Spring Green Herbed Orzo Salad

Last week the temperature outside went up to a balmy 11ºC for two glorious days before plummeting back to the gray skies and bitter windy weather that March is known for around here.  I suppose that we all knew it was only a passing joy, and that spring weather is still a long couple of weeks away, but what a blessed delight for even a short time.  You guys, I’m so tired of voluminous sweaters and sensible footwear.  I’m practically keening for high heeled sandals and capri pants right now, but instead I’m currently wearing a grubby old Roots sweatshirt and woolen socks. This is so not cool, and I am not very patient this time of year. I can’t wait for the longer days and pale gold sunshine of spring to actually arrive.

Spring is a season which is just so full of promise.  As the first brave crocuses struggle to push their way up, it feels like a reminder that anything is possible and it’s never too late for a fresh start. By the time that fiddle heads are showing up in farmer’s markets, the air around us is practically buzzing with hope and possibilities, the sense that this year is going to be different.  This year is going to be better. To you, asparagus and spring peas might look like dinner.  To me, they are a reminder that life is cyclic and we constantly evolve. There will always be the cold, dark days of winter, but they’re a necessary time of quiet meditation and restoration that allows us to blossom again when we’re ready.  In the face of transience and uncertainty where the only constant is change itself, we are always able to reinvent ourselves in a way that is fresher, stronger, and more resilient than before.

Then again, sometimes I look at asparagus and spring peas and all I think is, “You’d be excellent in a salad”.

Spring Green Herbed Orzo Salad

Serves 4 as a meal, 6-8 as a side dish

  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1 lemon (1 tsp zest  + juice of whole)
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1.5 cups uncooked orzo *
  • 1 bunch asparagus (~1 lb)
  • 1.5 cups petit pois **
  • 3-4 green onions (1/2 cup chopped)
  • handful fresh dill (1 cup finely minced)
  • handful fresh parsley (1 cup finely minced)
  • 3/4 cup (4.5 oz/125 g) feta cheese
  • salt and white pepper, to taste

* Orzo may look like rice but it is actually a short grain shaped small pasta.  Cook orzo the way that you would cook any pasta, but reduce the cooking time slightly because of the diminutive size.

** Petit pois are small, sweet green peas.  If you cannot find petit pois, any small green pea will do.  Fresh is ideal if you feel like spending some time cleaning and hulling the pods, but frozen works just as well for a recipe like this.

For salads like this, I like to make the dressing right in the bowl that everything will be tossed in because frankly it’s just more convenient and means less clean up later.

Grate or press the garlic into a fairly large mixing bowl.  Add 1 teaspoon of finely minced lemon zest and squeeze in the juice of the full lemon (there should be at least 3 tablespoons).  Whisk everything together, and slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly, until you have a homogeneous dressing.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil (2 teaspoons per liter is sufficient). Stir in the orzo and let it boil for 3-4 minutes.

In the mean time, cut the woody ends away from the asparagus and discard them. Cut the asparagus spears into large chunks about 2″ long.  When the orzo has boiled for 3-4 minutes, add the asparagus and peas to the water and let them boil away together for 2 minutes.  Do not overcook the vegetables as we want them to be tender crisp and the orzo to be al dente.

Drain the pot into a colander and immediately rinse with ice cold water. Continue running the water through the colander until the temperature of the orzo and vegetables is cool to the touch.  There are two reasons that we do this. First of all, ‘shocking’ the asparagus and peas in ice cold water will stop the cooking process and keep them a vibrant, crisp green. Secondly, rinsing will remove some of the starch from the orzo so that it won’t absorb all the dressing immediately and become a gummy mess.

Finely slice the green onions and mince the parsley and dill.

Shake the colander of orzo to make sure it is well drained, and add it to the large bowl with your dressing.  Stir in the green onion and herbs, and crumble in the feta cheese.  Check the seasoning and add more salt or white pepper if you feel the yen.

The lemon and herbs are bold and fresh in this light orzo salad, which is full of flavorful reminders that spring is just around the corner now.  If you are looking for a nice and easy Lenten dish right now during the gear-up to Easter, this also fits the bill splendidly.

Mike and I ate this light and fresh orzo salad as a side dish with chorizo stuffed chicken breasts wrapped in bacon (so decadent and delicious for a 3 ingredient entree), but it was equally desirable as a light and penitent lunch the next day at work.

It feels like this winter was abnormally long, and I can’t wait to get my grubby little hands on all the fresh spring and summer produce which will enter the scene over the next few months. In the mean time, I’ll pretend that today isn’t cold, gray and dismal, by evoking spring sensations with fresh and lighter fare instead.

  • Vee

    First of all, my classmates and I think this looks wonderful.
    Secondly, I too cannot wait for the brighter weather to come (just a little longer!)
    Thirdly, I know how you at Choosy Beggars like plants that look like other things, so I dunno if you’ve seen this or not:


    Scroll down to the Chinese Fleeceflower.
    I was amazed.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Mike

      I bet that at night, they come to life, crawl out of the ground, and romp around in the garden.

      …aaand now I won’t sleep tonight.

      • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

        A little late, but I just wanted to chime in here. Vee, thank you so much for the kind comment! Also, you should know that because of your comment I spent at least 45 minutes on Google Images looking at Chinese Fleeceflower, and then trying to find a garden center in our area where I could get seeds to plant it in our back yard. Seems like a good way to scare off the neighbor’s kids, if nothing else.

  • Alison

    It’s so beautiful! And so pretty in that dish! And also: those pc frozen baby peas are my favourite!

  • Dee

    This looks absolutely delicious. Must make it! Thanks for sharing.

  • http://strandedinchicago.blogspot.com Harris

    This looks beautiful and scrumptious! I’m adding the ingredients to my grocery list right now!

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Harris – thank you so much for the comment, and I saw through your site that you enjoyed the salad! That’s just great!

  • Lake

    This is one of the best recipes I’ve ever had! I’m fairly new in the kitchen, and don’t have a lot of skills, but, even I couldn’t mess this one up. I have to tear the bowl away from myself every time I make it! Thank you!