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I don’t wait for a cold to make creamy, delicious Avgolemono—it’s on standby for any night of the week for its comforting powers.
The term “comfort food” has surprising origins…legend has it that it was none other than Liza Minnelli who first used this term to describe her emotional craving for a hamburger during an interview. She gave us jazz hands, sequins, and a Reason to Eat Our Emotions. I really could not love Liza more.
And if there is a month that embodies the need for comfort food it is, undoubtedly, November. As the eleventh month of the year, the predecessor to the frenzy of celebrations and parties in December—and the successor to October’s Thanksgiving and Halloween—November would also just like a chance to spark a little joy. There’d be nothing better than to see her tremble with surprise, mascara everywhere, bouquet of roses in hand as she is crowned The Month of Comfort Food. She really does have the perfect constitution for it (bleak, dull, relentless Vancouver rain) and the right conditions to support it (there is literally nothing else going on). She is the pageant queen we’ve all been rooting for: the month that deserves the very best of food that brings Comfort and Joy, with all its memories, flavours, and traditions associated with it.
November seems extra dark this year, like Mother Nature perhaps went a little too far with how much daylight she tried to save with that extra hour. I’m tempted to crawl home after work to make something nourishing but it still needs to be deliciously decadent to help offset the seasonal sadness that’s lurking around. I consider options; more bread, more butter, more stews, more salt, more fat.
Comfort food is not just for when I have been struck with a cold and find myself in bed. As a child, I was never sent to school sick and told to “tough it out.” The first onset of sniffles or a warm forehead was the start of an all-inclusive holiday at home. “You got sick because you sat with wet hair near a drafty window,” my mother would tell me, eyeing the thermometer. It was more likely a standard exposure to an airborne cold virus, but who was I to argue with a woman more powerful than a deep dive into WebMD?. She would immediately make a pot of our version of a soothing chicken noodle soup, Avgolemono— and serve it with extra lemon while I caught up on episodes of Days of Our Lives. My mother would eye Victor Kiriakis over her needlepoint and tsk tsk at his underhanded dealings around Salem, but always forgave him because he too was Greek.
As an adult, I don’t wait for a cold to make this creamy, delicious soup—it’s on standby for any night of the week for its comforting powers. This month I provide two versions of the recipe: one for cooks who want to explore the traditional recipe that includes making the broth, or the shortcut we all need when we want a soup in 20 minutes or less. Whatever avgolemono journey you decide to go on will lead you to the same flavourful and comforting soup I’ve grown up with.
A quick poll on comfort food dinner party ideas brings in expected results from friends and family: they want the Big Reds in November and request I make my hearty meat kokkinisto stew served with a buttery orzo, and offer to bring full-bodied wines to have with it. I like the way a red wine opens, like those who drink it over an evening together. I am typically terrified of an over-revealer but somehow have empathy for ones who have purple-lipped themselves and reveal great tragedies rather than small talk at a dinner party.
And for dessert, it’s the baklava of my childhood; buttery, crunchy phyllo pastry and layers of orange zest and nuts. Anyone with any level of baking expertise can make a delicious baklava, and every such recipe should be mandatorily called No Bad Baklava Ever.
And on that note, there really is No Bad Comfort Food, either. If it makes you feel good, if it reminds you of home, if it connects you to your loved ones, there it is. And I hope you enjoy it with the people who feed your soul too, because as we all know the better the company, the better the meal. Especially in November.
1 3lb free range chicken
2 onions, halved
2 celery stalks, halved
5 sprigs fresh parsley
1 cup orzo
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup fresh dill or more to taste
2 large room temperature eggs
Juice of 1-2 lemons
1 tsp cornstarch
Place the chicken in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, skimming the scum from the surface until the water is clear. Add the onions, carrots, celery, parsley, peppercorns and a little salt and bring to a boil again. Lower heat and simmer for about an hour and a half until the chicken is tender and cooked through.
While the chicken is cooking, make orzo (follow package directions).
Remove the chicken and place on a platter, reserving the juices. Strain the broth pressing on the veggies to get all the water and flavour through. Discard the veggies and pour the broth back in your big pot, followed by the chicken, shredded.
To make the egg and lemon sauce, beat the eggs in a bowl and whisk in the lemon juice.
If you want a thicker sauce, whisk the cornstarch with a little water to make a paste and then add to the lemon and egg mix.
Slowly add a little warm broth from your pot into the egg mixture, once you’ve added about half the broth pour it back in to the pot. Do not bring this soup to a boil! You’ll get scrambled eggs. A nice, slow gentle barely there simmer only.
Add the cooked orzo, and season with salt and pepper. Serve with fresh dill.
4 cups homemade or store-bought chicken stock
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups cooked orzo (or white rice), warmed, divided
2 large egg yolks
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 rotisserie chicken (about a pound of meat pulled from the bones coarsely shredded)
In a large saucepan, season the stock with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer.
Transfer 1 cup of the hot stock to a blender. Add 1/2 cup of the rice, the egg yolks and the lemon juice and puree until smooth.
Stir the puree into the simmering stock and the remaining 1 1/2 cups of rice and simmer until thickened slightly, 10 minutes. Add in the shredded chicken.
Stir in the dill and serve.
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