Avgolemono Soup

Please welcome Hank Shaw as he shares his quick and easy version of the Greek classic avgolemono soup, a chicken soup with lemon and egg. ~Elise

The mixture of eggs, lemon and hot broth is a classic combination in Greek cooking. And if there is a classic dish that highlights this combination, it is the chickeny avgolemono soup. Avgo-wha? Ah-vo-LEMEN-o, or at least that’s how I remember the Greeks at the local diner in New Jersey saying it. The “g” isn’t always pronounced.

Like gumbo, goulash or chili, there are untold versions of this soup. Some, like this one, have bits of chicken in them. Some start with a whole chicken and take hours. A few have nothing more than chicken broth and the egg-lemon sauce. Most, however, have a starch such as rice or orzo pasta.

The key to avgolemono is the egg-lemon sauce. It is what make this version of chicken soup special. What starts as a pretty ordinary mix of chicken, onions, pasta and broth becomes silky, tangy and unforgettable.

This is a weeknight version of avgolemono, one you can whip together in less than 30 minutes; some versions take all day. The only tricky part of this whole recipe is when you add the egg-lemon mixture: You need to temper the eggs so they don’t scramble when you add them to the hot broth. But this is not rocket science, and if you can whisk with one hand and pour with the other you are good to go. And if you can’t? Find a helper. Kids love to help cooking, so maybe ask your daughter or son to whisk while you pour. Or vice versa.

One thing about this soup: Never let it boil once you’ve added the egg-lemon mixture. The soup can break and you essentially get a Greek version of egg drop soup. Still edible, but ugly. Same goes for reheating leftovers: Do it gently, and don’t let the soup boil.

Avgolemono Soup Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6-8.

Either rice or orzo pasta are fine here, so use whichever you prefer. And be sure to dice the chicken breast pretty small -- about 1/4 inch cubes -- so the meat cooks through in just a few minutes.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 5 cups chicken stock, plus 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup orzo or rice
  • 1 pound skinless chicken breast, diced
  • Salt
  • 3 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 eggs
  • Fresh parsley for garnish

Method

1 Heat the olive oil in a medium pot and saute the onions over medium-high heat until they are soft and translucent, 4-5 minutes. While the onions are cooking, bring another pot of salted water to a boil and add the orzo or rice.

2 When the onions are ready, add the chicken stock and water and bring to a bare simmer. When the orzo or rice is nearly done — firm, but mostly cooked — drain the boiling water and add the pasta or rice to the chicken broth. Add the diced chicken breast to the pot. Let this cook 5-8 minutes, then taste the soup for salt.

3 Beat the eggs in a bowl. Whisking constantly, add the lemon juice to the eggs. You will need to temper the eggs before you add the egg-lemon mixture to the soup. It takes both hands to do this. With one hand, whisk the egg-lemon mixture vigorously. With the other, slowly pour in a ladle's worth of hot broth. Do this at least twice, and you can add as many ladle's worth of broth as you want to the mixture.

4 Turn the heat off the soup. Whisk the soup with one hand while you pour the hot egg-lemon mixture in with the other. Serve at once, garnished with parsley.

Links
A Rich Version of Avgolemono Soup - from Sassy Radish
Vegetarian Avgolemono Soup - from The Well-Seasoned Cook
Lamb and Artichokes Avgolemono - from Kalofagas, Greek Food & Beyond

33 Comments

  1. Jeroen de Haan

    What (or rather, how much) is a ladle’s worth?

    However much your ladle holds. It is not en exact measurement. What’s important is to add the hot soup to the eggs a little at a time so they don’t curdle. ~Hank

  2. Artemis

    Good post! I’m glad to see authentic Greek food on Simply Recipes. :) By the way, the “g” is always pronounced, but it’s actually a sort of “y” sound that doesn’t really exist in English. “G” is just the next best choice of pronunciation.

  3. mikec

    Um – pardon a novice question – but you don’t specify ‘cooked’ diced chicken breast – yet I guess it is possible that it could cook in 5 minutes in boiling water… if diced finely enough… could you clarify?

    Yep, I’ve adjusted the recipe introduction to specify that you want about 1/4 inch dice on the chicken. Dice that small will absolutely cook through in that short a time. ~Hank

  4. Shannon

    Looks yummy! Question – are the chicken breasts pre-cooked, or are they cooking in the soup during the five minutes after being added to the broth?

