In honor of Greek Independence Day, I thought I would post a dish my mom made when I lived at home. All these years it wasn’t a meal I thought to make for my own family, but recently, I’d been craving it. Mom never used recipes. Herbs and spices were sprinkled into the pot, not measured out in exact amounts. If I asked her how much rice goes in this, or how much breadcrumbs goes in that, her answer would be, “about a handful.” That is the way I learned how to cook. “Add and taste,” she would say. But most of all she told me you have to hug and kiss your food. You love it and care for it like a child. And never, never rush it. So, here I am, writing recipes for meals I have never been given measurements for. But that is a good thing, because when my children ask me how to make one of their yiayiá’s recipes, I will have it on hand for them.
Some people think of youvarlakia as a Greek meatball soup. I never thought of it that way. To me, they are fluffy, delicate meatballs covered in avgolemono sauce. (Egg-lemon sauce) Unlike the hearty, dense Italian meatballs that are cooked in sauce, these are lighter and mixed with rice. As a variation, my mom would add them to a plain tomato sauce made from tomato paste, water and a little olive oil. The sauce became infused with the flavors from the meatballs, giving them a delicious taste – great for sopping up with crusty bread. I made a pot of each and let everyone choose the sauce they wanted.
2 pounds of ground beef
½ cup rice (not cooked)
½ cup fresh parsley
1 large onion, grated
2 tablespoons dill
2 teaspoons salt
1 generous pinch of nutmeg
1 or 2 pinches of ground black pepper
Mix all the above ingredients together to form meatballs. I suggest a size a little larger than a golf ball. Place the meatballs in the fridge to set for 20-30 minutes. This way the meatballs will not fall apart when you drop them in the boiling liquid.
In a pot, add:
1 bay leaf
2 cups chicken broth (optional)
2 cups water
* If you don’t use the chicken broth then double the water to 4 cups.
Bring the liquids to a boil. Turn down the heat to a high simmer and carefully drop in the meatballs. Cover and cook for 25- 30 minutes. My mom used to lay a dish directly on the meatballs to hold them down and keep them from falling apart. It is up to you. I’ve done it with and without the dish with good results.
I’ve seen many ways to make this sauce. Basically it is lemon juice and eggs, which are beaten together. Some people add a tablespoon of flour to thicken it. Others separate the egg whites and whip them until they are frothy, and then add it to the egg yolk and lemon mixture. I do it the way my mom made it. Either way, don’t forget to temper the mixture.
Juice of one lemon (2 if you like the sauce extra lemony)
Put the eggs and lemon juice in a blender and run on medium speed until frothy. Take about one cup of the liquid from the meatball and slowly add it to the egg-lemon mixture while the blender is still running. This will temper the eggs so they do not scramble.
Remove the meatballs from the heat and pour the avgolemono over the meatballs. Cover the pot and let it sit for 5 minutes.