Scan the menu of just about any Greek restaurant in the U.S. and you will see avgolemono listed prominently in the soup and salad section. A thick, velvety concoction of chicken broth, rice or orzo, egg, and lemon, avgolemono soup is firmly fixed in most Americans’ minds as an iconic Greek dish.

Yet the origin of this soup is not Greek at all, but rather Iberian — and Jewish. You can trace a line directly from agristada, an egg-and-lemon sauce that Claudia Roden calls the “cornerstone of Sephardic cooking” to Greek avgolemono. What’s more, the Sephardic version of this soup, known as sopa de huevos y limon (egg and lemon soup), is the traditional way to break the Yom Kippur fast for Jews from Turkey, the Greek port city of Thessaloniki (known as Salonika in Ladino), and the Balkan states.

Like so much in Jewish cuisine, agristada sauce grew out of necessity, specifically the strictures of kosher dietary laws. Prohibited from using dairy in sauces that would accompany meat dishes, Sephardic cooks in Spain — hundreds of years ago — developed a tart sauce that relied on tempered eggs as a thickening agent.

In the Middle Ages, before citrus was widely cultivated in Europe, verjus — a highly acidic liquid made from pressing unripe grapes — was used to give the sauce its sour flavor. But after the 10th century, when lemons became a popular crop around the Mediterranean, inspired in part by Jewish farmers who were cultivating etrogs for Sukkot, lemon juice replaced verjus as the standard souring agent for agristada.

When the Iberian Jews were expelled from Spain during the Inquisition, they brought agristada with them as they traveled to destinations in the Ottoman Empire — modern-day Turkey, the Balkan states, and Greece.

Ottoman diners already had a penchant for sour flavors: Sour plums, pomegranates, and bitter oranges were all common ingredients in 15th century Ottoman cuisine and an early Ottoman cookbook from the same period had a whole chapter on sour foods. So it is not surprising that agristada, with its lemony bite, became part of the larger Greek and Turkish cuisine.

Over the centuries, agristada sauce morphed into avgolemono.

Avgolemono sauce is practically omnipresent in Greek cuisine, where it’s served alongside dolma and vegetables such as artichokes, as well as an accompaniment to fish and meat dishes. The sauce is also used to thicken soups and stews made with broth, many of which contain rice, orzo, or other grains — it gives the fragile emulsion added stability — and meat. In the U.S., we really only know avgolemono as a chicken soup, but in Greece it is actually a whole category of soups thickened with an emulsion of egg, lemon, and broth.

Greece is not the only country where agristada sauce lived on. The Sephardic Jews who settled in Italy adapted the egg-lemon sauce to include local ingredients, such as garlic and sometimes anchovies, calling it bagna brusca or brodo brusco. In Turkey, an indistinguishable egg-lemon sauce, which is also used to thicken soups, is known as terbiye. Agristada is even still found Spain, where it is known as salsa blanca (white sauce) or huevo y limón (egg and lemon) and served alongside fried fish or artichokes in lieu of mayonnaise.

The smooth, velvety avgolemono is thought to be gentle on the stomach, making it suitable for ending a day-long fast. But there’s no need to wait until sundown on Yom Kippur to make it at home. It makes for an easy weeknight dinner, as it comes together quickly using leftover or supermarket rotisserie chicken.

This recipe originally appeared on The Nosher.

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Sephardic Chicken Soup With Lemon and Egg (Sopa de Huevos y Limon)
Sopa de huevos y limon is a traditional first course for breaking the Yom Kippur fast among Jews from Turkey, the Balkan states, and the Greek port city of Thessaloniki (known as Salonika in Ladino). This gently seasoned and comforting soup owes its velvety texture to tempered eggs rather than dairy, which makes it suitable for a meat meal under the kosher dietary laws.
Sephardic Chicken Soup With Lemon and Egg
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Course Soup
Cuisine Jewish
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Course Soup
Cuisine Jewish
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Sephardic Chicken Soup With Lemon and Egg
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
  1. Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until softened, about five minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil.
  3. Add orzo to boiling broth and cook until tender, 8-10 minutes.
  4. While the orzo is cooking, whisk together the eggs and lemon juice in a large, heatproof bowl.
  5. Once the orzo is cooked through, reduce the heat until the soup is at a gentle simmer. Temper the eggs by slowly adding one cup of hot broth to the egg-and-lemon mixture while whisking. Then, slowly add the tempered egg mixture back to the Dutch oven. (This will prevent the eggs from curdling in the hot liquid.) Note: It is important not to rush this process and whisk throughout, to ensure the eggs emulsify.
  6. Add the cooked chicken to the soup and simmer until heated through. Do not allow soup to boil at any point after adding the eggs, which could cause the soup to break or curdle.
  7. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot, garnished with fresh dill.
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