Sometimes I plan dinner around the lemon tree. Well, not literally while sitting around the lemon tree.
But I do think about all the lovely lemons still popping out on my prolific backyard tree, and I think about all the ways I can put that bright, citrusy flavor into dinner.
When I was pregnant and tired all the time, I craved lemon-chicken soup. But I was pregnant and tired all the time, so I let my neighborhood Greek place do the cooking.
Since the kid is now pushing 4, I have no excuse for laziness like that. Which is fine since it means putting my homegrown lemons to work in my own version of lemon-chicken soup.
By making lemon-chicken soup with orzo at home, I can load it up with chicken and orzo, that nice little pasta that is shaped like rice.
I also can jam carrots and celery and leeks in there. I like the leeks in this instead of onion because they have the onion notes I want, only milder. Plus the color of the leeks is prettier than a white onion.
When we ate this for a dinner recently, I told my son about how much lemony chicken soup I ate while he was in my belly. He loved the story, saying "Mommy, I liked that soup. It made me warm and happy in your belly. And it's making me warm and happy now!"
Even using precooked chicken, I take full credit for the soup being homemade. Well, mostly.
LEMON-CHICKEN SOUP WITH ORZO
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small leeks, white and light green parts, halved and cut into1/4-inch slices and rinsed well
2 celery stalks, cut into1/4-inch slices
2 large carrots, peeled, quartered and cut into1/4-inch pieces
2 cups cooked chicken, bones removed and cut into bite-size chunks; see cook's notes
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup orzo pasta
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup chopped, fresh dill
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Optional for serving: lemon wedges
Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot. Add leeks, celery and carrots. Cook 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables start to soften and leeks just start to brown.
Add the chicken, broth and lemon juice, bringing to a boil.
Add orzo and cook until done, about 6 to 8 minutes.
Stir in butter and dill. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with extra lemon wedges, if using.
Yield: 6-8 servings.
Notes: I typically use rotisserie chicken for this. If I know I will make a double batch of this to have for later, I will cook the orzo separately and add just before serving. The orzo, when left in the pot, will soak up a lot of the liquid, making the soup thicker and closer to a stew-like consistency.