Greek lemon rice soup, aka avgolemeno
I can’t count the number of times I have gushed about Anaïs Mitchell‘s 2010 album Hadestown, a folk opera that tells the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, but set in a post-apocalyptic American depression town. It started as a stage production in Mitchell’s native Vermont in 2005, but in 2010 she released it as record with a stellar lineup of singers voicing the characters, most notably Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon as Orpheus, Mitchell herself as Eurydice, folk legend Greg Brown as Hades, king of the Underworld, and Ani DiFranco as his wife Persephone. It’s a masterpiece, and it’s come to mind quite a bit during this election season — I wrote about it in this funny debate-related piece I helped plan and write for eMusic, but thought it’d also be fitting here.
Mitchell’s version of the myth speaks to our less-than-stellar economy and the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. Hades wants to build a wall to keep the poor out; in the song “Why We Build the Wall,” he sings, “Because we have and they have not… Because they want what we have got,” and later, “We have work and they have none.” Gotta love the 1 percent, huh? (When I saw Mitchell and the “Hadestown Orchestra” perform this last year, she led everyone on a march to Washington Square singing protest songs.) Eurydice and her soon-to-be-husband Orpheus are on the outside of the wall, and in the album opener “Wedding Song,” Eurydice asks where they’ll get wedding bands, a table to eat from and so on, and Orpheus answers that they’ll use what they have and the earth will provide.
I paired the record with a Greek lemon rice soup (aka avgolemeno); obviously there’s the Greek aspect, but there’s also the fact that soups can often be made with whatever you have lying around. They also feed a lot of people for typically not a lot of money — certainly valuable when you’re out of work. My own experience with lemon rice soup is from Coney Island restaurants in the Detroit suburbs, where I grew up. For the uninitiated: Coneys, essentially, are Greek diners, and the signature dish is a “coney dog,” a chili-topped hot dog. I say “Greek diner” liberally — there are some Greek dishes on the menu, but they’re pretty Americanized. Hadestown is based on a Greek myth, but set in an American town, so I think this is fitting: I have to imagine this version of the dish is quite traditional, but the important part is that it’s definitely more so than the bright yellow (but delicious) stuff I grew up on.
Slightly adapted from Serious Eats. A recommendation: The original recipe recommends serving immediately, but I found that it tasted better and had a more consistent texture (not as foamy on top) after sitting in the fridge for a day. Another note: I did it! I finally conquered the evil egg whites. I even did it by hand.
8 cups vegetable stock, homemade if you can (I used a one-hour stock recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)
1 cup short-grain rice (I used brown because it’s what I had)
4 eggs, separated
Juice of 3 lemons
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly chopped herbs like parsley or dill, as garnish (to taste)
• Bring stock to a boil, then add the rice. Simmer until rice is tender, about 20 minutes.
• When the rice is almost tender, whisk the egg whites in a clean, separate bowl until they form medium peaks. Add the egg yolks and lemon juice, whisking continuously.
• After the rice is cooked, take 2 cups of the hot stock and add it to the egg and lemon mixture in a very slow, constant stream. Beat vigorously so the eggs don’t cook into a solid.
• Remove the soup from the heat and add the egg mixture back to the pot, whisking to incorporate. Serve with fresh pepper and herbs.