A reader recently asked me if I always dine alone. The frequent answer to that question is yes; when I cook, I usually eat alone for a variety of reasons. For one, I’m not rolling in cash at the moment, thus I can’t exactly afford to do a lot of entertaining. Also, I tend to cook at odd hours, and most people don’t want to come over for dinner at quarter to ten. Plus, I really love to cook for myself. My dad, for one, finds it hilarious that I love my own food to such a high degree. I’m not entirely sure what this says about me: perhaps this makes me a little narcissistic; or maybe I just know what I like.
With that being said, I recently had the opportunity to cook for others that was most definitely a worthy cause. It is a tradition within my graduate program for the first year students to make lunch for the second year students and clinical faculty. They all put a lot of effort towards coaxing some competence into us green first year students. In particular, the second year students have been so amazingly supportive and helpful to us measly first years, I think they deserve a whole month of lunches.
Given this one quasi-formal opportunity to say thank you, my contribution to the lunch was an orzo and chickpea salad. I almost refrained from posting this recipe because somehow I forgot to photograph any part of the process, or the finished result. Despite the lacking visual representation, this is a very forgiving recipe: cook some orzo, make a simple vinaigrette, and add some chickpeas and your favorite vegetables. It’s great for a light, but satisfying lunch. It’s full of crunch, and the beans make it filling, but not heavy. The feta adds a nice salty savoriness, and a little lemon juice in the vinaigrette makes all the flavors a little bit brighter. I really like this ratio of acid to olive oil: enough vinegar and lemon to add a little kick, but you can still really taste the flavor of the extra virgin olive oil.
Orzo and Chickpea Salad (note: this makes a huge quantity, and can be easily scaled down)
1-1 lb. box orzo pasta
1 English or hot house cucumber, chopped (these are the large cucumber wrapped in plastic; the seeds are tiny and the skin is tender so neither needs to be removed)
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
½ of a red onion, finely chopped
2-14 oz. cans chickpeas, drained
½ cup finely chopped parsley
8 oz. crumbled feta cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup combined red wine vinegar and fresh lemon juice (half of a lemon, juiced)
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
· Put a large pot of water on to boil.
· Prepare the vinaigrette: squeeze half of a lemon directly into a measuring cup, and then add red wine vinegar until you have a total of a third of a cup. Add a generous pinch of salt (about a teaspoon) and pepper. Whisk together (salt will dissolve best before olive oil is added). Whisk in olive oil and set aside.
· Meanwhile, prep your vegetables and add orzo to pot when water is boiling, and cook according to directions. When orzo is ready, drain and rinse thoroughly with cold water.
· In a very large bowl or pot, mix together all ingredients. Re-whisk vinaigrette before adding it into other ingredients. Taste for seasoning, and adjust salt and pepper if necessary.
Comments: I have made a few variations of this salad, but I think feta cheese is a perfect compliment regardless of the other ingredients. The recipe above is true to the version I made for the second year students, and this quantity will feed an army. In fact, it produced such a huge quantity that I was forced to transport it in a soup pot because it was the only vessel large enough to contain the salad. Usually, this dish actually has a higher vegetable-to-orzo ratio, but I found myself shocked my how much pasta an entire package of orzo can actually yield. Make your own adjustments accordingly. You may want to add more vegetables, scale down the pasta more than the vegetables, or just revel in the orzo-mania. I suppose the word “mania” may be a little strong given the circumstances, but orzo is delicious nonetheless.