I live in the desert, where we get less than 4 inches of rain per year, so anytime it rains it feels like an event. When the forecast calls for rain, I immediately go through the five stages of a desert dweller:
First, there’s Doubt. I simply cannot believe that it’s going to rain any time soon because the sky is blue right over my house and it is sunny.
Hope. A raindrop falls. Then two, then three. Sometimes the rain evaporates before it hits the ground. Yes, this is actually a thing and it has a name: virga. I cloak myself in cautious optimism in hopes that this little bit of moisture will coalesce and become precipitation. When the rain actually starts to hit the ground and the drops come in fast succession I feel myself getting a little excited, which leads to…
Collaboration. This is usually characterized by rapid fire text messages to family and friends: “Is it raining at your house?” “No?” Words of encouragement are sent in reply: “I think the clouds are moving your way!” I check Facebook and see about 20 status updates from friends reporting that it’s raining in their little corner of the valley. If it’s a work day, everyone gathers at the nearest window to marvel at the rain. We take photos to post to Instagram and we don’t even need a filter because it’s just. so. pretty! Very little work gets done.
Jubilation. At this point, the cells in my body are positively thrumming with excitement that actual rain is falling from the sky. We get out the rain buckets to catch the run-off (we will use this to water the garden throughout the week). There is more staring out of windows. A hush descends over the house and I start to gather carrots, celery, onion and thyme to make soup.
Hot soup and rainy days go together like whiskers on kittens. I simply cannot allow a rainy day to pass without making a pot of soup! This soup is a particularly good one that was inspired by the Avgolemono soup served at a Greek restaurant in our neighborhood. Full of juicy pieces of chicken and creamy arborio rice, it is filling without being heavy. It lends it’s creaminess in part to the arborio rice, a starchy short-grained rice that is most commonly used for risotto, but also to the addition of a mixture of egg and lemon juice. The result is a creamy soup that is unexpectedly bright and tart. Because it never rains for too long here, the making of soup has to be somewhat quick. I adapted this recipe from Chef Cat Cora and reduced the cooking time in half by using ready-made stock. Use homemade stock if you have some on hand, but if you don’t store-bought stock is just fine.
I almost forgot. There’s a fifth stage for the desert dweller on a rainy day: Gratitude. This might be particular to me, but I never feel like it rains long enough. I suppose if it did, it wouldn’t be called the desert! I’m always sad to see the rain surrender to the sun that so eagerly peeks through the clouds, but I’m grateful for what we get. The garden is quenched, the dust is washed away for a time and I’ll have this steaming and sunny bowl of soup.
My time-saving version of this soup is a bit more rustic than Cat Cora’s but can be made on a weekday when you might not have three or more hours to devote to making dinner. The secret is to cook the chicken pieces in ready-made chicken stock and lots of fresh herbs. Be sure to use bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces as they are so much more flavorful. It is very important to temper the egg and lemon mixture before adding to the pot. You don’t want to have scrambled eggs!
- 1-2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (or whatever pieces you have on-hand)
- 8 cups chicken stock or broth
- 1 leek cleaned and sliced
- 1 carrot chopped into small pieces
- 1 stalk celery, cut into large chunks
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely diced and reserved
- 2/3 cup arborio rice
- 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 2 large lemons)
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- bouquet garni: 2 sprigs thyme, 2 sprigs oregano, 2 sprigs parsley, 2 sprigs dill, tied together with twine
- Place the chicken pieces, sliced leeks, carrot, bay leaves, celery and the bouquet garni in a soup pot. Add the chicken stock and 1 teaspoon of salt and pepper and bring to a boil, then lower the temperature to to a low simmer. Skim off any foam that comes to the surface and discard. Simmer for approximately 45 minutes or until the chicken is completely cooked.
- While the soup is simmering, sauté the chopped onion in the olive oil on medium heat for about 5 minutes until it softens. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- When the chicken is done, remove from the pot and allow it to cool. Remove the bouquet garni, the celery stalk and the bay leaves from the pot and discard. Remove the meat from the bones and chop or tear into pieces and set aside.
- Raise the temperature to high and add the rice and the sautéed onion to the soup. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the temperature to low. Add the chicken meat back to the pot and simmer for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until the rice has cooked through.
- In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the eggs and the lemon juice. Temper the egg mixture before adding it to the pot of soup by slowly adding two ladlefuls of the hot broth to the egg mixture while continuing to stir. After the egg mixture has combined with the hot broth, add the egg mixture to the pot of soup and stir until well-blended. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt if needed. Simmer for about 5 minutes more and garnish with chopped parsley and some additional chopped dill if desired.