Summer Orzo Pasta Salad

Summer Orzo Pasta Salad Recipe

Orzo pasta salad is a very quick and easy dish to prepare. You can vary the ingredients in the sauce, but the basics are the same: you need the orzo pasta, some vegetables and a sauce. I made a roasted red bell pepper paste, added some green beans for color, lentils for protein and finished the dish with enoki mushrooms and cashew nuts for texture.

If you're looking for a quick and easy recipe for a picnic, this dish is an excellent choice. It's a light dish that pairs well with almost any kind of protein (hamburgers, fish, etc.). It's also very flexible; as spring turns into summer, you can incorporate many different seasonal vegetables into the recipe. Our extended family has a lot of picnics and potlucks this time of year, and I often prepare some variation of an orzo pasta salad. It's great for both the vegetarians and non-vegetarians in our house.

Ingredients

Yields: 6 servings

1 small eggplant
2 red bell peppers
1 shallot, finely minced
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Tabasco sauce
juice of half a lemon
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 cup beluga lentils, pre-cooked
1 (16-ounce) package orzo pasta
3 teaspoons kosher salt (or regular salt)
½ teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 Yukon Gold potato, peeled, boiled, diced (about 1/2 to 3/4 cup)
1 yellow onion, cut into thin wedges
1 (7-ounce) package enoki mushrooms, trimmed
1 cup green beans, blanched, trimmed and cut into 1-¼" pieces
¼ cup cashew nuts, roasted and coarsely chopped


Directions

For the eggplant pulp:

Preheat the oven at 450°F.

Wash the eggplant and pat it dry. Cut
in half lengthwise . Layer a cookie sheet on top of a cooling rack, then place the eggplant halves on top. Sprinkle with kosher salt and let the eggplant stand for about 30 minutes. Pat dry with a kitchen towel. Place the 2 pieces of eggplant flesh side down on a greased baking sheet. Bake the eggplant for about 15 minutes. The skin should be black and blistered. Remove from the oven, then cover with aluminum foil. Let the eggplant cool for about 10 minutes. Gather all the pulp of the eggplant. Discard the skin, stem and seeds.


Roasting red bell peppers in the oven:

Note: Both eggplant and red bell pepper can be charred at the same time in the oven; just watch the red bell pepper very carefully so it doesn't burn.

Spread the peppers evenly on a cookie sheet, in a single layer. Roast the peppers for about 4-5 minutes until the skins blister and darken. Wrap each pepper in aluminum foil. Let cool for about 5-10 minutes until you can handle them without discomfort. Clean and remove the skin from the peppers using a knife (or under running water); the skin will come right off. Seed them and thinly slice the flesh.

For the
red bell pepper paste: Blend the eggplant pulp, shallot, 2 teaspoons of sugar, 1 teaspoons garlic, Tabasco sauce and lemon juice in a food processor until the mixture is smooth. Add about 1/2 cup of olive oil. Add the sliced roasted bell peppers (reserve a little for decoration at the end). Pulse about 3-4 times. There should still be chunks of bell peppers visible. Transfer to a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

 

For the orzo pasta: Bring about 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add the pasta, bring back to a full boil, then immediately lower the heat to a gentle boil. This way the pasta will cook all the way through evenly. Cook the pasta for about 12 minutes total. Salt the water half-way through the cooking process, and keep stirring every now and then so that the pasta does not stick to the bottom. It may take longer than the cooking time indicated on the box. When the pasta is almost cooked (cooked inside and out but still firm and in shape), reserve about 1/3 cup to ½ cup of pasta water and drain the pasta (do NOT rinse). Transfer the cooked pasta to a bowl.


 

Assembly time:

In a deep pan, heat the olive oil over high heat.  Add the onion wedges and the enoki mushrooms. Stir fry for about 2 -3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a plate. You want the onions to be slightly golden but still crunchy. Set aside.

In the same pan, add the diced potatoes. Toss and cook until slightly golden. Add the orzo pasta, beluga lentils and the red bell pepper paste. Toss well for about 4 minutes. If the pasta starts sticking to the bottom, add a little pasta water. Finish with the green beans. Adjust seasoning. Cover and let stand until you're ready to serve.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Sprinkle with coarsely chopped cashew nuts. Garnish with the reserved roasted red bell pepper slices.

You can accompany the orzo salad with steak or roasted chicken.

Bon appétit!


Tips

When you blend all the ingredients, make sure to add the cashew nuts at the end so the dish still has some crunch.

I under-cooked the orzo pasta and finished cooking it in the red bell pepper paste.

Charring the vegetables gives the dish a nice smoky flavor. Another option would be to boil the eggplant, drain as much liquid as possible and add a drop of liquid smoke. I used a small eggplant. If the eggplant is large, add only half the amount because too much can be overpowering.

Enoki are very thin, long white mushrooms that are widely used in Asian cuisine. I also use them for my sizzling rice soup.

I buy pre-cooked beluga lentils at Trader Joe's.

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on April 7, 2010.


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