Orzo Arugula Salad

Nirasha and I together at the opening of her first restaurant

Nirasha's Orzo Arugula Salad

My dear friend and former sous-chef, Nirasha, originally made this salad as a side dish to go with roast chicken. I could not stop eating it. It was so light and tasted both delicious and healthy. I've made it a number of times since, but decided yesterday to turn it into a main course for lunch by adding a few more ingredients. I kept it vegetarian, but you could easily add roast chicken or some other meat that you like. Also, this is a very forgiving recipe. You can just throw whatever you want in in whatever amounts. I re-made it today and measured everything so you could have some guidelines. I would say the most important ingredient and technique from Nirasha is the sauteed onions. They are chunky and cooked for 15 or 20 minutes until translucent. They impart such great flavor. I've made this both with feta cheese and with parmesan cheese. I like them both equally. Nirasha's original fabulous recipe has the essential caramelized onions, orzo, fresh lemon juice, arugula, capers and parmesan cheese.

Maili's Note added on February 18, 2011. This salad is perhaps the most copied recipe on my blog. It has been featured on other blogs and will be in an upcoming issue of Santa Barbara magazine. It is proof that a recipe grows and changes with each hand of love that touches it. We each put our signature of caring on the dish and it evolves and grows. That is the best kind of recipe. I made this salad with Quinoa for some of my Gluten-Free Friends and it turned out my friend, Hollye Jacobs, had already done the same time. Here is Hollye's version with Quinoa. And enormous thanks to Nirasha again for giving birth to such a fabulous recipe that we all love so very much!

1 one-pound box of orzo
1 large yellow onion
1/3 cup olive oil
pinch of salt for onion
1 7 ounce bag of baby arugula (spinach can be substituted)
2 cups sugar plum tomatoes (or grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes), cut in half
1 cup (about five ounces) feta cheese, crumbled (parmesan is an excellent substitution)
1 cup pine nuts, toasted (can substitute marcona almonds), (nuts are optional)
2-3 tablespoons capers, rinsed (optional)
1 13.75 ounce can artichoke hearts packed in water
Juice from two lemons (Meyer lemons if possible)
minced fresh parsley, basil and/or mint
salt and pepper to taste

1. While you are getting all of your other ingredients together, cook the orzo in boiling salted water for 9 minutes. Rinse orzo until completely cool before adding other ingredients.

2. Saute onion over medium heat in 1/3 cup olive oil. This may seem like more olive oil than you would generally use to saute, but the extra oil will be flavored with the onion and used as the dressing for the salad. Put a pinch of salt on the onion while cooking.

3. Cook onion for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent and sweet. (The longer you cook onions the better they are so don't skip this part.)

4. In the largest bowl you have toss the warm onions with the cooled pasta. Be sure to use all the oil from the saute pan.

5. Toss in arugula, tomatoes, feta (or parmesan), pine nuts, capers, artichoke hearts, herbs of your choice, lemon juice and sprinkle of salt and pepper. Toss gently to combine.

6. Serve at room temperature. Can be kept a room temperature for 6 hours. If you are planning to wait to serve it, then toss the arugula as close to serving as possible. Try not to refrigerate this salad as it changes the texture and flavor of the pasta.


Hi Maili!

I made this salad for Jeff's parents' anniversary dinner last weekend. It was a HUGE hit! The arugula at the store looked marginal, but I found some upland cress (still growing with roots in bag) so I decided to go with that. It was so good I had to make a second batch for the volleyball tournament this weekend (mostly because I want to eat it!) This will definitely be a staple in my summer salad repertoire!

A hui hou!
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Unknown said…
awesome recipe, thanks for sharing.
Unknown said…
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