Picnic perfect Mediterranean orzo salad
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FoodSavory summer salad

Picnic perfect Mediterranean orzo salad

Flavorful and light, a welcome change to a mayonnaise-based dish

Mediterranean orzo salad (Photo by Jessica Grann)
Mediterranean orzo salad (Photo by Jessica Grann)

This orzo salad is my go-to summer picnic salad because it’s so full of flavor, yet very light. I love the mix of fresh herbs, crunchy vegetables and al dente orzo mixed with an easy-to-make homemade lemon vinaigrette dressing.

You can prepare this salad the same day you plan to serve it, but the flavors intensify if you make it beforehand and let it refrigerate overnight. The capers, olives and optional feta cheese give a tangy, salty punch to the dish and are a welcome change to a mayonnaise-based pasta salad.

Mediterranean orzo salad
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Serves 8-10 as a side dish

For the vinaigrette:
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup avocado oil, or another light vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

(Photo by Jessica Grann)

Combine all ingredients in a Ball jar with a lid and shake for 2 minutes or until emulsified. I make all dressings this way because you only use one jar, and you can easily store any leftover dressing to use later. I mix the oils — olive and avocado — because some people find straight olive oil a bit heavy. If your preference is to use only olive oil, simply use more of it and omit the avocado oil. This recipe makes a little more vinaigrette than you might use for this salad. It’s a solid dressing recipe to use year-round.

For the salad:
16-ounce box of orzo
2 cups of cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced lengthwise
1 large seedless cucumber, cubed, or about 2 cups
½ cup pitted Kalamata olives, sliced lengthwise
2 tablespoons of small capers, rinsed and drained
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
½ cup torn basil leaves
½ cup chopped fresh dill
3 green onions, sliced, green parts only
Optional: 1.5 cups of feta cheese, crumbled or cubed

Pour water into a medium saucepan and place on stove to boil.

When the water reaches the boiling point, add the orzo and a pinch of salt.

Stir, and let cook for 6-7 minutes. You will want the pasta to be al dente.

While this water is boiling and the orzo is cooking, prepare the vinaigrette and chop the vegetables.

As soon as the pasta is ready, strain it and rinse with cold water until you don’t see any steam coming from the colander.

Place the orzo into a serving bowl and stir in half of the vinaigrette.

Add all the vegetables, herbs, olives and capers.

Mix well, then add half the remaining vinaigrette.

If you’re going to add cheese, this is time to do so. You can stir it in, or layer it across the top of the salad.

Pasta can soak up a lot of vinaigrette, so do a taste test before serving. If you think it needs a little more flavor, add the remaining dressing or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Enjoy! PJC

Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.

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