    They cook in the soup in the final minutes. That keeps the meat really moist. ~Hank

  5. laura @ glutton for nourishment

    avgolemono is my all time favorite soup. i love it with carrots and celery in for extra flavor and texture contrast. soooo yummy!

  6. Christina

    Great job! Just a few pointers (being Greek): The rice / orzo doesn’t need to be cooked in a separate pot. Just add it to the broth (and add more water if necessary). Arborio rice is best (and more usual than orzo, which tends to be used more in stews).

    There’s also usually celery in avgolemono (sauteed with the onions), and once you add it, you’ll see why. Avgolemono and celery just go together. (There’s a surprisingly delicious pork and celery avgolemono stew that really highlights this combination.)

    Greeks don’t tend to add raw meat to water unless they’re planning to drain that water; I’d add the chicken with (or actually, just before) the onions. (You can of course make this soup with leftover cooked chicken, as long as the flavours match.)

    Also, you’re using an *awful* lot of eggs here — this would be very “avgo” (eggy), and not very “lemono”… For that much broth, I’d use one, *maybe* two eggs, and between half and a whole lemon.

    Finally, if you want really great avgolemono, separate the eggs, beat the egg white(s) until frothy, then add the yolk(s) and lemon to the whites. Beat again, and continue as you direct.

    Anyway, these are all just quibbles. Great to see a childhood favourite of mine show up here!

    Thanks for the tips, Christina! I’ve done a few of those suggestions, and the reason I added the raw diced chicken to the broth was because I think it winds up more tender than if you saute it with the onions. As for the frothy egg white thing, it is awesome, but a little trickier to pull off. Definitely putting celery in my next batch of avgolemono! ~Hank

  7. Natalie

    This sounds so good! I’ve never had avgolemono soup, but I’m going to give it a try. Thanks for the recipe!

  8. Konstantinos

    I agree with Christina (Greek also). I’ve never had chicken added so late in the cooking stages of the soup.

  9. Frugal Portland

    This looks outstanding — if I doubled the chicken could I leave out the starch?

  10. su

    Thanks for all the great soup recipes you have posted lately and the buttery pasta one, too. This is about the only type of food I can eat with these darn braces. Another year and a half to go.

  11. Michelle

    Nice change from the usual chicken soup. I didn’t think the lemon flavor would be as strong as it is. Such a quick recipe, too! I liked it paired with a green salad and some french bread.

  12. Dana

    You’ve posted yet another recipe I need to try “right now”! I went to the fridge and realized that I only had one egg left, so ran to the store to buy some more a little bit ago, and now I am enjoying heavenliness. I’ve made this soup before, but this is my favorite incarnation. I used Israeli couscous I had onhand, and it’s delicious. Thanks again for another fantastic meal!

  13. Deana Gunn

    Just had this soup for the first time at our book club meeting last week (The book was on Cleopatra, who was of Greek origin and not Egyptian as most of us had assumed before reading the biography… the food is usually themed to the book). Loved the color and the tang of lemon. The one we enjoyed was made with rice and no chicken.

  14. Marnie

    I’ve never met a Greek dish I haven’t loved. :) So I’m really looking forward to trying this one! Thanks so much for sharing.

  15. Camille

    I cannot wait to prepare this recipe, as this soup has been a lifelong favorite. It is so simple, healthy and clean tasting. Thank you for sharing and please share more Greek/Middle Eastern recipes in the future!

  16. GwenH

    This incredibly delicious soup has been a family favorite for decades. We always called it “Greek Lemon Soup, ” so it’s good to know the actual name. Restaurants in Detroit’s Greektown district also list it as Lemon Soup or Lemon Rice Soup. Try it with a side of spinach pie.

    I agree that separating the yolks and whites makes this recipe easier. Because the egg whites begin to congeal the instant the hot broth hits them, we sometimes omit the egg whites or process the whites and broth together before adding it to the pot with the yolks and other items. Once you get the hang of mixing in the egg whites, this soup is really quick and easy to make. Yum!

  17. Chiropractic Assistant

    Wow looks delicious! This is the first time I heard about Avgolemono Soup. I’ll try to make that one. I have a question, can we use pork on that soup?

    Yes, but with pork I’d saute some small pieces of pork loin at the beginning instead of adding them at the end like the chicken. ~Hank

  18. Regina Ferri

    Interesting soup. I was born in Brazil, and in our chiken soups we always sautee the chiken first and then the liquid is added. Raw chicken tends to foam the broth.

