Of all the ways to enjoy a meatball, you could say they're at their most comforting bobbing in broth.
Not that there's anything wrong with spaghetti and red sauce, miso and Ritz crackers, or any of the other 45 million or so meatball variations that exist.
It's just that spooning up a morsel of meatballs — whether they're as tiny as marbles or as big as a baseball — in steaming soup feels immensely soothing in a tidy, calm kind of way, the very opposite of a chaotic and joyfully messy sub.
This lemony Greek meatball soup, a riff on youvarlakia avgolemono, looks especially quiet in the pot. Yet every spoonful vibrates with flavor: the brightness of citrus and dill, the depth of the chicken stock, the velvety richness of egg yolk.
In the United States, we tend to think of avgolemono as a soup made with chunks of chicken and grains of rice. But, in Greece, adding meatballs to the broth is just as traditional. This recipe substitutes ground chicken for the usual beef, making the whole thing a bit lighter. Ground turkey works just as well.
Using a gentle touch keeps meatballs from turning rubbery. The more you knead and press ground meat, the more it adheres to itself. While forceful kneading is essential for some recipes (like kebabs, where you want the meat to cling to its skewer so it doesn't fall into the fire), it's the enemy of fluffy, soft meatballs that float nicely in broth.
Here's another tip: Chill the meatballs thoroughly before adding them to the simmering liquid to help keep them from falling apart. You can even make the meatballs a few days ahead, storing them in the refrigerator until you're ready for soup.
But don't try to make the avgolemono mixture much in advance. The delicate emulsion of eggs and lemon can separate as the mixture sits. It's best whisked together, then poured directly into the broth just before serving. This egg emulsion also means that leftovers do not freeze well.
If you're looking to add vegetables to the pot, a handful of baby spinach (or other tender greens) is excellent stirred in about five minutes before the avgolemono mixture is added. This also gives the greens a chance to soften, without any risk of curdling. Because while versatile meatballs can withstand the heat, taking care with your avgolemono is what guarantees the silkiest, most elegant broth.
Youvarlakia Avgolemono (Lemony Greek Meatball Soup)
Avgolemono is a Greek egg and lemon mixture that's tangy and silky and used to thicken sauces and soups. In the United States, most versions of avgolemono soup brim with grains of rice and chunks of chicken. In this recipe, a riff on youvarlakia avgolemono, ground chicken and rice are rolled into meatballs, then simmered in the broth, making the whole thing heartier without losing the soup's characteristic brightness. Many recipes for youvarlakia call for ground beef, and, if you like you can substitute that here. Note that because of the eggs in the broth, leftovers do not freeze well.
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 1 hour
1 pound ground chicken (or ground turkey or beef), very cold
3/4 cup chopped fresh dill or parsley, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup grated yellow onion (from about 1 small onion)
1/4 cup grated carrot (from about 1 carrot)
1/4 cup uncooked long-grain rice, such as basmati or Carolina, well rinsed and drained
1 garlic clove, finely grated, pushed through a garlic press, or minced
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
6 cups chicken stock
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
Freshly grated nutmeg, for serving (optional)
In a large mixing bowl, combine ground chicken, 1/4 cup dill, onion, carrot, rice, garlic, salt, pepper and lemon zest. Gently mix with your hands until well combined.
Gently form the mixture into 24 meatballs, each about 1 1/4 inches in diameter, placing them on a plate or baking pan. Cover and chill for at least 20 minutes or up to 24 hours. This helps the meatballs keep their shape while cooking.
In a large pot, bring stock to a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium, and use a slotted spoon to carefully add meatballs to the pot. The broth should cover the tops of the meatballs by about 1/2 inch. If not, add a little water. Simmer gently, adjusting the heat so the broth doesn't boil, until meatballs are cooked through and rice is tender, 25 to 35 minutes. (Break open a meatball to test it.) Remove pot from heat.
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and lemon juice until just mixed. Slowly add a ladle of warm broth to egg-lemon mixture, whisking constantly. Whisk in another two ladles of broth to temper the egg mixture.
Slowly drizzle the egg-lemon mixture back into the pot with the meatballs, stirring gently so you don't break apart the meatballs. Return the pot to medium-low heat until it just starts to simmer. (Wait for a bubble or two to appear, but don't let the pot boil.) The broth should be silky. Remove from heat, and stir in remaining 1/2 cup dill. Taste and add salt and pepper, if needed. (It may need quite a bit of salt if you are starting with unsalted broth.) Garnish with nutmeg, if you like, and dill, and serve.
— Recipe by Melissa Clark