This colorful orzo salad is one of my go-to dishes in the summer. Inspired by the Greek salad served at my favorite restaurant, Lola, it’s delicious, easy to put together, hearty enough to stand alone as a light lunch and equally good as a side dish with chicken, steak, shrimp, etc. You can eat it warm or cold, and customize it to your preferences, or what’s in your pantry when you want to make some. This combination of vegetables is my favorite, but when cherry tomatoes are in season, I always throw in a handful of those. I also like to add pepperoncinis, sliced or whole, for some heat and tang. No fresh herbs on hand? Replace the fresh basil and mint with 3/4 tsp. dried oregano or dried basil. If you’re cooking for a gluten-free guest or family member, brown rice pasta can be substituted for the orzo; even lentils or cannellini beans work really well. For the cheese, if you’re using it, diced fresh mozzarella is a delicious replacement for feta. If you’re looking for a fresh, flavorful, quick summer salad, you can’t do much better than my Greek orzo salad.
Greek Orzo Salad (serves 4-8)
- 1 c. uncooked orzo
- 4 large basil leaves and 2 mint leaves, cut into chiffonade
- Half of a bell pepper, any color, cut into 1/2″ pieces
- Half of a garden cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2″ pieces
- 12 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
- 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp. honey
- 2 T. balsamic
- 5 T. olive oil
- 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
- feta to garnish (optional)
To cook the orzo, bring 2 qts. of salted water to a boil. Add the orzo, return to a boil, cover and lower the heat; cook for 10 mins. Drain and rinse, then put into a bowl with the basil and mint and toss to combine. Set aside to cool at room temperature for about 30 mins., unless you plan to eat the salad warm.
Prepare the vegetables next. You may have noticed that I didn’t provide exact measurements for the vegetables; one of the best parts of this salad is that it easily accommodates a range. Use what you have, or what you like. Add the vegetables and olives to the cooled orzo and use a fork to break up any clumps, then to mix.
In a small jar with a tight lid, mix the Dijon mustard and honey into a thick paste. Add the balsamic vinegar, cover, and shake until the honey and mustard have dissolved into the vinegar. Uncap the jar carefully, add the oil and salt, recap and shake vigorously until combined. (If you have a different olive oil for salads than the one you cook with, use it here. I like this one.) Pour the dressing over the orzo and vegetables– you can start with half first and add more to taste– and toss to combine.
If you’re using feta as a garnish, crumble it over the top of the salad just before serving, or put a bowl out with the salad for guests to add if they wish. Leftover orzo salad will keep in the refrigerator for about three days.