Fresh Orzo Salad

orzo salad arugula 9934

orzo with arugula, cherries, feta, and pine nuts

Side dishes are something I always struggle with. I don’t know why, I just find them unnecessary about 98% of the time. I don’t need rice and beans with my tacos, nor do I need bread with my pasta.  I’m happy to j just eat my entrée and be on my way, maybe a small salad. No real ‘side dish’ necessary.

BF on the other hand, well, he needs his side dishes. “Where’s the side?”, “No salad?” he’ll ask. I usually reply with a sheepish shrug or some half-baked excuse- “Well, since there’s veggies in the taco, and the tortilla is bread…”

One of BF’s favorite sides is pasta salad. Poor guy probably didn’t eat a bite of it the whole first year we were together, not in my presence at least. I was never one for mayo (since then it’s grown on me, which isn’t necessarily a good thing). I tend to like things a bit more on the “fresh” side, as in not cold and drowning in mayo.

So, as is necessary in all relationships, we compromised- I created a fresh, healthy alternative to your typical pasta salad using orzo, and he agreed to eat it and pretend it was pasta salad. On second thought, maybe that wasn’t such a great job of compromising…

grilled red onions & red peppers, feta cheese, basil, and arugula

Tonight’s supporting cast was charred red onions, roasted bell peppers, feta, arugula (because I had some left over), and basil (because I love it so much).

You can use any mix-ins you like, and even serve it warm or cold (usually I chill it, but tonight there was no time). This makes it a great candidate for potlucks and busy weeknight dinners alike. I also make the same dish with israeli couscous, or I’m sure you could sub in any pasta shape you like!

Orzo “Pasta Salad”

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  • Salted boiling water (or chicken stock for extra flavor)
  • ½  package orzo
  • ½ small red onion, sliced
  • 1 – 2 red peppers, sliced
  • Feta cheese to taste (couple tablespoons)
  • Couple tablespoons each arugula & fresh basil, sliced
  • Salt, Pepper, Olive oil

1. Cook & drain orzo according to package directions. Spread out onto a baking sheet covered with foil or plastic wrap; drizzle with oil and sprinkle salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cool (if you want to serve it cooled).

2. We cooked our red pepper and onion on the grill, as they were leftover from fajitas the other night. You could use the pre-roasted ones that come in the jar, saute fresh peppers on the stove, or use raw (if that’s what you’re into).

3. Toss orzo with chopped veggies, herbs, and cheese; mix and put into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until needed or serve immediately.

The great thing about using orzo is that it’s neutral in flavor, so you can make combos to suit your taste.

Veggies (sliced):

  • Green onions
  • White onions
  • Red onion
  • Shallots (milder than red onions)
  • Cherry tomatoes, sliced or quartered
  • Red peppers –from a jar, sautéed, grilled, or fresh

*If adding raw onion, I recommend soaking them in cool water for several minutes to take the edge off

Leafies (arugula, basil, cilantro, parsley)

Cheese (feta, parmesan, pecorino)

Dried fruit, chopped (cherries, cranberries, apricots)

Toasted nuts (pine nuts, walnuts, pistachios)

*Try adding a tsp or two of any acid to brighten the dish – lemon juice, lime juice, or a vinegar (red wine, balsamic, rice wine, or sherry vinegars- depending on what your mix-ins are)