I’ve always considered myself a creature of habit. I wake-up at the same time (almost) every day, I eat nearly the same breakfast and lunch when I’m at home, and I have certain rituals and routines in place to make my life easier and more streamlined. So it comes as no surprise to me that my daughter is similar in her behavior. Like mother, like daughter.
My daughter loves peanut butter, specifically Santa Cruz Light Roasted Chunky Peanut Butter. She eats so much peanut butter, I buy a few jars at a time. I’m sure that I could also justify buying it by the case, but I haven’t done so, yet. Almost every day for the past 8 years of school, she has taken a peanut butter & jelly sandwich to school for lunch. There are days when she eats nothing but her sandwich, days when she comes home from school to eat more of her beloved peanut butter. And then she takes a peanut butter “hiatus” for the summer, as her overnight camp is nut-free.
When she came home from camp a few weeks ago, I knew she was excited to reclaim her old eating habits. During a trip to the grocery store, we started to chat about the upcoming school year and the lunches that she’d pack. As she placed a jar of peanut butter into the cart, she declared “I’d like to mix things up and take something other than a PB&J sandwich everyday". Wow. My daughter, another creature of habit, was ready to break her habit! “What would you want to take instead of PB&J?”, I asked. “Orzo salad”, she replied. And that was the beginning of this week’s recipe.
Orzo salad seems to be a staple on salad bars, at some fast-casual food establishments, but rarely in homes. Why? It’s such a simple make-ahead meal, so adaptable to the seasons, to whatever vegetables and seasonings are lurking in your fridge and pantry. My daughter requested a “Greek Orzo Salad”, and when I asked her what that meant, she rambled off a list of ingredients. Nothing too complicated, I had everything at home or in my shopping cart. We went home and made this salad, she concocted the dressing. I think it’s delicious! Most importantly, it’s a nourishing meal that she wants to eat in her lunch - not everyday - but on the rare occasion when she’s tired of PB&J!
A few notes about the adaptability of this recipe: we chose to use whole wheat orzo pasta, but certainly any small pasta shape could be used in its place. Or for a gluten-free option, replace the orzo with rice or quinoa. The salad is dairy-free if the feta cheese is left off, it’s equally delicious without the feta, but may need some additional salt for flavoring. When zucchini and tomatoes are out of season, which they will be very shortly, substitute some winter squash and canned tomatoes, or some finely chopped root veggies. The sky’s the limit, so the saying goes.
As always, let me know if you make any of my recipes, I welcome your feedback and your requests for future recipes on this website.
Wishing you a relaxing weekend, full of delicious food, health & wellness.
Ingredients: (note - use organic whenever possible)
8 oz orzo pasta
1 T kosher salt
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 medium-sized red onion, diced
2 medium zucchini, thinly sliced (remove seeds if desired)
2 Roma tomatoes, cores & seeds removed, diced
1 T capers, roughly chopped
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 t dried oregano
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3/4 C crumbled feta
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add kosher salt and orzo, stir, and allow the water to boil again. Reduce heat, maintaining a simmer. Cook the orzo for 8 minutes, then taste. Orzo should be al-dente, with a bit of a chew to it, rather than completely soft and mushy. Drain the orzo and rinse under cool water. Place in a large mixing bowl and set aside.
Heat 2 T extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet. Once hot, add the diced red onion sliced zucchini. Stir to coat the vegetables with the oil. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened and are slightly browned on the edges. Remove from the heat and pour into the bowl with the orzo. Add the diced tomatoes. Gently mix the orzo with the vegetables.
In a small bowl, whisk together the capers, lemon juice and olive oil. Add the lemon zest and dried oregano. Season, to taste, with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour the dressing over the orzo mixture and toss to coat the ingredients evenly. Add the crumbled feta to the orzo mixture.
Cover and chill the orzo for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Re-taste and adjust seasoning, if needed. Serve at room temperature.
recipe yields 5-6 servings
orzo can be cooked in advance and kept chilled; if recipe is made in advance, toss with some fresh lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil prior to serving as the dressing may get absorbed into the orzo
leftovers keep well in a covered container for 2-3 days, refresh before serving
add your favorite vegetables, in place of the zucchini, if desired; omit feta for dairy-free option