing leftovers because the orzo will be soggy when thawed and I am not convinced that the egg will thaw adequately, to tell you the truth. Nevertheless, you may easily freeze the chicken broth along with some meat and veggies. Whenever ready, let everything thaw in the fridge the previous day. Then heat the homemade broth and pour in the orzo. It takes about 10 minutes to cook the orzo. A couple of minutes before removing the pot from the stovetop, stir in the meat and the veggies. That's it.
If you make my recipe, you have to let me know! I absolutely love your feedback. This is a huge motivation for me and it keeps 30daysofgreekfood’s kitchen alive. Bookmark this recipe and leave your rate and comment below, or take a photo with your Greek lemon chicken soup with orzo and tag me on Instagram with #30daysofgreekfood and Facebook with @30daysofgreekfood.
Greek lemon chicken soup with orzo
FOR THE SOUP
- 2.5-3lbs (1-1.3kg) whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces (drumsticks, thighs, wings, breasts)
- 16 cups (4 liters) tap water
- 3 carrots, peeled, whole or big chunks
- 1 big onion, cut into big chunks
- 3 celery stalks, cut into big chunks
- 1 ½ cup orzo (or other grain)*
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
FOR THE BROTH/STOCK (optional)
- Onion, carrot, celery, cut into chunks
- Herbs and seasonings bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns
- Salt, to taste (optional)
FOR THE EGG-LEMON SAUCE
- 1 egg, separated
- 4 tablespoons lemon juice (or more)
- Zest from half lemon (optional)
- Dried oregano or thyme
- Red hot chili pepper flakes
MAKE THE CHICKEN
- Place the chicken, onion, celery, and carrots in a large pot. Add the water. All parts should be covered by 1 inch. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 50 minutes to 1 hour.
- Skim the froth that rises to the top and discard.
- Use a slotted spoon to remove carrots after 20-30 minutes.
- When the chicken is ready, use a slotted spoon to remove all ingredients. Place them in a platter or food container.
- Wait until the chicken is cool enough to handle, then remove the meat. Place it in a food container and cover to keep it hot. Keep the discarding parts to make broth/stock (optional).
MAKE THE CHICKEN BROTH/STOCK (optional)
- Place the discarding bones, skin, giblets (if any), and cartilage in another smaller pot. Add water until the content is covered by 1 inch. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low, cover with the lid, and simmer for 1 hour.
- You may add more water to make more broth or simmer for more than one hour to make chicken stock to your preferred consistency.
- Let it cool enough and freeze it for future use. Use freezer bags or food containers.
MAKE THE ORZO (OR OTHER GRAIN)
- Meanwhile, drain the broth and place it in the same heavy cooking pot. Bring to a boil, add salt and pepper to taste, and the orzo (or other grain).
- Cook until the orzo (or any other grain) is done according to package directions and to your taste. Orzo takes max 10 minutes.
- In case you need more liquid in your soup add some extra hot water.
MAKE THE EGG-LEMON SAUCE
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl use a whisk to whip vigorously the egg white for at least 5 minutes. Incorporate the egg yolk, lemon juice, and zest. Whisk well. Add gradually 10 tablespoons of chicken broth.
- Now that the temperature is lower, add slowly and gradually another cup of broth (it’s ok if there is orzo in it). Stir well.
- Pour gradually the egg-lemon mixture into the orzo soup, stirring well. Warm through over low heat for a couple of minutes.
- Season to taste and top with chunks of chicken and veggies.
- Garnish with dried oregano or thyme and with red hot chili pepper flakes.