Want a quick and easy soup made with leftover rotisserie chicken? Try this healthy Greek chicken soup recipe. This lemon soup with meaty, shredded chicken, feta cheese and a double shot of lemon, has a bright punchy flavor and is naturally gluten free. This versatile recipe can be customized to your tastes and makes a big pot of homemade (egg free) Greek lemon soup (Avgolemono) , that’s ready to eat in about an hour.
My friend, Nola, has been talking about this soup (her version of it) for the past few months. It’s not a classic Greek Avgolemono because this lemon soup recipe doesn’t include egg and is more brothy and light than the traditional.
Nola says she’s been making this lemon soup every week for a month and loves it because the flavors are so bright. Plus, it makes a big pot of lemony chicken soup that she can eat off of for days.
She shared her special additions and swaps to the classic lemon soup (which includes a lot of garlic) and I embellished further. I must say, it’s FANTASTIC!
What you’ll need for Greek lemon chicken soup
- Olive Oil
- Kosher Salt
- Greek Oregano
- Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
- Chicken Stock homemade or low-sodium canned
- Shredded Leftover Rotisserie Chicken
- Feta Cheese
My riff on classic Greek lemon soup
For this soup, I start with mushrooms. That might seem out of step with most Greek lemon chicken soup recipes you’ve seen before (and if you don’t like mushrooms, you can skip them).
Personally, I LOVE mushrooms. In this recipe, they make this soup taste even more meaty and robust.
I used Cremini mushrooms for this recipe, but button mushrooms or any other variety would work well too.
Kicky spice blend
What gives this Greek-style lemon soup such a flavorful kick? The very healthy dose of chopped garlic (8 large cloves), crushed red pepper flakes and dried Greek oregano).
Sautéeing the herbs and spices with a mirepoix, softens the pungency of the raw garlic, and enhances the flavors.
The crushed hot pepper amplifies that tongue tingling sensation. If you want more heat, feel free to add more red pepper flakes.
Most Greek chicken soups are enriched with pasta (nothing wrong with that). For this version of lemon chicken soup, I use quinoa, instead. Partly because it’s healthier than pasta, but also because I love the mouth-feel those little grains have in this soup.
Quinoa has a solid amount of protein and fiber, along with a long list of vitamins and minerals and it’s gluten-free. Read more about the health benefits of quinoa from this Healthline article.
What else can I use besides quinoa?
If you don’t like quinoa (or don’t have it on hand) you can substitute another grain or pasta, just be mindful of different cooking times and textures.
Some whole grain substitutions will require more broth and cooking time than is called for in this chicken quinoa soup recipe.
Substitutions for quinoa in Greek chicken soup:
- Farro – a chewy, nutty grain, would be an excellent substitution, but it takes longer to cook (about 30 minutes). You can cook the farro in the soup and add more chicken stock as needed, or cook it separately and add it to the soup at the end, just before serving.
- Pearled Barley – needs about 25-35 minutes to absorb liquid, so factor that in to your soup’s cooking time and add more broth as necessary, or cook separately and stir into the soup just before serving.
- White Rice – It’s neutral, cheap and you probably have a bag on hand. Generally cooks in 15 minutes, so you shouldn’t have to make any modifications to the cooking time.
- Brown Rice – Is the whole rice grain and contains the bran, germ and endosperm. It also takes longer to cook, about 45-50 minutes. To use brown rice in the Avgolemono, I recommend cooking it separately and adding it just before serving, otherwise you might need several cups more broth than is called for as the rice will soak up quite a bit.
- Pasta is also very common in Greek lemon chicken soup recipes, the key is that you want small shaped varieties. Try:
- Pearl Couscous
- Small Shells
- Mini Farfalle (bowties)
Using leftover rotisserie chicken for soup
- This riff on Avoglemono works well with white meat from the breast or dark leg and thigh meat.
- Chop or shred (pull) the leftover chicken. (I personally prefer pulled chicken because it’s more rustic.
