Full and honest disclosure – I didn’t make this meal.
Tonight’s recipe is presented to you by my sister Erica. She’s a pretty awesome cook herself, but because she’s been living with my family for the last couple years her opportunities to cook are limited to a couple of nights a month rather than all the time. She made this meal for us shortly after coming to live with us and became a favorite. My husband Steve especially loves it. It’s become “her” dish and I dread the day I have to repeat it on my own because she owns it.
So without further ado, Erica’s Orzo Salad by guest blogger Erica Martinson
My sister is right: it drives me insane when she doesn’tmeasure things, because then I can’t replicate the recipe. I’m not very good at making things up on the fly, which is why I rely on measurements. My marinades are usually a disaster because I can’t get the proportions right. When I lived alone and cooked just for myself, I relied heavily on recipes to plan my evening meals; I had a huge calendar on the kitchen wall with the week’s meals planned out and the cookbooks and pages noted for each recipe I wanted to use. Now that I am basically a second child to my sister and her husband (albeit one who can drive herself around [most of the time]), I don’t cook as often. When I do, it’s usually one of a few recipes that I do best that everyone likes.
Tonight’s dinner was adapted from a recipe from an old Cooking Light. http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/chicken-orzo-salad-with-goat-cheese-10000001723375/
I have Cooking Light’s collected recipes for the years 2007-2009, and I used to use them a lot. I monkeyed with this one from the start, since I knew certain things wouldn’t go over as well with any of us. Their recipe calls for goat cheese and tomatoes; I’m not sure anyone in this household likes goat cheese,and Kristin won’t go within ten feet of a tomato unless it’s in sauce form. We also increase the veggies, which makes it last longer—the leftovers of this are really good and don’t even have to be reheated if you wanted to enjoy it cold. I think the best change we made was to marinate the chicken, and I honestly don’t remember whose idea that was, mine or Kristin’s. We use the marinade all the time, as well, not just for this recipe.
My reliance on recipes aside, I’ve made this one so many times in the last two years that I’m able to free-hand it a little bit more. Plus, it’s one of those recipes that you can tweak to your tastes, so if you’re feeling like a meatless meal, you can leave out the chicken, or if you wanted to throw in the tomatoes that we leave out, you can vary it however you want.
For the chicken and marinade, you will need:
- 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 3 lemons
- ~2 cloves of garlic (depending on how strong you like your garlic flavor)
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 350. In a gallon ziplock bag or large bowl, halve and juice two lemons. Zest the third lemon before juicing. Using either your microplane/zester or a garlic press, grate or press the garlic into the lemon juice. Add a good amount of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add the chicken and marinate between 15 to 30 minutes. Bake until the chicken’s fully cooked, between 30 and 45 minutes.
While your chicken’s cooking, you can assemble the rest of the salad. You’ll need:
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 orange or yellow bell pepper
- 1 medium red onion or (½ a large one )
- 1-1/2 cups spinach
- 1 0.75 oz packet of basil
- 1 tbsp. fresh oregano
- kalamata olives (if you buy them whole, they should be pitted)
- red wine vinegar
- olive oil
- salt, and pepper
- 1 1/4 cups orzo pasta
You’ll need your largest salad bowl for all of this:
Finely chop your onion and peppers. To wilt the spinach and basil most effectively when you add the hot ingredients, it is best to chiffonade the leaves—stack several leaves and roll them like a cigarette before running your knife through, so you get long, confetti-like strips. (I used to watch theFood Network a lot, before I discovered the DIY channel.) Chiffonade approximately 1 to ½ cups of the spinach, and half to all of the basil, depending on how much you like that herb or how much you actually get in the packet. Strip the oregano from the stems and run your knife through it until it is very fine and you have about a tablespoon. If your olives are whole, roughly chop them to your taste—tonight we used about a ¼ of a cup.
In a separate bowl or measuring cup, prepare your vinaigrette: using roughly ¼ cup red wine vinegar, whisk in approximately 2 tablespoons of olive oil to taste. (To be honest, this is the part that I always bungle, adding too much oil and then having to keep tasting while I splash in vinegar until I like the balance. It shouldn’t be too sharp (too much vinegar) or too sweet (too much oil), so testing it as you go is the best way to make it the way you like it.) Salt and pepper also to taste.
When your chicken’s out of the oven, set your pasta water to boil. You’ll need enough water for 1 ¼ cups of orzo, which you should cook to the package directions. While the water boils, chop your chicken thighs into bite-sized pieces and add to the vegetables. When the orzo is done, drain and add to the chicken and vegetables. Pour the vinaigrette directly over the hot pasta and toss.
Serve in bowls with crumbled feta cheese