Tonight I am returning to routine, preparing to wake up to an alarm, and trying to remember how to survive a 9 hour workday. It was a beautiful last day of funemployment in Washington. Fifty-five degrees when I went for my morning run. It warmed into the low seventies, with a light breeze, and full sun. I opened our windows and the music and buzz of conversation from the annual neighborhood street festival drifted in. It felt like fall and a warm bowl of chicken noodle soup struck me as the perfect back to school dinner.
Growing up, we ate chicken soup once a year, but there were no noodles. Every Passover, my parents hosted the family seder and my dad made a very traditional and now legendary chicken soup. He started the soup the second he woke up on the morning of the first day of Passover. Some years he may have even started it the night before. He used two whole bone-in chicken breasts, many yellow onions with the skins on, celery, carrots, and the secret ingredient – parsnips. The parsnips made the soup amazingly sweet and the onion skins gave the broth a deep golden color. Once the stock was rich and flavorful, he removed the vegetables and the chicken and let the soup continue to simmer for the rest of the day. Every hour he would stand over the pot with a spoon and carefully – gracefully, lovingly even – skim the fat off the surface until the liquid was perfectly clear. At the very end, he added a few carrots back to the broth and my mom’s matzo balls.
When my dad died, no one wanted to admit aloud that they were all terribly concerned about who would make the soup and if it could be replicated. I have never tried, but every Passover, my mother gamely follows my dad’s method, step by laborious step and every year someone emails or calls me to let me know that she did a very good job and my dad would be proud.
I know that someday I will have to master dad’s chicken soup, but tonight I relied on one of my favorite recipes. It’s a take on the Greek soup, avgolemono, but it replaces the rice with orzo. There’s lemon and egg in the broth to thicken and brighten it. It’s light, but satisfying and ready in under an hour. I realized after dinner that I may have subconsciously been channeling my former colleagues at Tufts when I chose this meal. We used to dine out at Greek Corner for office celebrations, a classic Greek restaurant in Cambridge, and almost everyone started the meal with a bowl of avgolemono. It seems particularly appropriate as I start this new job, where I’ll be working with a very similar student population to Tufts’, to be eating the soup that marked so many high points in my first higher ed job. I will take this as a good omen and have a second bowl before I go to bed for good measure.
Lemon Chicken Soup with Orzo from The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger
4 teaspoons olive oil
8 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast halves, cut into small chunks
salt (to taste)
1 medium onion, diced (about 1 1/2 c.)
2 stalks celery, diced (about 1/2 c.)
1 medium carrot, diced (about 1/2 c.)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (or 1/2 t. dried)
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup orzo pasta, preferably whole wheat
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a pot over med-high heat; season the chicken with salt and add it to the pot; cook, stirring occasionally, until just cooked through, about 5 minutes; transfer the chicken to a dish; set aside.
Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oil to the pot; add in onions, celery, carrot, and thyme; cook/stir over med-high heat until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Add in 5 cups broth and bring to a boil; add in orzo and let simmer until tender, about 8 minutes. Decrease heat to low to keep the soup hot, but not boiling.
Warm the remaining 1 cup broth in a small pan until it is hot, but not boiling. In a bowl, beat the eggs; gradually whisk the lemon juice into the eggs; then gradually add the hot broth to the lemon-egg mixture, whisking all the while. Add the mixture to the soup slowly, stirring well until the soup is thickened. Do not let the soup come to a boil; add in cooked chicken; season to taste with salt and pepper; serve.