Saffron Orzo with Fennel and Vegetarian Chorizo

Saffron Orzo with Fennel and Vegetarian Chorizo Recipe

Orzo has a similar shape to rice, but it's actually pasta . I've found that kids love orzo; it's more tender and more pleasing to the palate of little ones.

We were running out of long grain rice in the house, so I decided to use orzo pasta as a substitute for rice in my Spanish rice dish. To bring another layer of flavor, I added some fennel that I cook in apple juice. Enjoy!


Yields: 6

1 16-oz package orzo pasta
3/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 sprig thyme
1 small fennel
1 cup unfiltered apple juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon salt, + extra for pasta water (about 1 tablespoon)
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns, freshly ground
2 tablespoons cilantro, (or dill depending on what's available in my garden)


For the orzo pasta: Bring about 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add the pasta, bring back to a boil, then immediately lower the heat to a gentle boil. That way the pasta is cooked 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 that is written on the box. When the pasta is cooked (cooked inside and out but still firm and in shape, reserve about 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup of pasta water and drain the pasta (do NOT rinse). Transfer the cooked pasta to a bowl. Add the lemon juice. Season with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

For the vegetarian chorizo: In a pan, heat the olive oil and add the garlic and shallot and cook until slightly golden. Add the vegetarian chorizo. Separate the "soyrizo" into small lumps using a spoon. Cook until each piece is nicely browned. Transfer to a bowl. Set aside.

For the fennel: Discard the stalk and thinly slice the fennel bulb. In the same pan, add the butter and the sprig of thyme. Add the onion. Cook until translucent. Add the fennel and cook until slightly browned (about 5-7 minutes). Add the apple juice and about 1/3 cup of pasta water. Season with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for about 10-12 minutes until all the juice is evaporated. Remove and discard the thyme.

Assembly time: In a mortar and pestle, grind the saffron threads. Add about 1/3 cup of water. In the same pan, add the orzo pasta to the fennel and the saffron water. Toss well for about 3-4 minutes. If the pasta starts sticking to the bottom, add a little pasta water. Add the rest of the butter, Tabasco sauce and the "soyrizo". Turn off the heat. Add the cilantro. Season with salt and pepper. Gently stir the saffron orzo without mashing the "soyrizo". Cover and let stand until you're ready to serve.

Garnish with more cilantro.

Bon appétit!


The vegetarian chorizo (click on the link for the recipe) has a similar texture to ground beef. The spices really add an extra dimension of flavor to this dish that plain, bland tofu cannot. 

The method for the orzo is quite similar to the one used for making wild rice. I just under-cook the pasta and finish cooking it with the fennel.

For the fennel bulb: Cut about 1/16-inch thick slices with a mandoline or if you don't own one, you can use a peeler (I love Messermeister tools for slicing and shredding).

To add more crunch, you can add about 1/3 cup of toasted pine nuts. I didn't because my 9-year-old-sister-in-law is extremely allergic to nuts.

To add a creamier taste, I also add crumbled goat cheese right at the end (not pictured). Add it at the last minute before serving otherwise it'll melt .

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on July 20, 2009.


Hey, great recipe! My wife and I were just lamenting the fact that I'd never again be able to eat paella with chorizo. But this seems like it would have many of the same flavors. Thanks!

Matt (No Meat Athlete) Website Link
[ Posted at 6:23 AM on 7/20/09 | Reply ]
Vegetarian chorizo? Wow. I missed that recipe, but I'm intrigued and though I don't use tofu, I'm very tempted to try this based on your recipe and description.

Joan Nova Website Link
[ Posted at 10:41 AM on 7/20/09 | Reply ]
The fennel cooked in apple juice sounds lovely! And the whole dish looks very tasty (glad you added goat cheese too, it's my favorite!)!

Kerstin Website Link
[ Posted at 3:22 PM on 7/20/09 | Reply ]
This meal seems to be packed with flavors! thanks for sharing your recipe

Karine Website Link
[ Posted at 5:29 PM on 7/20/09 | Reply ]
Saffron and fennel are an interesting combo, especially with chorizo. Great flavors.

The Duo Dishes Website Link
[ Posted at 5:49 PM on 7/20/09 | Reply ]
[-] Question for you - Guest-NinetteEnriquen
This dish looks really yummy!

I have another question for you. I was thinking of developing a recipe for an Indian "spanokopita" with paneer and spinach. I was thinking it would be nice if the paneer and spinach were flavored with tomato, yogurt, ginger, and other spices. Is there a flavor combination you would recommend cooking the paneer and spinach in before encasing it in phyllo?

Ninette Website Link
[ Posted at 6:14 PM on 7/20/09 | Reply ]
[-] cheffresco - Guest-cheffresco
I love orzo too. I still haven't tried saffron yet, but everytime I see a recipe I want to try it. Does it have a pretty strong flavor?

cheffresco Website Link
[ Posted at 6:16 PM on 7/20/09 | Reply ]
I really need to try working with fennel again. There's something strange for me about it, and yet so many cooks love it. I love saffron rice of just about any kind, and C loves orzo much more than rice, so this looks wonderful. Again - very creative recipe!

Jen of a2eatwrite Website Link
[ Posted at 4:46 AM on 7/21/09 | Reply ]
[-] Soyrizo - Guest-Deena
Great idea! I too am a meat-eater with an Indian vegetarian husband and we love experimenting with fake meats. I need a new use for Soyrizo besides stuffing it in a taco or enchilada like usual.

Deena Website Link
[ Posted at 3:55 PM on 7/21/09 | Reply ]
Love this dish even more that you have vegetarian chorizo in it...looks really yummie!

Juliana Website Link
[ Posted at 4:52 PM on 7/21/09 | Reply ]

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