Greek Lemon Soup with Lamb Keftedes

Greek Lemon Soup with Minted Lamb Keftedes

Spring!

…in the Eastern Mediterranean.

With winter behind us, a favored soup’s bright lemony flavor sprang to mind with the arrival of local seasonal fresh produce as the winter finally transitions into spring. For a cook, this is the  moment to get out there and peruse the local farmers markets, country food stands, or go foraging for wild greens in a local park or nearby vacant lot, scavenging for wild nettles, fiddle ferns, watercress, mint, or wild fennel.

Fanciful recollections perhaps, but the thought of revisiting this renowned classic Greek lemon soup (CLICK HERE) with some fresh spring finds in hand was compelling enough to get into the kitchen and do some ad hoc cooking!

What I ended up with was a rustic lemony Greek cassoulet of sorts with white beans, minted lamb keftedes (meatballs) topped with a flurry of fresh mint, lemon zest, toasted celery seeds, flaked sea salt, and fresh cracked pepper. A hearty, zesty, flavorful, and a deliciously satisfying meal that celebrates  the essence of spring!

Greek Lemon Soup with Minted Lamb Keftedes  Serves 4-6

Prepare ahead: The stock, white beans, lamb meatballs, and lemon soup can all be prepared ahead of time and ready for the final assembly and serving.

Stock:

  • bones from a whole chicken
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 cups chopped celery leaves and rib trimmings
  • 1 tablespoon white pepper corns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • water

Combine all the ingredients and fill the stock pot to ¾ full. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for several hours or until reduced to 1/3. Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer and set aside to cool.

White beans:

  • 1 cup dried white beans
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • water

Add the beans, onions, and garlic to a large pot and fill with plenty of water. Bring to a boil and lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beans are very soft. This will take anywhere from 1 to several hours depending on the age of the dried beans.  When the beans are very soft, drain, and set aside. You will have about 2 ½ cups cooked beans.

Lamb Keftedes (meatballs)

  • 1 pound/450g finely ground lamb
  • 1 onion, grated
  • ¼ cup uncooked rice
  • 1 teaspoon crushed dried mint leaves
  • 1 small organic egg
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper 
  • 3 tablespoons minced parsley
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cups stock or more as needed

Combine the ground lamb, grated onion, rice, mint, egg, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl. Using your hands, knead the mixture until it is dense and firm.

Using a heaping tablespoon of the lamb mixture, roll it into a firm ball.  Continue rolling the remaining meatballs and placing them on a tray. Place the minced parsley in a shallow dish and roll the meatballs in the chopped parsley, press firmly onto the meatballs, and set aside.

Using a pan just wide enough to accommodate the meat balls, melt the butter together with the olive oil over medium heat. Arrange the meatballs evenly in the bottom of the pan and add enough stock to cover the meatballs. Once the stock begins to boil, reduce the heat to a low simmer, partially cover the pan, and cook the meatballs for 25 to 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and set the pan aside to cool until you are nearly ready to serve the soup.

Lemon soup:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 2 cups finely diced celery
  • 6 cups stock 
  • 2 ½ cups drained cooked beans
  • ½  teaspoon dried lemon thyme leaves
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon fresh ground white pepper
  • 2 organic eggs, yolks and whites separated
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon (1/4 cup juice)

Heat the olive oil and butter in a soup pot set over medium heat until bubbling. Add the onions, garlic, and celery. Reduce the heat to medium low and saute for about 12 minutes or until soft and translucent.  Add the stock and stir to combine. Add 1 ½ cups of the cooked beans (reserving the remaining 1 cup of whole cooked beans to be added later), lemon thyme, salt, and pepper. Bring the pot to a simmer, partially cover with lid, and cook for 30-40 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Blend the contents in the pot with an immersion blender, or transfer to a blender, and blend for several minutes until the onions, celery, and beans are pureed and the soup is relatively smooth. Skim off any foam on the surface and discard.

Beat the egg yolks and egg whites in separate bowls, beating the whites until they form soft peaks. Then, beat the egg yolks into the beaten egg whites until well combined. While briskly beating, begin adding the lemon juice to the egg mixture in a slow stream, beating it in until well incorporated.  Scoop out 1½ cups warm soup puree from the soup pot and slowly add it to the egg lemon juice mixture while stirring. This will temper the eggs so they don’t curdle when added back into the soup.

Turn the heat back on under the soup to low. Begin adding the egg lemon soup mixture into the soup while continuously stirring until combined. Continue stirring until the soup thickens, being very careful that the soup does not boil, which will cook the eggs and curdle the soup! This will take several minutes. Once the soup has thickened, add the remaining reserved whole beans to the soup and continue to heat without boiling for1 or 2 minutes while stirring. Turn off the heat and set the soup aside while you prepare for serving.

Serving and garnishes:

  • reserved meat balls
  • lemon soup
  • 1 tablespoon lightly toasted celery seeds
  • 1 bunch fresh mint, leaves chopped
  • lemon zest
  • flaked sea salt and fresh cracked pepper

Reheat the meatballs and place 4 or 5 meatballs in each serving bowl. Ladle the warm soup over the meatballs, sparsely scatter the surface with toasted celery seeds, and pile on some fresh chopped mint. Top with lemon zest, some flaked sea salt, and finish with a crank of fresh cracked pepper and serve.

Storage and Reheating:
The soup may be refrigerated, once cooled to room temperature. To re-heat bring the soup to room temperature, place on medium low heat and stir until the soup is hot. Again do not allow the soup to boil when re-heating! The soup can also be reheated in the microwave with no ill effects.

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