Traditional Greek Meatballs Soup in Egg-lemon sauce (Youvarlakia Avgolemono soup)
We are so happy that 2020 is now finally over. What a year right? Who would have thought that when we wished happy 2020 a year ago, this year would be very strange and weird for everyone? And all because of a virus!
New concepts like home-schooling and remote working have become the norm for many people around the world. Lockdowns and curfews are constant. It’s an everyday thing nowadays.
Despite all this craziness, there is hope that we are going to get through this as humanity. Ourselves, we believe that we will; and that 2021 will be a year of re-birth, creativity, and new achievements.
On a personal level, 2020 was a year of new beginnings. New home, new lifestyle, new way of approaching life in general.
This was very liberating and refreshing. Setting up our own tiny home in the countryside, and starting a small organic garden was something -we found out- that we needed.
Good old comfort food
The truth is that during the lockdowns there is time to test and taste good old favorite recipes and create new ones.
We recently tested the meatballs avgolemono soup recipe (aka youvarlakia avgolemono). It’s a traditional soup and a Greek comfort food that was missing from our recipes index and we thought it was about time to include it. Plus, we wanted to start this year on the blog the way we started it last year. With a warm, delicious, and hearty soup.
This recipe is one of the staples of Greek cuisine, enjoyed by everyone. With or without avgolemono sauce, this soup always finds its way on the table on a family Sunday lunch or dinner. Served with fresh crusty artisanal bread this soup is a dish everyone must give it a try.
Youvarlakia or Giouvarlakia
So what is youvarlakia (also written in English as giouvarlakia)? The word comes from the Turkish word “yuvarlak”, that means round. Back in the times when Greece was under the Ottoman rule, many Turkish and Byzantine-era recipes where fused into a new rich cuisine, which still has many dishes used today on both sides of the Aegean. So, many Greek and Turkish recipes have similar names and similar ingredients. The Greek version of this dish seems to have originated from Greeks who came into the mainland from Minor Asia (Smyrna and the coastal cities) as refugees back in 1922. Thus, youvarlakia avgolemono soup was introduced to the Greek cuisine: round meatballs with rice and herbs, cooked in meat or vegetable broth.
We thought that this recipe would be a little complicated to make. Guess what… it’s not! You basically add all the ingredients for the meatballs in a bowl and knead. Then you make the round meatballs, add them in broth and cook them.
We made some changes though. Our initial try was cooking the meatballs in beef broth, but it turned out too “meaty” and quite heavy in taste. So, we change it to vegetable broth which worked like a charm. We also used short grain brown rice instead of short grain plain white rice and added finely chopped spring onions in the meatballs’ mixture along with red/white onions and dill. This resulted in rich, complex, and robust meatballs, full of flavors. The short grain rice, combined with the egg-whites and the flour coating, helped the youvarlakia to maintain their shape and not fall apart during cooking.
There are some variations for the meatballs’ mixture that use parsley instead of dill, or both dill and parsley. There are also some, who use a mix of minced meats like pork-beef-lamb or even turkey. The choice is completely yours, depending on your likings. However, we find that a lean beef cut works best for these meatballs.
For the avgolemono sauce we used only the egg-yolks. The result was a creamier egg-lemon sauce than the ones we made in previous egg-lemon sauce recipes like the vegetarian magiritsa, the chicken soup and the pork stew with celery.
The secret ingredient though for this creamier avgolemono sauce, is the corn starch. Adding the corn starch and bringing the soup to a boil at the end of the cooking time makes all the difference.
You can serve this soup as a first dish or as a main on a family gathering with slices of crusty artisanal bread and sprinkle a little fresh finely chopped dill or parsley on each dish. We have also seen some people eating feta cheese on the side, but this is entirely optional. You must really like feta cheese to do that :)
As aforementioned you can also make this soup without the avgolemono sauce if you are not a fan of eggs. You just skip the egg-lemon sauce part in the preparation section below and simply make the meatball soup and add a little fresh lemon juice at each plate that you serve.
We totally recommend though to make the egg-lemon sauce. It creates a match made in heaven with the meatballs. Trust us and you won’t regrate this. And don’t forget to dip your bread in this avgolemono sauce mixed with the broth at the end!
