Something about soup just warms my heart. Especially as the weather starts to turn a little cool – okay, especially if it’s downright cold in November — soup is almost always the first thing on my mind as I think about meal preparation. The good thing about any soup is that it’s a highly customizable meal: make it vegetable-based and chunky, broth-based and clear, thick and creamy, tomato-based, or with a distinct spice, depending on what you’re in the mood for and what ingredients you have hanging out in your fridge.
Growing up, I much preferred the taste of chicken soup to any other soup, so my mom would boil a whole chicken and make broth at least once every couple of weeks. My absolute favorite addition to the soup was she’reya (or vermicelli), which would be sauteed lightly in ghee until browned, and boiled with the soup until the she’reya has lost its crunch and cooked thoroughly. As a really young child, alphabet soup topped my list of things I love about chicken soup, but that was only because I liked to find the letters of my name in my plate, having convinced myself that it’s a sign of good luck for the rest of the year (it’s true, don’t break my heart!). Other popular additions in our household were lesan ‘asfour (literally “bird’s tongue” in Arabic, referring to the literally tongue-shaped orzo), oats, or barley. The latter two would produce a significantly thicker soup than the former.
A few days ago, I was chatting with my grandparents in Egypt on the phone, and they shared that they had made soup for dinner! My first question was ‘Did you add she’reya?’ Not only did they add the browned vermicelli, but they also added egg yolk. What? Had I been kept completely in the dark about this egg-in-chicken-soup concept? Were the Chinese infiltrating Egyptian food traditions too? I was really intrigued by the concept and asked what they called it in Arabic. “Shorba bil tarbiya” was their answer. If you can understand at least conversational Arabic, you’ll notice that the word ‘tarbiya’ is literally translated as ‘rearing’ in English, usually used in the context of ‘teaching children correct behavior.’ What was that doing in my soup? I asked them to elaborate on the choice of wording for this soup name, and it turns out that in the context of soup specifically, ‘tarbiya‘ refers to ‘thickening’ the soup and making it more hearty. Interesting, huh? I hope you did get the anaolgy, though I do realize it’s hard to make sense of it in English.
For a whole day, I was trying to come up with a clever translation of the dish in English, but couldn’t think of one that could convey the meaning, so I settled for “Yolk drop soup” – a deviation from the Chinese “Egg drop soup” in that only the yolk is used in this recipe. Not super creative, but leaves no questions unanswered!
Excited by the new concept of ‘tarbiya‘ with soup, I went ahead and tried making it the next time we stewed a whole chicken last week. When I lived in Chicago, I’d buy pastured chicken (completely free-range, with organic, soy-free feed) straight from the farmer, but since moving to Virginia recently, I’ve been too busy to locate a local source. I settled for organic chicken from Whole Foods, which at least guarantees that the chicken has not received any hormones, antibiotics, and eats a completely vegetarian diet.
As for the vermicelli, I was tempted to use it, but seeing that I’m trying to limit my intake of refined flour, I used whole wheat organic orzo instead. To be honest, the taste of the orzo wasn’t even comparable to my beloved she’reya – probably because it was made of whole wheat flour. Next time, I’ll attempt a sprouted ancient grain.
This soup is not only incredibly tasty and heart-warming, but also very nutritious. As Brenda shared in a recent post, homemade chicken broth beats those fake, MSG-loaded bouillon cubes (Maggi) any day! And as you know, it also helps you feel better when you’re sick, and mends broken hearts. Well, not quite, but it sure is tasty!
‘Yolk Drop’ Chicken Soup with Orzo or Vermicelli
Cook Time: 1 hour
Keywords: boil soup/stew appetizer eggs chicken broth soup
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 1 whole organic or pasture-raised chicken from a local farmer
- 8-9 cups of filtered water
- 1/2 cup of orzo or vermicelli (you may use rice orzo for a gluten-free version)
- 1 tablespoon grass-fed ghee
- 2 egg yolks from pastured eggs, at room temperature
- 1 yellow onion, sliced into fourths
- 3-4 crushed bay leaves
- 3-4 cardamom pods, crushed a bit to expose seeds
- 1-2 mastic crystals (optional, but adds a nice background flavor)
- unrefined mineral salt
- black pepper
- a few drops of lime juice (to taste)
(1) Rinse and salt chicken. First rinse chicken thoroughly under running water, and apply salt generously to skin and rub in. Leave for 10 minutes and then rinse off the salt.
(2) Add to pot with ingredients. I use my stainless steal strainer pot because it is deep, but you can use any pot that would fit the chicken and water without splashing everywhere while it’s boiling. Add filtered water, chicken, onion, mastic crystals, bay leaves, cardamom, salt and pepper.
(3) Cook the chicken. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium and simmer for 45 minutes or so. During the first 20 minutes of cooking, remove foamy scum that rises to the top and discard.
(4) Saute the orzo or vermicelli. Add one tablespoon of ghee to another pot, add the 1/2 cup of orzo or vermicelli and saute until browned. Add 6-7 cups of strained chicken broth to the orzo and stir well, making sure the orzo or vermicelli don’t stick together towards the bottom of the pot. Cook the orzo or vermicelli until al dente. Leave to cool.
(5) Add the egg yolk. Separate the yolk from two pastured eggs (preferably at room temperature) and beat well. When broth is tepid (not hot!), slowly drip the egg yolk into the broth, stirring the whole time. Make sure broth isn’t hot while you’re pouring in the yolks; otherwise, the eggs may ‘cook’ before it’s mixed thoroughly into the soup.
(6) Warm the soup. Once yolks are fully integrated, the soup should have a yellowish tinge. Reheat the soup, but don’t boil excessively. Serve hot, with a few drops of lime or lemon juice.