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!”
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?
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 small white or yellow onion, chopped
- 2 small shallots, chopped
- 2 medium sized carrots, diced
- 1 stalk celery, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup brown basmati rice (or long grain brown rice), soaked overnight and rinsed well
- 6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 1½ tbsp mellow white miso (or any miso, really)
- 2 tbsp tahini (substitute ¼ cup cashew cream)
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh dill
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook the onion for 4-5 minutes, or until it's clear and soft. Add the shallots, carrots, and celery. Cook the vegetables for another 4 minutes, until the carrots are just becoming tender. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute, until it's fragrant. Add tablespoons of broth or water as needed to prevent sticking as you cook the vegetables.
- Add the rice to the pot. Swirl it around for a minute to toast it, then add the broth and salt. Bring mixture to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer the soup for 30 minutes. (Note: if you don't have time to pre-soak your rice, simmer for 35-40 minutes.)
- When soup is almost done cooking, whisk together the lemon juice, miso, tahini or cashew cream, and a few tablespoons of hot broth from the soup. Add this slurry back to the soup, along with the nutritional yeast. Whisk it all thoroughly, till smooth. Stir in the dill and cook for a few more moments. Serve.
- Soup will keep, refrigerated, for up to four days, and it can be frozen for up to a month.
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.