Of all the ways to enjoy meatballs, you could say that they are most comfortable bobbing in broth.
Not that there’s anything wrong with spaghetti and red sauce, miso and Ritz crackers, or any of the other 45 million or so meatball variations.
It’s just a morsel spoonful of meatballs—whether they’re small as a marble or as big as a baseball—in steaming soup in a clean, calming way that sounds extremely soothing, the opposite of a chaotic and delightfully messy sub.
This lemony Greek meatball soup, a riff on uvarlakia avgolemono, looks especially cool in pot. Yet every spoonful vibrates with flavor: the brightness of the citrus and dill, the depth of the chicken stock, the velvety richness of the egg yolk.
In the United States, we refer to avgolemono as a soup made from chicken pieces and rice grains. But, in Greece, adding meatballs to the broth is just as traditional. This recipe substitutes ground chicken for the usual beef, making the whole thing a little lighter. Ground turkey also works.
As with any time you make meatballs, using a gentle touch will keep them from becoming rubbery. This is because the more you knead and press the ground meat, the more it sticks to itself. While some recipes require vigorous kneading (like kebabs, where you want the meat to stick to its skewer so it doesn’t fall into the fire), it’s the enemy of fluffy, soft meatballs that float well in broth.
Here’s another tip: Before adding the meatballs to the simmering liquid, cool them thoroughly to help keep them from falling apart. You can also make the meatballs a few days in advance, storing them in the refrigerator until ready for soup.
But don’t try to make the avgolemono mixture too much in advance. The delicate emulsion of egg and lemon may separate as the mixture sits. It’s best whipped together, then poured directly into the broth just before serving. This egg emulsion also means that the remainder does not freeze well.
If you’re looking to add vegetables to the pot, a handful of baby spinach (or other tender greens) is excellently stirred about five minutes before adding the avgolemono mixture. It also gives the greens a chance to soften, without risking them. Because versatile meatballs can withstand the heat, caring for your avgolemono guarantees the silkiest, most elegant broth possible.
Youvarlakia Avgolemono (Lemon Greek Meatball Soup)
by Melissa Clark
Avgolemono is a Greek egg and lemon mixture that is tart and silky, and is used to thicken sauces and soups. In the United States, most versions of avgolemono soup are filled with rice grains and chicken pieces. In this recipe, youvarlakia avgolemono, a riff on ground chicken and rice, is rolled into meatballs, then simmered in broth, making the whole thing savory without losing the soup’s characteristic luster. Ground beef is called for in many recipes for uvarlakia, and you can substitute it here if you prefer. Note that due to the eggs in the broth, leftovers don’t freeze well.
Yield: 4 servings
Total Time: 1 Hour
- 1 pound ground chicken (or ground turkey or beef), very cold
- 3/4 cup chopped fresh dill or parsley, plus more for garnish
- 1/2 cup grated yellow onion (from about 1 small onion)
- 1/4 cup grated carrots (from about 1 carrot)
- 1/4 cup uncooked long-grain rice, such as basmati or Carolina, thoroughly washed and drained
- 1 garlic clove, finely grated, pushed through a garlic press, or minced
- 1 tsp fine sea salt, plus more as needed
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
- 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
- Fresh grated nutmeg, for serving (optional)
1. Combine shredded chicken, 1/4 cup dill, onion, carrot, rice, garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl. Mix gently with your hands until well combined.
2. Gently form the mixture into 24 meatballs, each 1 1/4 inches in diameter, on a plate or baking pan. Cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or up to 24 hours. This helps the meatballs keep their shape while cooking.
3. In a large pot, bring the stock to a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium and use a slotted spoon to carefully add meatballs to pot. The broth should cover the top of the meatballs by about 1/2 inch. If not, add some water. Slowly simmer, adjusting heat so broth does not boil, until meatballs are cooked through and rice is tender, 25 to 35 minutes. (Crack the meatballs to test it.) Remove the pot from the heat.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and lemon juice until combined. Slowly pour a ladleful of the hot broth into the egg-lemon mixture, whisking constantly. Whisk in another two tablespoons of broth to temper the egg mixture.
5. Slowly pour the egg-lemon mixture into the pot with the meatballs, stirring gently so you don’t separate the meatballs. Return pot to medium-low heat until it begins to boil. (Wait until one or two bubbles appear, but don’t let the pot boil.) The broth should be silky. Remove from heat, stir in remaining 1/2 cup dill. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. (If you’re starting with unsalted broth it may require a lot of salt.) Garnish with nutmeg, and dill, if you like, and serve.