Every year, the extended family gets together for Christmas. We catch up on our lives, steal gifts during the no-so white elephant exchange (I ended up with olive oils…love it! My husband walked away with a Starbucks gift card, which I immediately stole.), and eat lots of yummy food. My nephew (my husband’s cousin’s son?) made these amazing appetizers with crostini, whipped cream cheese (I think), and smoked trout. Oh my god…they were awesome. I really want the recipe, but he probably just threw it all together because he’s that type of guy.
My dish wasn’t anywhere near as fancy, but I think it was respectable, reliable, and recommended. At least, I recommend it! The beauty of this recipe is that you can adjust it to suit your needs. If you want to add more goodies, don’t hold back. If you don’t like garbanzo beans, leave them out and use your favorite bean instead. Don’t like cucumber? Use zucchini. You get the idea.
Thank you to the Food Network for sharing this recipe. I followed the recipe closely, but next time, I’m going to try adding more goodies. The secret ingredient has to be the chopped walnuts. Completely unexpected, but memorable, giving the salad an extra crunch. In second place, the salty feta cheese closely followed by the fresh mint.
The dressing is pretty easy and is your basic vinaigrette. You can really use this dressing in any pasta or green salad. Instead of vinegar, you use lemon, which gives an extra boost of freshness.
There’s a lot of chopping involved, but it’s a good excuse to nibble on some veggies. Dice up red pepper and English cucumber, taking care to make equal, bite-sized pieces.
Finely chop red onion. Combine with garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas), which really adds a good texture to the salad so if you don’t like them, please use another type of bean. Cut some Kalamata olives in half, which along with the feta that you’ll add at the end, gives a saltiness that balances out the tangy salad dressing. Add walnuts, fresh mint, and fresh parsley. I questioned the walnuts, but as I mentioned earlier, they are surprisingly magical. I would say that you could use dried parsley if you want, but don’t skip the fresh mint. Dried mint isn’t the same.
Except for the feta, mix everything together while the orzo is still hot so that it absorbs the dressing. Add a little more olive oil if it’s too dry for you, but I found the mixture to be perfect. Make sure to sample it and add salt to taste. I also added some freshly ground pepper although the recipe didn’t call for it. Chill and add the feta when you know it won’t melt, which would be a bad thing.
What I like about this salad is that it’s perfect for both a side dish for dinner and potlucks: makes a lot, travels well, is good at room temperature, and doesn’t go bad from sitting out. It’s also relatively easy to make while still being impressive. The colors make it look attractive and fresh. Even better…you can make this salad the day before and it will taste even better than the day of.
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 6 tablespoons lemon juice freshly squeezed
- 1 clove garlic grated
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 large red bell pepper diced
- 1 1/2 cups English cucumber pulp scooped out and discarded, diced
- 3/4 cup red onion finely chopped
- 15.5 ounces garbanzo beans (chickpeas) drained and rinsed
- 1 cup pitted Kalamata olives halved
- 1 cup walnuts roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh mint finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley finely chopped
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 pound dried orzo
- 6 ounces Greek feta crumbled
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the lemon zest and juice, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Set the dressing aside.
- Combine the red bell pepper, cucumber, onion, chickpeas, olives, walnuts, mint, and parsley in a large mixing bowl.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Stir in 3 tablespoons of salt and a small splash of olive oil. Add the orzo and cook for 7 to 9 minutes, or according to the directions on the package. Drain the orzo in a colander, then add it to the vegetable mixture while the orzo is still hot. Immediately pour the dressing onto the orzo and vegetables, and stir to combine. The hot orzo will readily absorb the dressing.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a splash more olive oil if the salad seems too dry. Allow the salad to cool to room temperature, and then add the feta. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. You can also make this the day before.