Orzo Salad ala Greek

Fresh green salads are a no brainer for the summer.  They are refreshing, crisp and light, as a summer salad should be.  Yet sometimes you may want all of that in a salad but need a tad more substance.  This is when pasta takes its cue and comes to the rescue. (In my opinion, pasta answers any of my rescue calls. It's my lifesaver. Literally and figuratively!)  
This Orzo Pasta Salad with a nod to Greece, is an oldie but goodie.  As with some of my archive recipes, I made them a lot in the past but then just moved on.  Or so I thought.  Come to find out that both my sisters, Alyssa and Jill, have continued to make this particular recipe throughout the years.   Which gives me smiles.  What gives them smiles is when I have to call them so THEY can remind me how I originally told them to make it.  Who cares how we get our smiles, as long as we are smiling.

First, allow me to enumerate on the many great aspects of this dish.  

  • First, it's easy, and that is a huge plus. Good food doesn't have to be complicated or a royal pain in the...
  • Second, since it uses orzo, the pasta component isn't too heavy yet it satisfies superbly.  How perfectly is that!
  • Third, it contains crunchy vegetables. This is two fold good because we all need our veggies and they provide another textural element.
  • Fourth, it packs a ton of flavor.  

Geez, I could keep on keeping on, but do I really need to?   Trust me, it's good.  So let's get down to brass tacks and assemble this one up.  I say ala Greek because the ingredients are similar to a Greek Salad just no lettuce but instead a tooth bite of orzo.  

Ingredients

(Yields approx. 5 cups)

1 lb. box Orzo, cooked
1 c English cucumber, seeds removed, small dice
1/3-2/3 c Calamata olives, chopped
1.5 - 2 c red, orange, yellow pepper, small dice
1/4 c scallions, sliced
1/3 heaping c red onion, small dice
2/3 c fresh basil, chiffonade
2/3 - 3/4 c Feta cheese, crumbled

The line up

The line up

Alright, let me continue with the plusses on this salad. You can prep everything the day before if you wanted to. Just place the chopped vegetables in an airtight container.  You could even cook the orzo if you wanted to. Just add some oil to keep it from sticking together.  Heck, you can make the salad a day ahead of time. Just add the feta before serving.  I told you I could go on and on about the pros to this salad.  

Instructions

Cook the orzo according to the package.  I like mine, as with all my pastas, al dente.  While the orzo is cooking chop the vegetables and olives as suggested above.   Let the orzo cool a bit, then toss it together with vegetables and olives. 

Orzo, the perfect little pasta.  This time it's starring in a salad.  But try it in soups. Che buono!

Orzo, the perfect little pasta.  This time it's starring in a salad.  But try it in soups. Che buono!

When cutting up vegetables, I usually like to slice them up in different sizes to create varying textures and shapes. However, with this salad I would recommend cutting everything in relatively the same size.  It creates an balanced salad, a balanced bite as well as makes it easy to eat. 

This time the veggies are conforming to one size, but they don't mind.  

This time the veggies are conforming to one size, but they don't mind.  

Once you have everything cut, combine with the orzo.  Then move onto mixing up the dressing.

Vibrant, fresh colors of summer.

Vibrant, fresh colors of summer.

Whisk up or mix up in a jar, and dress the salad up.

Whisk up or mix up in a jar, and dress the salad up.

Dressing

2/3 c Olive oil
1/4 c Red Wine Vinegar
1 t dried oregano
2 heaping t salt
1/2 t crushed black pepper
2 t fresh lemon juice
Zest of lemon, optional

Whisk together and pour over the salad.  I do like to add the dressing when the orzo is slightly warm.  The pasta tends to absorb even more of the flavor.  Once combined, add most of feta cheese and chopped basil leaves.

 

Leave some so you can adorn the top of the salad with more feta and basil, and serve.  This salad is best at room temp.  But I have eaten it right out of the refrigerator. (Actually, standing in the refrig, spoon in hand and gobbling it right out of the container.)

Versatile and vibrant little summer pasta salad that goes with everything.  It's great for a midweek meal using any leftovers for lunch the next day. (That is if you have any leftovers).  Add a base of mixed greens and pile some pasta salad on top. And of course,  this dandy of a dish is simply divine for a summer BBQ crowd.  I even brought a batch into the staff at Despaña and it got all smiles all around.  Like I said, pasta to the rescue.

White Eggplant App - Greek Style

Last Saturday's farmer's market adventure led me to buy items I don't usually purchase.   I love eggplant but haven't ventured too far out with all the different varieties.  So when my hubby, JC, put these long, white beauties in our basket I knew I needed to come up with a fresh plan. They look like the albino version of a Japanese eggplant. Having never cooked these before I figured grilling them might be the way to go.  From there, it might have been the bright whiteness of these that reminded me of those stucco houses in Greece that sparked the inspiration to create a Greek style appetizer.  With that in mind, feta and herbs seemed like the next logical step.

The gathering of my thought process in visual form

The gathering of my thought process in visual form

Kids, I'm going to keep this one super simple.  

Ingredients

5-7 White eggplant
8-10 cherry tomatoes

Feta 'Cream'
1/3 c feta cheese (I used French)
1/8 t red pepper flakes
¼ t oregano
1 T olive oil
2 t fresh lemon juice
1 t crushed garlic
pinch of salt & black pepper
2 t parsley, chopped for garnish

Instructions

Slice the eggplants lengthwise in half.  Rub with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Do the same with the tomatoes.

Grill them on both sides until tender.  Add the cherry tomatoes to the grill, to give them a nice warm through and slightly grilled.  Assemble both on a plate.

In a mini blender, add feta cheese, oregano, salt, pepper, oil, crushed garlic, red pepper flakes, lemon juice and blend up until you get a chunky cream.  That's right, garlic, black pepper AND red pepper flakes. Oh, did I forget to mention that these would have a spicy kick?  Why not, hot.

Smear the feta 'cream' over the top of the grilled eggplant while they are still warm.  Garnish it with some chopped parsley.  You could even try mint, as I think that herb would also be great with these flavors.  If you are a cheese junky, go ahead and crumble some more feta on top. This app is bright with a kick.  I have to say, I was tickled pink with this creation (or should I say, tickled WHITE).  At first, I had no idea what I would do with these and now I can say this is on my favorite's list to serve to our guests for any occasion. Truly simple entertaining, elegant and chock full of flavor.