Let’s see how to make this delicious traditional Greek comfort food, shall we?
For the youvarlakia
- 1kg / 2lb (35oz), beef mince (prefer a lean cut)
- 200g / 7oz (1 cup), parboiled short grain brown rice *
- 150g / 5.5oz (1-2 medium sized) onions, finely chopped **
- 1/2 bunch (1 cup) dill, finely chopped
- 3 egg whites***
- 4 cubes of vegetable bouillon
- 50g / 2oz (about 2) spring onions, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 125ml (1/2 cup) olive oil
- 140g (1 cup) plain flour, for coating the meatballs
- 2lt / 2qt (8 cups) of warm water
For the egg-lemon sauce
- 3 egg yolks**
- 1/2 cup (6tbsp) lemon juice (from about 3 medium-sized lemons)
- 2tbsp corn starch
*You can also use white rice if you can’t find the parboiled brown. Arborio and Carnaroli work great with this recipe.
**You can also grate the onions instead.
***Choose 3 medium size eggs and separate them to egg whites and egg yolks. You will use the whites in the meatballs and the yolks in the avgolemono sauce.
In a large bowl add the beef mince, the onions, the spring onions, the dill, the rice, the salt and pepper and the egg whites (pic.1). Knead the mixture until all the ingredients are nicely combined (pic.2)
Cover the bowl with cling film and place it in the fridge for 10 minutes to cool (pic.3). This will help you form the meatballs much easier and prevent them from falling apart while cooking. Add the olive oil in a large pot (pic.4).
Remove the bowl with the meatballs’ mixture from the fridge. Start forming the meatballs (pic.5) and place them on a baking sheet covered with parchment (pic.6).
Roll the meatballs in the flour to coat (pic.7) and start placing them in the pot as tight and gently as possible (pic.8 - 9).
Turn on the heat to medium-high and gently start pouring the water in the pot (pic.10) aiming at the side of the pot, not at the meatballs.
The water should be enough to cover the meatballs (pic.11). If not (depending on your pot) add more water. Add the vegetable bouillon by crumbling it with your fingers (pic.12).
Bring the meatballs to a boil and skim off most impurities/froth from the surface if necessary (pic.13). Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 30 minutes with half covered lid. Then remove from heat, season well with salt and pepper and start preparing the egg-lemon sauce.
For the egg-lemon sauce (Avgolemono)
In a small bowl (preferably metallic to better feel the heat of the broth), add the lemon juice and the corn starch (pic.14). Mix well.
Add the egg yolks (pic.15) and whisk well.
The following step is very important:
Using a ladle, take some of the soup's broth and start adding it to the egg-lemon mix, while whisking vigorously (pic.16). Be careful to add the broth slowly, while whisking, as the purpose of this process is to raise the temperature of the egg-lemon mixture to the one of the broth in the soup. You don't want the eggs to become solid/cooked. It will take about 3-4 ladle scoops to achieve that. The result must be a hot yellowish frothy sauce.
Add the egg-lemon sauce to the pot with the meatballs (pic.17). Don’t stir the meatballs. Grab the pot from its handles and swirl lightly for a few seconds (pic.18).
Place the pot back to a medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Then remove from the heat and your meatballs soup with egg-lemon sauce is ready to be served.
1. If you prefer a lighter taste, you can omit the egg-lemon sauce. It will taste almost just as good. Simply add a little fresh lemon juice at the end instead.
2. You can make the meatball soup ahead and prepare the avgolemono sauce right before serving. All you must do is heat up the soup, make the sauce and add it back to the pot.
3. Serve this soup with some fresh dill on top and some fresh artisanal bread to enjoy the sauce/broth.
4. In this recipe we used parboiled short grain brown rice, but you can make this with regular white short grain rice. Some recipes go for the long grain, but we believe that short grain rice is better suited for this recipe. Arborio and Carnaroli are perfect for this recipe.
5. After serving, don’t cover the remaining meatball soup with the lid. Let it cool to room temperature. You don’t want this delicious egg-lemon sauce to curdle.
6. You can replace the dill with finely chopped parsley or use both if you like.
7. If you want a healthier approach to this soup you can use ground turkey instead of beef.
If you liked this recipe or like soups in general, there are more to choose from on our soup section.