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Springtime Orzo Salad with Fresh Herbs and Vegetables

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I saw a recipe in this month’s issue of Cooking Light. It sounded like a wonderful springtime side dish for rack of lamb and roasted cauliflower, which I was already planning on having for a special Saturday supper. I adapted it a bit, changing out the radishes for asparagus, which is currently in season and readily available at a good price.

I’m also going to boost the vitamin and fiber content with some edamame, spinach, and cherry tomatoes. I like a lot of herbs and have some on hand that I need to use or lose, so I’m going to add basil and tarragon to it as well. It’s an easy salad to make and can be as fancy or down-to-earth as you want to make it. It would also be delicious with lemon caper chicken, baked fish, or even as a main dish with some sautéed shrimp or scallops on top.

I plan to enjoy this with a nice Shiraz, and a low fat lemon pie for dessert.
Yum! Enjoy!

Springtime Orzo Salad with Fresh Herbs and Vegetables
8 ounces uncooked orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp lemon zest
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups fennel (about 1 bulb), diced
1 Tbsp fennel fronds, snipped
1 cup asparagus, blanched
3 oz. fresh baby spinach, rough chopped
3 Tbsp mint, chopped
3 Tbsp green onions, minced
2 Tbsp tarragon, chopped
¼ cup parsley, chopped
¼ cup basil, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
3 oz. reduced fat feta cheese, crumbled

  1. First, blanch your asparagus. This just means boil it for about 1-2 minutes and then put it in an ice water bath to stop the cooking and retain its crispness. Set aside.
  2. Then, toast your pine nuts either in a dry pan, or for 5 minutes in a 350 oven. Set aside.
  3. Next, boil salted water for the orzo. While that is boiling, chop all the vegetables and herbs. Remove the asparagus form the ice water bath and pat it dry with paper towels. Chop it into approximately 1 ½” pieces. Add it to the rest of the veggies and herbs, and go ahead and blend them all in a medium bowl.
  4. Add the orzo to the salted and boiling water and cook as directed, to al dente. Drain, but do not rinse in a colander.
  5. In a small bowl, mix up the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil and Dijon mustard. Transfer the drained orzo to a large bowl and stir a few times to help release some of the heat and prevent sticking. Add the dressing and season with salt and pepper. Don’t add the veggies/herbs just yet.
  6. Meanwhile, cook whatever protein you plan on having, set the table, and maybe put together a bowl of fresh berries or pears.
  7. Once everything else is ready, toss the veggies and herbs with the dressed orzo and add the feta cheese. Garnish with some whole basil leaves and a few of the snipped fennel fronds and serve at room temperature.
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About Daphne Wotherspoon