The food court in our neighborhood mall was renovated last year and new food stalls that serve Thai, Indian, Lebanese and Korean food have joined the older kiosks. The ambience in this food court is warmer, and everything is sparkling clean. This is why it has come alive with more office people, retirees, and everyday shoppers who like to nosh and quaff and indulge in their favorite pastime: people-watching.
But the verve and dynamics that happen in this food court isn’t the purpose of this blog post. In a roundabout way, I wanted to say that my brother and I took our usual Wednesday off from the gym and went to the food court for lunch. We tried this salad and sandwich stall. I forget the name. They offer the popular concept of three salads with a sandwich. I saw this orzo salad that I had never tasted before and chose it with two other salads (tabouleh and Ceasar’s).
Orzo – as I understand it – is Italy’s answer to rice. If it has to be translated, the best one would be “barley.” In North America, we put it in the pasta class, despite its rice shape, but it is made of semolina wheat.
I hadn’t bought orzo before but after that first taste in the food court, I decided it would be included in my “repertoire” of dishes. I liked the taste. So off I went to my Greek supermarket (which also generously stocks up on Italian products) and bought a small bag of orzo.
Blame it on poor photography skills, but the words above the Colavita image says “from the fields of Molise.” Looking up Molise in Wikipedia, it’s a small region in the south of Italy which made news back in 2002 when the earthquake struck. Molise used to be part of Abruzo but is now a separate entity, and has a population of 300,000. Tourists are attracted to the region for its tranquility and mountainous character. “A gentle pace of life” is how Wikipedia describes it. I was hoping to find something about how they grow orzo in the fields but no such luck.
This Colavita brand is a dream. I’ve seen other orzo brands that looked like arborio rice or flat barley. This brand makes for a “manageable” salad. I say manageable because once I had mixed in the ingredients and poured the vinaigrette, they came apart beautifully. No sticky or gummy texture.
I looked up some recipes on the Internet (there’s a truckload) and settled on an orzo that’s made with ingredients typical of Greek salad: feta cheese, kalamata olives, red wine vinegar, bell peppers and cucumbers.
Result? ah, mamma-mia! If I hadn’t reminded my brother that we’d leave some for dinner later, he would have cleaned the whole casserole. He savoured every spoonful, hardly looking at me and unable to make small talk. He was totally focused on those morsels. So was I. When my brother likes something I make, it shows. Of course I don’t have to say that it inspires me even more to explore recipeland on cyberspace.
The trick to this Greek orzo salad is to drain the orzo completely after it’s cooked and then set it aside to cool. I put it in the fridge for maybe an hour or two. Another trick is to thin-slice your vegetables and to pit your kalamata olives and cut them into small pieces so that you don’t smother the orzo – delicate enough as it is – with large pieces of the ingredients. It has to stand out, and not get buried down by the other ingredients. Notice how tiny the other ingredients are in the pictures below.
I loved this so much I went to the trouble of looking for the recipe again on the Net so I could leave a thank you note. It was posted by Shaina Olmanson of Minnesota who runs her web site called Food for My Family.
Here’s Shaina’s recipe (from: http://foodformyfamily.com/recipes/greek-orzo-pasta-salad)
Greek Orzo Pasta Salad
16 ounces orzo pasta
3 medium tomatoes
2 cucumbers peeled
1/3 green pepper
1/3 red pepper
1/2 medium red onion
4 ounces pitted kalamata olives
8 ounces crumbled feta
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons oregano
1-1/2 teaspoons basil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Cook pasta to al dente according to package directions. Drain and rinse pasta with cold water. Refrigerate until cool. Dice tomatoes and peeled cucumbers. Thinly slice peppers and red onion. Drain kalamata olives. Add vegetables and feta to large mixing bowl and stir to combine. Mix in cooled orzo pasta.
Whisk together olive oil and red wine vinegar. Mix in oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Pour into pasta and stir to combine. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Makes a lot. I’d halve the recipe if it was just for our family dinner.
(note: I took her advice which I highlighted in bold. I cut the recipe in half, using only a cup of orzo, and it filled my casserole to the brim!). So if you’re feeding one other person and like to have leftovers, 1 cup of orzo is plenty. Be sure to use half of the quantities mentioned above).