Chicagoland (and Indiana) Loves its “Greek Penicillin”
“Soup is a lot like a family. Each ingredient enhances the others; each batch has its own characteristics; and it needs time to simmer to reach full flavor.”
~Marge Kennedy, novelist
“NO SOUP FOR YOU!”
By Tim Bean
Neither Indiana nor the Midwest has a monopoly on Greek restaurants. Once upon a time, it meant a restaurant that specialized in—you guessed it—Greek dishes. As these restaurant owners prospered and expanded, they began adding traditional “American” foods to the menu. Today, for less than $20, diners can enjoy a multiple-course meal, starting with a basket of fluff dinner rolls and ending with a dish of spumoni ice cream.
But the Greek restaurants across Chicagoland, including those of Northwest Indiana, almost always include lemon rice soup in this five-course feast, often as a house specialty. Jedi’s Garden Family Restaurant in Griffith, Indiana, keeps their lemon rice soup recipe as secret as the Coca-Cola formula. This isn’t a gimmick, since the restaurant goes through over 20 gallons of the Greek soup a day.
Although many dishes on these Chicagoland family restaurants come from a variety of cultures and countries, this soup is 100% Greek. In Greece, it’s called avgolemono, or “egg and lemon.” The combination of lemon, chicken, and filling rice in this hot and hearty soup has an almost mythical reputation among Greek food lovers, who half-jokingly call it “Greek penicillin” (the nickname also comes from the lemon’s vitamin C content).
In traditional Greek cooking, avgolemono isn’t a single dish but a category of sauces and soups, all sharing three core ingredients: egg, lemon, and broth. The dish isn’t limited to Greek cooking either, and has popped up in Italian, Turkish, Arabic and Jewish dishes (some Italians even pour a thickened version over pasta). Mediterranean cooking. In these hundreds of dishes, the combination of egg and lemon is almost always consistent. When heated, the acidic lemon causes the egg proteins to bind perfectly, providing the perfect base for a variety of savory creations.
Of the hundreds of available recipes for Greek Lemon Rice Soup, a delicious version by Cook’s Illustrated contributor Lam Lam is easily one of the best. It offers a variety of options and solutions for the most common shortcomings of home-cooked versions (Is your soup too eggy? Too salty? Curdled? Too tart or not tart enough?).
There’s a pay wall for the “official” Cook’s Illustrated Greek Lemon Chicken Soup recipe, but I did a little digging, and discovered a blogger who thankfully shared the recipe. I did my homework on this one, folks. If you grew up crumbling twin packs of Saltines over a bowl of steaming chicken lemon rice soup, then check out the two links below.