Sunday, February 24, 2008

In Like a Lion, Out With a Lemon

I have to confess, I am a big fan of four-season living. Each season offers its own gifts, its own pleasures, and its own challenges. The glorious return of sun in the springtime, the long and easy days of summer, the cascade of leaves in the fall, and winter…

Winter can be hard to love, much like a difficult family member. Sometimes it seems like winter is angry, with its blustering winds and frigid temperatures. Winter can act withdrawn, like on the cold, silent nights when I walk home from work. Winter can be sad, such as the days when we see no sunshine at all through the thick cloud cover. In Chicago, winter starts in November and doesn’t leave until May. That’s six months of winter! No wonder I have friends who complain about my weather.

Yet, there is joy to be found in winter. There is no day in winter when it’s too hot to turn on my oven. My favorite stovetop dishes, soups and stews, taste best on a winter’s day. I delight in the kitchen in the winter: the smells, the warmth, the comfort of a cozy room. Last night, I realized I would sleep in the kitchen if I could! It wouldn’t be the first time someone did. My brother and his boyfriend turned the kitchen into makeshift sleeping quarters after helping me move into my very own apartment.

And if you pay attention, the days are already longer. There is more sunlight now than there was a month ago, and the same will be true next month. As the sun returns, I can feel my soul sighing happily, my body realizing that in time, winter’s cold will recede and I won’t brace myself every time I open the door. Spring returns, I am alive, and life is good.

In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to have an emergency plan of action when winter is just too much to bear. Lately, I’ve been giving myself foot scrubs with a wonderful foot wash laced with walnut shell powder (it’s an exfoliant). It was a gift from my friend Anne; she knows how hard I am on my feet. Pedicures are nice if you have the time and the cash (neither of which I have in abundance, since I’m a graduate student), but a good foot scrub and massage does the trick nicely at home. There’s something about grooming your feet that seems defiant of winter and indulgent at the same time. It’s a remarkably good antidote to a blah winter mood.

One of the gifts that winter brings with it is cheap and delicious citrus fruits. True to my New Year’s resolutions, I’ve been eating loads of oranges, stocking up on them every time I go to the grocery store. Sunshine in a convenient and attractive orange wrapper, I say. They have been stunningly delicious: sweet, juicy, a tiny bit tart, and utterly satisfying. Lemons are great too, but does anyone eat them out of hand? Citric acid lovers, I salute you, but no thanks. I’ll take my lemon in the form of a tasty Greek Avgolemono Soup.

This soup is a great answer to the question I ask myself every weekend: what shall I eat with my bread and cheese? The rich and lemony broth is perfect for bread-dipping. Magically, it’s light and hearty at the same time. The combination of orzo pasta, eggs, and vegetables will fill you up, but you might find room for a second bowl. And trust me: it’s totally worth a second bowl.

Greek Avgolemono Soup
Adapted ever so slightly from this version in Vegetarian Times, January/February 2008

I adore this soup, and I am so grateful to Vegetarian Times for publishing it recently. To my taste, this soup is best either the day it’s made or the following day; the flavors are most vibrant when the soup is really fresh. In the future, I will probably add a bit of fresh lemon juice to my leftovers to add some sparkle.

2 tbsp. olive oil
2 medium leeks, ends trimmed off, the rest chopped into bite-sized pieces, and rinsed really well (see note below)
1 small onion or ½ med. onion, finely chopped (your call how much onion you want to add)
2 carrots, peeled and diced
6 cups vegetable broth
½ c. dry orzo pasta
2 large eggs
3 tbsp. lemon juice, plus more for the table if you like
¼ c. or a handful or two of chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Heat the olive oil over medium heat in the bottom of a soup pot or a large skillet if your soup pot is not good for sauteeing (as mine is not). Add the leeks, onions, and carrots. Cover and cook for 5-7 minutes or until the vegetables have softened. Stir often.
2) Stir the broth into the vegetables. (If you use a skillet to cook the vegetables, transfer them first to a large soup pot and then add the broth.) Season with salt and pepper. Cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for ~10 min. Uncover, add the orzo, cover, and cook 11 min. more or until the orzo is tender. Turn off the heat.
3) In a heatproof bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the eggs and lemon juice. Add three ladles of the soup mixture to the egg mixture, whisking constantly as best you can. Whisk the egg mixture into the pot of soup and cook over low heat for 2-3 min. or until the soup is thickened. Do not let the soup boil during this time.
4) Add the parsley and oregano. Taste and add more salt and/or pepper if needed. Serve, offering more lemon juice at the table if lemon-lovers are present.

Note: Did you know that leeks are super-duper dirty inside? Because they grow in dirt, sand and grit gets lodged in the layers, particularly the “open” green layers. They need to be rinsed really well before you cook with them or you’ll add all that grit to your meal. I cleaned my leeks by chopping them up and then placing them in a sieve in a big bowl and rinsing multiple times with cold water. Fill the bowl up with water by running water over the sieved leeks, swish the leeks around, and let the dirt fall to the bottom. Lift up the sieve (and the leeks), drain out the dirty water, and repeat several times until there isn’t any more grit coming out of the leeks.


JD said...

Anne and I will have to try this soup, as we are big lemon fans. Sometime you will have to ask us about our plans to open a lemon

Rosiecat said...

Hey JD!

If you and Anne like lemon and chicken noodle soup AND you like the idea of combining them, this soup is for you. Minus the chicken part, unless you count eggs as chickens, which I suppose they are in some form.

I think this soup is a really good choice for this time of year: it feels like a harbinger of spring to me, but it's still warm and hearty enough to soothe and sustain you through the bumpy transition from winter to spring.

If you open a lemon restaurant, I can think of a few people who would visit frequently. Ask me about my lemon-loving friends who make me look like a total lemon wimp!

JD said...

We are going to eat this on Saturday. I will report back how it tastes!

Rosiecat said...

Excellent, JD! A tale from the kitchen front!

Now, if only I could decide what I'm eating this weekend...

JD said...

Ok, it gets glowing reviews from both the wife and I. You are right about it combining the heartiness of a winter soup and the optimistic spring lemon flavor. We only made a few modification. We used 2/3 cup orzo instead of 1/2 for a more full bodied soup. We of course also used about 4-5 tbsp. of lemon juice cause we are lemon fanatics. Thanks for the recipe!!

Rosiecat said...

Hola, JD! I am thrilled to hear the soup passed its kitchen exam. I love how you changed the recipe right off the bat; I do the same thing all the time. It's definitely a sign of confidence in the kitchen when you can look at a recipe, perhaps read a description of it, and know how to tweak it to fit your tastes.

The extra lemon juice is a good idea. There's some sort of synergy between the lemon and the rest of the soup that is really fantastic.

JD said...

Haha... using synergy in a description of a food should be banned. That is all time least favorite corporate word. Use complimentary instead, it doe snot make me think of "consultants" and layoffs.

Rosiecat said...

Oh my goodness, JD, you are too funny! We scientists love the word (or the concept at least) of synergy: a synergystic effect is usually quite interesting in my world. It doesn't refer to some sort of corporate, Big Brother badness that really just means they are about to fire you.

After all, it's not as though just because lemon is good in this soup we want to throw away the rest of the soup and just eat lemons.