  19. Cecilia Gunther

    This is fantastic. I have heard of this soup but never attempted it. I have always been attracted to recipes that need gentle work. They are loving recipes I call them, not hurried! Thank you for this dish. cecilia

  20. Carolie

    I adore this soup! Thank you for your version of it. I never thought to dice the chicken and add it raw — that saves a step, for sure!

    Often, when I make this soup, I almost always use orzo, as I love the texture, and a little more lemon juice than you have here, to make it very lemony.

    I also add a couple of small zucchini, julienned into very fine matchsticks (I use a V-slicer mandoline thing to get very fine matchsticks!) and tossed into the hot soup at the end. The heat of the soup cooks the zucchini slightly, but not enough to make it slimy.

    I read about adding the zucchini in a cookbook of Italian recipes specifically made to be served at room temperature or slightly chilled. It’s a FANTASTIC picnic soup! I will sometimes take cascadilla (which is pale pink), a green gazpacho and this avgolemono with zucchini to a picnic, because the pink, green and yellow of the three soups are so pretty!

  21. YMS

    I love avgolemono soup. But why is it that every time I make it, I end up throwing it out because I end up grossed out by the eggy-ness (even with fewer eggs)?

  22. Arcey

    Excellent, informative comments. Thanks. When I first came to SF almost 40 years ago, I took a cooking class from a very passionate (okay, a little crazy) Greek woman, and this was one of the recipes we learned. I also remember the “g” being pronounced. The dish was very “exotic” at the time, and very delicious.

    Elise, I notice there are only 2 “You might also like…” suggestions this time, rather than the usual 3. Will this be the new normal?

  23. Yvonne

    This soup is wonderful! I have made a variation kind of like it before with spinach in it, but never knew of the wonderful name! Nice to see an official recipe.

  24. Susan

    Thanks for the shout-out, Hank/Elise.

    I’d love to try your version for my carnivorous guests. It’s one of the most uniquely flavored and satisfying soups ever – never has that “egg-y” taste.

  25. daveg

    Thanks Hank, I’m so eager to try this!

    As far as when you add the chicken, I understand the commentary about what is traditional… but I have found for example when using chicken breast in thai curries that the result is so much more wonderful, and consistently so, when you allow the raw chicken (diced or thinly sliced) to cook in a gently simmering broth or sauce. I always am careful to go a few cycles of stir then simmer to ensure that neither raw chicken nor its juices are left uncooked.

  26. Mark Finch

    I made this yesterday and it was very good (I did add some white pepper). Future versions may include asparagus and/or bacon.

  27. Candace

    If it’s a Hank Shaw recipe, I’ve got to try it soon. Just warned the hubby.

  28. Muriel19

    Thank you. I will try this recipe.

  29. Lilivati

    Oh, my gosh! I’m always so astounded when I read different recipes for this soup, as they’re all so different from the one my grandmother taught me (which has no chicken meat or onion, is made with rice, and whips the egg whites separately to make an almost creamy texture). This has happened with a few other of her recipes and I’m beginning to suspect that either Northern Greece has a unique culinary lineage, or the economic realities of immigrant New England reshaped some of our family recipes. ;)

  30. Denisious

    So great to see my favorite dish so prominently displayed on your wonderful food blog.
    We also beat the whites separately and also blow little kisses to the sauce while making it which is supposed to make the process less likely to fail [failure in this case means overcooking the sauce and ending up with omelette soup :)].
    There is also a little poem my mother recites which is a further boost of this little weird magic kitchen mojo but I personally think it’s overkill :)

    Thought I’d pass this on to those who will attempt avgolemono
    without the benefit of a greek mom or yaya to make it for them ;)

    D.

  31. Julie

    I make a totally inauthentic version of this that is one of our very favorite comfort-food dishes. I don’t add chicken either, mine uses more eggs, and I add fresh herbs. The biggest difference, though, is that I toast the orzo in unsalted butter first, until dark golden brown, in the soup pot, and cook it in the broth, which deglazes the pan. It adds an incredible amount of flavor. Served with some nice, chewy bread and a tomato/cucumber/olive/feta/shrimp salad, I could live on it.

  32. Allissia

    This turned out great and everyone loved it. Thanks for such a great recipe!

  33. Alex

    Great soup! My husband & I have had it out, but never homemade before today. Def whip the egg whites separate, add yokes later and temper slowly with broth to get that amazing texture. I added celery (YUM – thanks Christina!), a little more lemon (FRESH) and some fine black pepper. Also cooking the rice right in the broth worked great & saved a step.

    Thanks for bringing this out of the restaurant & into my kitchen!

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