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ELEMENTS / One ingredient, one dish

Today, lemons are prized for flavoring desserts and savory dishes, but their first recorded uses are as medicine.

Arab sailors are credited with spreading the powerfully acidic fruit during their travels, having discovered its usefulness for fighting the vitamin C deficiency known as scurvy.

Having reached Italy and the Mediterranean by the 15th century, lemon seeds were among Christopher Columbus' cargo when he landed in the West Indies.

Lemon peel and lemon zest, the outermost yellow layer of peel carrying its aromatic oils, are prized in Mediterranean cuisine. Moroccan cooks preserve whole lemons in a mixture of salt and spices, using them in braised recipes such as tagines.

It's the juice that inspires most cooks, mixed into sugary water as lemonade, used as a penetrating marinade component, or simply squeezed over steamed vegetables.

Keeping its flavor: Lemons in good condition can be refrigerated in a plastic bag for two to three weeks. That bottle of reconstituted lemon juice will keep forever, but its taste makes it a poor substitute.

Here, lemon juice whipped with eggs thickens chicken soup in the Greek favorite avgolemono. Thighs have more chicken flavor in this soup. But if you have time, the best option is simmering bone-in chicken for an hour or more, removing bones when shredding meat.


>Avgolemono (Chicken Egg-Lemon Soup)

8 cups chicken broth

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or 4 boneless, skinless thighs), sliced

1/2 cup orzo

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

2/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped (optional)

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Bring broth to a simmer in a large pot. Add chicken. Reduce heat; simmer gently until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Skim foam from pot. When chicken is cooked, remove to cool. Shred meat.

Bring broth to simmer and add orzo. Meanwhile, beat eggs and lemon juice in a large bowl until smooth. Turn heat to medium; soup cannot boil at any point hereafter or it will curdle.

Slowly pour a ladle of hot broth into egg-lemon mixture, whisking constantly. Pour in another, whisking again, for a total of about 1 cup broth added to mixture.

Slowly pour lemon-egg-broth mixture into the pot, whisking steadily. Return chicken to the pot, and add dill, if using. Allow to cook over medium heat, never boiling, until orzo is done to taste.

Season with salt and fresh ground pepper and serve.


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