HAPPY OCTOBER! A COMFORT FOOD DISH – YOUVARLAKIA

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Happy October! Once I begin to feel a chill in the air, I yearn for comfort food. One of my favorite meals is a bowl of Youvarlakia. These meatballs are different than the type you would eat with spaghetti. Instead of breadcrumbs and grated cheese, these are filled with rice and herbs.

My mother would make them one of two ways – either in a simple tomato sauce that took on the flavors of the meatballs or in avgolemono sauce – my favorite.

Youvarlakia is one of the recipes included in my upcoming novel, “Waiting for Aegina: Book Two in The Gift Saga.”

If you haven’t had the opportunity to read “Evanthia’s Gift” yet, this would be a good time. For food lovers, there are several recipes between the chapters, and for readers who enjoy a good love story that spans decades, this is the book for you. It was recently named a finalist in the Reader’s Favorites Awards.

Here’s how to make this comfort dish. When it’s ready, get cozy on the couch with a good read and a bowl of youvarlakia.

 Youvarlakia

2 pounds of ground beef

½ cup rice (not cooked)

½ cup fresh parsley

1 large onion, grated

1 egg

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 refrigerator 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 mother would lay a dish directly on the meatballs to hold them down and keep them from falling apart. This is up to you. I’ve done it with and without the dish, both with good results.

Avgolemono Sauce

There are a few variations on the method to making this sauce. Basically, it consists of lemon juice and eggs, beaten together. Some cooks 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 mother made it.

3 eggs

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 meatballs 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 before serving.

Kali orexi!

Good appetite!

 

 

AVGOLEMONO & AN EXCERPT FROM EVANTHIA’S GIFT

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It’s October, and the weather here in New York took a nasty turn. The pool company came and covered my pool, and my husband took in the lawn furniture. So that’s it. I have no choice but to concede—the summer is really over. Up to this point, I refused to cook anything that wasn’t grilled or light and refreshing. But between the cold snap and feeling a bit under the weather, I decided that I needed warm comfort food. The first thing that came to mind was a bowl of Avgolemono soup—chicken rice soup with a frothy egg – lemon topping. And yes, it made me feel so much better. This is one of the soups my mom would make for us when we were cold or not feeling well, and I think each Greek woman has her own version. Some like to use orzo instead of rice. Some shred the chicken into the broth, and some don’t use the meat from the chicken at all.

In Evanthia’s Gift, Anastacia tries to comfort her daughter, Sophia, with a bowl of avgolemono that she brings up to her bedside. But even her mother’s cooking cannot bring the color back to Sophia’s cheeks, more caused by heartbreak than the flu she feigned.

Sure her daughter couldn’t resist a bowl of avgolemeno, Ana frothed the eggs and lemon, adding it to the chicken soup.            

           “Are you awake?” Ana whispered. “I made you soup.”

           “I’m not hungry.”

           “You can’t go all this time without food. Try a little.”

           Ana set the food tray on the nightstand. She propped up Sophia’s pillow, helping her into a sitting position.

           “There you go,” she urged as she sat on the edge of the bed. She ladled some broth into the spoon and fed it to her.

           “Kukla mou, you don’t need to say anything, but I know pain when I see it. This kind of pain.” She rested her hand on her daughter’s heart.

           Sophia said nothing. Her eyes were blank.

           “I know what it’s like to have your heart broken. I have a beautiful, perfect daughter and a husband I adore, but everyone — and I mean everyone — goes though heartaches of some kind. You’re so much like me, more than you know. We don’t choose to open up about what’s bothering us, what’s hurt us. We’d rather not talk about it. We keep it bottled up inside and let it fester. But whatever this is, you must confront it and, I promise you, you will come out stronger. I’ve had my tears… cried the hurt away… let myself mourn for what couldn’t be, and then I did what I had to do. I went on. For me, the greatest lesson was that after the heartbreak, what came after was much, much better. We are strong Greek women — warriors! We’ve been through it all. We fight for what’s important. It’s in our blood, and no one can break us.”

Avgolemono Soup

2 large carrots, diced

1 large onion, diced

1 heart of celery, diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

10 cups chicken broth

Whole chicken, chicken breasts or chicken cutlets

1-cup rice

1-tablespoon parsley

Pepper to taste

2 eggs

Juice from 1½ lemon

Zest from 1 lemon

In a large pot, heat oil and add carrots, celery and onions until tender. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add the chicken of your choice. If you use chicken with bones you will have to strain after cooking. The cutlets will avoid that step and you can shred the chicken when fully cooked. When the chicken is fully cooked, add the rice and cook until rice is ready, about an additional 15 minutes.

In a blender, beat the eggs, lemon juice and zest. While the blender is running, slowly add some broth to the egg-lemon mixture and keep blending. Remove soup from heat. Add the frothy egg- lemon mixture to the pot and cover. Let the soup stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.

YOUVARLAKIA – GREEK MEATBALLS IN EGG-LEMON SAUCE

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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.

Youvarlakia

 2 pounds of ground beef

½ cup rice (not cooked)

½ cup fresh parsley

1 large onion, grated

1 egg

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.

Avgolemono Sauce

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.

3 eggs

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.

Kali orexi!

Good appetite!