Meatballs with rice served in an egg lemon (avgolemono) sauce.
A few months ago, while we were scrolling through Pinterest, we came across recipes for porcupine meatballs. Intrigued, and slightly horrified, we investigated and were pleased to discover that these are not made of porcupine meat. In fact, porcupine meatballs are just regular meatballs with rice added to the mix; because the rice kind of pokes out of the cooked meatballs, they appear prickly, like porcupines. Cute. We grew up with something kind of similar, although the Greek version doesn’t have such a silly name; in Greek households they are called yiouvarlakia.
Yiouvarlakia, especially when served with a rich and tangy avgolemono (egg lemon sauce) as they are here, are perfect comfort food. The broth which is created while the yiouvarlakia cook, once enhanced by the avgolemono, becomes the base of an incredible soup, perfect for bread dunking. Because the meatballs are boiled, they remain tender, juicy and incredibly flavourful. This makes them very pleasing (usually) to young children; both the texture and taste are gentle. Our parents made this meal a lot when we were young, and then again when our girls were little. Eating it now, we have fond memories of both periods in our lives, and that’s part of the reason this recipe is one of our most cherished.
Be sure to check out this round-up of the best Greek soup recipes for fall, or anytime really!
Our parents use Carolina rice in these yiouvarlakia, and we have discovered that in some parts of the world, and Montreal, this rice is hard to find. If you are having trouble tracking it down, simply use another long grain rice.
You will see that the meat mixture, once all of the ingredients are combined, is somewhat wet. This is the way it should be. When shaping your yiouvarlakia, be sure to first press the meat mixture together so that it holds it’s shape well when you roll it in your hands. Then, you will roll each yiouvarlaki in some flour. This will help keep them together, and has the added bonus of thickening up your broth a bit.
Our parents like to add about a tablespoon of raw rice into the water in which the yiouvarlakia will cook. They maintain that this too helps to thicken up the soup base. Is this really necessary? We’re not sure, but it’s kind of a neat step…so just do it. 🙂
The easiest way to see if your yiouvarlakia are ready is to check one. Cut it open to be sure that the meat has cooked through (there should be no pink visible) and then taste a grain of rice; the rice should be fully cooked.
A key ingredient in this recipe is of course, the lemons. Use the freshest lemons you can find and try to avoid using bottled lemon juice unless you are certain that it is not diluted with water. Even still, there is nothing like the smell of fresh lemons. The quantity of lemon juice that our parents use will give you a tart, but not overly tart soup. If you want your avgolemono to taste more lemony, adjust the quantity of lemon juice. You can also add a squeeze of lemon to each individual serving plate if tastes differ around the table.
You will see that the directions for the avgolemono sauce below instruct you to remove some of the broth, set it aside to cool, and then add it slowly to the beaten eggs and lemon. This is a critical step because if you add the beaten eggs directly into the very hot soup you risk having your eggs curdle.As we described when we posted avgolemono soup, the addition of the egg lemon sauce is a bit ritualistic in our family (and from the feedback we have received, many other families too!). Whenever we watched our parents add avgolemono to their pot of soup, (or lahanodolmades, or yiouvarlakia) we would listen with great anticipation. That’s right…we would listen. You see, as they pour, they let out a long, drawn out kiss, right into the air. When we were young they would explain that this was a crucial step, one that would ensure that the meal would turn out delicious. When we first made avgolemono soup with them for Mia Kouppa, and were recording the recipe and steps for posting on the blog, we talked about this air smooch. Our parents laughed and told us that this was really just silliness, an old wives tale not meant to be taken seriously. But then, almost as though they couldn’t help themselves, they proceeded to kiss the air when finishing up our soup, and it was delicious. Do you need to kiss the air when you add the avgolemono to your pot of yiouvarlakia? Probably
not, but who knows!
Although a hearty (and healthy) meal, yiouvarlakia are delicate. Don’t stir them too much in the pot, and plate them with a small serving spoon which will allow you to pick up one or two at a time. You can then add the broth and avgolemono over top; this is the easiest way to keep you lovely rice studded meatballs intact.
Looking for some more avgolemono recipes, try these:
Yiouvarlakia with avgolemono
For the meatballs:
- 225 grams ground pork
- 225 grams ground veal
- 1 medium onion, grated (about 6 tablespoons)
- 1 tbsp chopped parsley
- 1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 tbsp salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup long grain rice
For assembly, and cooking:
- 1 cup (150 grams) all-purpose flour for coating the yourvarlakia
- 6 cups (48 fl oz) water
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) olive oil
- 1 tbsp long grain rice
For the avgolemono:
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- In a large bowl combine the ground pork and veal, the grated onion, parsley, 1 tablespoon olive oil, one beaten egg, 1 tablespoon flour, 1/4 cup lemon juice, salt, pepper and 1/2 cup rice, which you should rinse first. Allow the meat mixture to sit for at least 30 minutes or up to several hours in the refrigerator.
- Prepare your yiouvarlakia. Take about one tablespoon of the mixture and form a compact ball. Roll it in the flour to coat it lightly and set aside. Continue until all the meat mixture is used.
- In a large pot combine 6 cups water, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon of rice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and gently add the yiouvarlakia. Cook, covered, for about 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from heat and, if your soup does not seem to have much liquid in it, add about 1/2 to 1 cup of boiling water. Remove 1 cup of stock and set aside. Immediately start making your avgolemono.
- Separate eggs. Using a hand held mixer, or a fork, beat egg whites until frothy (you will NOT create soft peaks…that’s okay). Once the egg whites are frothy and foamy, add the egg yolks. Continue beating. Then, add the lemon juice. Beat together until combined and then slowly stream in the cup of stock that you had set aside, and which should have cooled so that it is warm but not hot. Continue to beat the egg / lemon mixture until all of the stock has been incorporated.
- Take this egg / lemon mixture and pour it slowly into the soup, stirring well, but being careful not to break apart your yiouvarlakia. It may be easier to shake your pot gently.
- Serve immediately.