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Friday, November 6, 2009

Orzo Veg Salad

 I made this salad to accompany the Talapia for dinner. What I love about this salad is EVERYTHING! Seasoned orzo, any leftover veg in the fridge, fresh spinach, tomatoes and cucumber, smoky roasted peppers and zucchini, creamy avocado, crispy toasted pine nuts, and the freshness of chopped flat leaf parsley. In the summer, I'll sub the parsley for basil, and maybe some fresh mint. If I don't have spinach, I'll sub in some arugula. Use what you have! It seems like a lot of ingredients and steps, but is sssooo worth it!
Here goes:

Start by measuring (yes, I actually said measuring, APPROXIMATELY) 2 cups Orzo.

The reason I measure the Orzo is so I can cook it in the appropriate amount of liquid. For 2 cups Orzo, you'll need at least 4 cups chicken broth. More like 4 & 1/2 cups. Why not cook in water? Because water has NO FLAVOR!!! .

Bring the broth to a boil. Add a big pinch Kosher salt.

Add the Orzo.

Give it a good stir. Once the Orzo comes back up to a boil, reduce the heat so the Orzo is at a simmer. Stir frequently, as the Orzo tends to stick to the pot.

The Orzo will look like it has too much liquid. It doesn't. (Notice that we aren't draining the pasta?).  Take it off heat and stir in about 2 Tbls good olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. If the Orzo gets too sticky and dry, add a bit more olive oil or chicken broth. Now it's time to prep the veg.
Start with the cucumber. Why? Because cucumbers have a tremendous amount of water in them. We need to dry out these cukes so they don't water down our Orzo salad. Start by peeling them. I used my $5.00 Miracle Peeler, and peeled a cucumber in 20 seconds flat. (I timed myself).

Once the cuke is peeled, cut it half lengthwise.

Then cut it half again. Now, scrape out the seeds with your knife. The seeds are packed with water. If you are more comfortable with a melon baller, use that. Just get those seeds out! And salt it with Kosher salt.

Once the seeds are out, chop the cuke in bite sized pieces. For Heaven's sake, do not get anal about seed removal! If there are a few left? So be it. It won't kill anyone, or ruin the dish.

Salted cukes on a towel.

Let the cukes sit on the paper towels for at least 30 minutes. The paper towels will be saturated. This keeps the excess liquid out of the salad. Pat any moist areas dry with a paper towel.  So, let's move on to other ingredients while the cukes dry out.
We're going to roast an orange (Bell) pepper. Put the pepper on the stove grate. Yep. Just put it right on the grate. I don't know if this method will work on an electric stove. I don't have one.

Put the flame on "high". Cook this pepper until it is totally black. When one side is black, rotate the pepper. Get all sides black. This is getting there, but no way done.

This is a thing of beauty. Now, take this precious piece of roasted veg flesh and steam it. Place it on a cutting board, under a bowl, or put it in a bowl with plastic wrap on top. I used the bowl technique, as I found myself out of plastic wrap. (Imagine that! Out of a kitchen essential. What has happened to me?).

Yep. Just plop a bowl on top of the pepper. Don't touch it, don't even look at it for 30 minutes. Move away from the pepper!

About (there's no time limit here), 30 minutes after you've steamed the pepper, it's time to peel it.
Take a paper towel and pick up the roasted pepper. Just rub the paper towel all over the pepper. The skin will come right off. Don't worry about a few pieces of black char remaining. No big deal.

Now, slice the pepper in half. Using your fingers or a paper towel, scoop out the seeds and white membranes.

Once the seeds and membranes are removed, chop up the pepper. Throw it in a big salad  bowl.

Move on to Zucchini. Cut the squash top to bottom. Season with Kosher salt and fresh gound pepper. Put it in a smoking hot cast iron skillet, lightly oiled with extra light olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. 

Sear until charred. Turn. Sear another 2 minutes on the back side. Do not sear on all sides or cook longer than 5 minutes total. The zucchini should be firm, not soft and floppy.

Once cool, chop them up into bite size pieces. Put them in the salad bowl. Move on to tomatoes.

Cut each tomato in half. With your finger, scoop out all the seeds.

Now, salt them and chop them up. Do not add to the salad bowl yet. These, too, are full of water. We need to get the excess moisture out. Add the tomatoes and the cucumber to the salad bowl last.

O.K. Time to chop up some scallions. I only put two in the picture, but, after seeing how much orzo needed to be seasoned, I chopped up 3 more, for a total of 5.

O.K. Moving on...

Start with a cold , dry skillet. Add nuts. Heat to medium.

When the nuts start to smell toasty, give them a good shake of the pan. When nuts are toasty brown and fragrant, take them out of the pan.

See the difference? Pasty vs. toasty. Toasty equals flavor.

Put the nuts in the salad bowl. Move on. Baby spinach. Put about 4 cups on the cutting board.
Slice finely. Season with salt and pepper. Put in the salad bowl, with the other ingredients.
Did you notice? Two ingredients MEASURED, in the same meal? What the heck?

So then I chopped up some leftover roasted asparagus and threw that in the salad bowl.

Chop up the green onions. Throw into salad bowl.

Chop up some fresh flat leaf parsley, about 3 Tbls. Just kind of "shave" it off the stem

Cut up the avocado. Slice around the pit.

Open it up.

Get the pit out. Hack your knife into the center of the pit. Rotate.

Now that the pit is out of the avocado, whack the knife against the side of a trash can. It should fall right in.
Now, score the avocado into a diamond type pattern.

Scoop out the flesh and put it in the salad bowl.
Add the reserved cucumber and tomato. TASTE!
Season well with Extra Virgin Olive oil, Kosher salt, and fresh ground pepper. Taste again, re-season as necessary, then serve.

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About Me

Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States
I'm a home cook that can put some good tasting food on the table, most of the time. My family knows dinner is ready when the fire alarm goes off.