- You’ll need about 4 cups of meat for the lemon chicken quinoa soup.
Most of the key flavors in this recipe are added at the end of cooking, including the leftover rotisserie chicken. I purposely wait to add the meat, because the chicken is already cooked and you don’t want it to get tough in a long simmer.
Can I use raw chicken in the lemon soup?
Yes. If you don’t have leftover rotisserie chicken on hand, use raw chicken breasts.
- Just dice the meat into 1″ pieces and sauté in a little olive oil before you cook the mushrooms.
- Transfer the chicken to another dish and continue with the recipe.
- Add the chicken back to the pot when you add the broth and grains to simmer.
- All of the ingredients in the quinoa soup will be ready at the same time.
Important finishing touches to Greek chicken soup
What makes this simple chicken quinoa soup lean Greek, is the feta cheese and bright, tangy lemon flavor.
Feta cheese doesn’t melt, but when it’s hot, it gets soft and pillowy and lends a creamy mouth feel to the lemon chicken quinoa soup. I add the cheese to the whole pot of soup and a little extra to garnish each individual bowl when serving.
Lemons for the soup
The zest is where all the flavor is (and it’s a main reason this blog is called Garlic and Zest, because I believe in flavor).
To get bright lemon flavor, use the zest too.
A fine microplane grater will remove just the zest (no bitter white pith) and that’s what gives this soup it’s signature bright, sunny Mediterranean flavor.
How does it taste?
So, big props to Nola for turning me on to this one! I love the soft, plush nuggets of feta cheese, the bright, citrusy notes and the meaty richness of the chicken and mushrooms.
I can’t stop at just one guilt-free bowl of this lemony Greek chicken soup.
You’ll love its staying power and versatility. Make it once according to this recipe, then add your own riffs by changing up the grains or pasta, bulk it up with more veggies like diced squash or zucchini or add a swirl of cream for a richer, silkier taste.
This riff on the classic Avgolemono recipe makes a great lunch or dinner.
Greek chicken soup FAQ’s
The soup will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Yes, this soup freezes well and will keep for up to 3 months.
Yes! Spinach, kale and endive all work well. Spinach isn’t as sturdy, so if you’re adding that, do it at the last minute before serving to individual bowls.
Add more chicken stock, 1-2 cups at a time, along with 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice to keep the flavors in balance.
More leftover rotisserie chicken recipes:
- Leftover Rotisserie Chicken Stock
- Curried Chicken Salad
- Southwestern Chicken Taco Soup
- Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas
- Lemony Chicken Orzo Salad
Lemon Quinoa Chicken Soup
- Dutch oven or large heavy stock pot with lid
- 2 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 8 ounces mushrooms sliced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt divided
- 1 large onion chopped
- 2 stalks celery chopped
- 2 medium carrots peeled and chopped
- 8 large cloves garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 8 cups chicken broth homemade or low sodium canned stock
- 1 cup quinoa
- 4 cups shredded cooked chicken (from a leftover rotisserie is fine)
- 1 lemon zested and juiced
- 1 cup crumbled feta cheese plus more for serving
- 1/3 cup parsley chopped
- Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in the dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and sprinkle with half a teaspoon of the kosher salt. Sweat the mushrooms, stirring occasionally until they give up their liquid and start to take on some color, about 5-6 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.
- Heat the remaining olive oil in the dutch oven and add the chopped onion, celery and carrots. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and sweat the vegetables until the onions and celery become translucent and soften slightly, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the chopped garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and oregano. Heat for 1-2 minutes or until fragrant.
- Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Stir in the quinoa, reduce the heat to medium low and cover the pot tightly with the lid. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the shredded chicken, cooked mushrooms, zest of the lemon and feta cheese, stir and cover withthe lid. Cook for an additional 5 minutes. Squeeze the juice of the lemon into the soup and add the parsley. Taste for seasonings and adjust as necessary.
- Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with additional feta cheese and parsley as desired.