Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lemony Orzo-Vegetable Salad with Chicken

I am obsessed with orzo.

I mean, not really. But I love it. It's pasta, but pasta in funny little rice-sized pieces. The texture appeals to me.

Orzo is perfect for pasta salads. It cooks quickly and tastes good hot or cold. Which, of course, makes it an excellent summer dish, as well as a great make-ahead meal or potluck supper option.

This recipe is fast and easy. But though it comes together quickly, it tastes best after it sits awhile. I ate my portion hot off the stove last night and was a bit disappointed.

"The DDH is going to hate this," I thought. "It's bland and boring." (The DDH often thinks my food is bland. I tell him this is because I have a more refined and sensitive palate than he does. He and my mom both say it's because I like bland foods. I argue that I like bland foods because my refined and sensitive palate distinguishes flavor nuances unfathomable to boors such as they. They disagree. Etc.)

The DDH came home and ate his portion of the orzo salad an hour or so later. And the DDH did not hate it. The DDH told me it was delicious. So did our friend, who came sniffing around and asked for some even though it was after dinnertime, because twenty-something boys are a lot like teenage boys and are always hungry. One of the DDH's co-workers asked for the recipe based on the smell alone (hi, coworker!). Obviously, the marinated-for-awhile salad was not at all bland, but instead delicious.

So here you go.

Lemony Orzo-Vegetable Salad with Chicken

Lemony Orzo-Vegetable Salad with Chicken
Adapted from Cooking Light, July 2010

Cook 3/4 cup orzo according to package directions. Drain, rinse with cold water (to help keep the pasta from clumping together), and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat about 1 Tbs. oil (I used coconut, but olive oil or butter would work, too) in a large pan.

It was actually finally cool enough in the house that the
coconut oil started out semi-solid!
Cut 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast into bite-sized pieces.

Toss your chicken into the hot pan. Cook on high for two minutes or so until browned, then turn heat down to low and cook until chicken is done, about five to eight more minutes.

For the dressing, combine 1/4 tsp. lemon zest*; 3 Tbs. lemon juice*; 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil; 1/2 tsp. salt; 2-3 cloves garlic, minced; 1/4 tsp. honey, and 1/8 tsp. black pepper

Dressing ingredients.
in a small bowl or dressing container.

Whisk or shake until emulsified.

No layers.
Now, for veggies, you have some options. One is to cut up any delicious fresh veggies you have on hand and toss them in raw. This works with tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini, cucumber, peppers, etc. For crunchier veggies (carrots, broccoli, etc.), you should probably steam them first to soften them.

However. Honestly, I steamed up a bag of cut mixed veggies from Sam's Club. The one with the green beans and peas and little cubes of carrot. The veggies are already conveniently bite-sized and will mix well with the orzo and dressing.

Use whatever you have on hand, but obviously a tomato-cucumber version (perhaps with some feta or goat cheese?) will be sort of a completely different dish than a green bean-carrot-corn version.

Put your orzo in a large bowl.

Bowl o' orzo.
Drizzle the dressing over the pasta and toss well.

Admittedly, you can't see a difference in the picture.
Then add your cooked chicken

Lots of beige.
and veggies

and stir to combine.


Ta-da! You can eat this now or let it sit, at room temperature or in the fridge, for an hour. Reheat or eat cold. Serve with a spoon (word from the wise: orzo is hard to eat with a fork).

*Note: In a raw application like a salad dressing, fresh lemon juice and zest will taste miles better than bottled juice. This doesn't mean bottled juice won't do in a pinch, but it will not taste the same! I suggest always buying an extra lemon or two each time you buy some for a recipe that calls for a lot of lemon juice (lemon squares, for example). Squeeze the extras and freeze all your juice in ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop them out and store in bags or containers in the freezer. It's not quite as good as fresh juice, but better than bottled. I freeze extra zest, too.

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