Most of you who observe Easter were probably celebrating last weekend with DIY wooden Easter eggs and veganized recipes galore. For those of us whose families hail from Greece (or the Ukraine, or Russia, among other nations), Easter is actually today. That’s right—this is Easter Sunday in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. So, it is with great enthusiasm that I greet all of my readers who are celebrating today with a big “Christos Anesti!”
You guys have heard the stories about me and my Greek Yaya, who was as perplexed by the idea of vegetarianism as she might have been by an alien language, or an advanced multivariable calculus problem. You may also have seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and enjoyed this scene:
It describes almost precisely my Grandmother’s reaction to my announcement that I would no longer eat red meat, many many years ago. Lamb is so ubiquitous in Greek cooking that choosing to forgo it is akin to heresy! Nevertheless, I persisted in my meat-less inclinations, deepened them, and you guys know the rest of the story: going vegan was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
A frequent fear among the newly vegan is that veganism will disrupt or even ruin cherished family holidays. What’s Thanksgiving without turkey, people wonder, or Passover without gefilte fish, or Christmas without a roast? Well, let me assure you all that these holidays can be every bit as rich—or more so—when your meals have been prepared without any injury done to animals.
Beyond that, I think we all tend to think of holidays as fixed, unchanging things: rituals so sacred that any modification will be an affront to family and upbringing. When you think about it, though, this is very far from the truth! Holidays are always in flux, because our families are always in flux: new spouses, children, and friends are welcomed into the fold, and as this happens, traditions change. Dinners are served in new homes, with new recipes and new faces. Holidays accommodate us as we evolve and change; we don’t need to resist personal transformation in order to keep them intact.
Shift your thinking, then, to envision your family celebrations not as timeless and static traditions, but as a communal gatherings that are open to your growth. Honor the holiday by sharing food and rituals that embody who you are and the direction your life is taking. Sharing your values—food related and not—with your family and friends is one of the most meaningful contributions you can make to any holiday season.
This soup is my contribution. Though Western Easter is not generally my favorite holiday, Greek Easter is important to me; celebrating it as a child was a way of bonding with my mother and grandmother, who were raised in that faith, and a way of experiencing their traditions. It was also fun! We broke Easter eggs (if we still did that, I’d be introducing wooden egg DIY projects), stayed up late (midnight is exciting to an 8-year-old), and feasted on good food, especially avgolemono.
Avgolemono (aahv-go-lemon-o) is a Mediterranean soup or sauce that typically has an egg and and lemon base. Lemon is added to the soup in a delicate, thin stream, so as not to curdle the egg as you add acid. I used to love watching my mother do this in my Grandmother’s kitchen; she was masterful, and the task was always entrusted to her because my mother can be counted on to do difficult tasks with a steady hand. In my family, the soup was made with heaping portions of lamb. And you will find it amusing to know that, from a very young age, I started picking the lamb out and resting it on my plate; so much so, that my mother started making a small bowl for me that was just broth.
I’ve searched for vegan avgolemono for a long time, and none of the recipes I’ve seen blown me away. I wanted something quick, simple, tart, and very much like the creamy soup I remember, sans egg (which is the traditional thickener). I think I’ve figured it out, and let me tell you: it was so much easier than I thought it would be. Here, folks, is a vegan avgolemono that will take you 20 minutes in a pressure cooker, and 45 minutes without one (most of that inactive). It’s tangy from the lemon, creamy from miso and tahini, and full of nutritious, grounding brown basmati rice. Who needs meet when you have vegetables and grains?
Vegan Avgolemono (Greek Easter Soup with Lemon and Rice) (gluten free, soy free)
Serves 4 generously
5 cups water and 3 no salt added, organic vegetable bouillon cubes, OR 5 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 cup brown basmati rice (or long grain brown rice)
2 small shallots, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
2 small cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tbsp mellow white miso (or any miso, really)
2 tbsp tahini
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 heaping tbsp dried dill, or 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
If you’re using a pressure cooker: Add the water or broth, rice, carrots, garlic, shallots, and sea salt to the cooker. Seal and cook on high for 20 minutes. Release steam naturally. Whisk together (or use a blender) the miso, tahini, and lemon juice. Add to soup, whisking, till soup is uniform in color. Add nutritional yeast and dill. Serve!
If you’re using a regular stovetop: Sautee the shallots, carrots, and garlic in broth, water, or a touch of coconut or avocado oil till shallots are translucent (7-10 min). Add broth or water, rice, and salt. Bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook for 30-35 minutes, or until rice is cooked through (it may take a bit longer). Whisk together (or use a blender) the miso, tahini, and lemon juice. Add to soup, whisking, till soup is uniform in color. Add nutritional yeast and dill. Serve!
I use tahini, nooch, and miso in a lot of my recipes, but I never imagined it would bring a childhood classic to life so perfectly. For the record, I also tried (in the past) using soy or rice milk to thicken the soup, as well as an arrowroot version; this is by far the best and most authentic. It’s salty, tangy, and kissed with dill, just as the soup should be. I cannot wait to make it for my Mom!
Hope you guys give the recipe a shot; you don’t have to be Greek to enjoy it!
What traditional holiday recipes have you veganized or added a vegan meal to recently? I’d love to hear how you’ve brought your vegan values to holiday gatherings with family and friends.