Greek Inspired Orzo Salad
I went to Greece around 15 years ago with a great friend of mine named Thalassa. Thalassa’s name means ocean in Greek. She had eyes the color of the sea and the prettiest, fullest lips on the biggest, most infectious smile you have ever seen. She was the daughter of an American woman named Toni and a Greek man named Yorgos who had had a love affair for the books on the Isle of Paros back in the 70s. Thal was the product of an unorthodox but highly interesting upbringing. Her parents, both remarkable people didn’t stay together which gave Thal the opportunity to visit her Father in Greece every couple of years. She grew up in one of the most liberal places in the country, California, and that is where we met and bonded immediately. Friends at first sight. I loved spending evenings at her Mother’s home, cooking in her sprawling kitchen and eating al fresco on a deck overlooking the Berkeley hills. We would sit sipping red wine, laughing, smoking and talking all night with her Mom about all the liberal things.
In 2005ish I had the privilege of staying with Thal in her father’s home in the middle of Athens, Greece. Yorgos, her Dad, was as incredible as I had imagined and his apartment was both modest and impressive. It was several floors tall and overlooked the Parthenon. He was a working painter, a bachelor and lived a minimalist, bohemian lifestyle which I found fascinating. He would cook for us and we would eat on his veranda, beautiful, simple, rustic dishes using fresh lemons, herbs, braised chicken thighs with rice, olives, peasant salads and of course wine. He regaled us with funny stories, tales of his youth and gave us sage advice. I remember him telling us to always bring a stick when walking through the city in summer because the stray dogs ran in packs and they were hungry. I also remember all the eyes looking at us through the darkness as all the stray animals surrounded his patio, hoping for a scrap and him throwing water and muttering profanities to disperse them as we cackled like witches, intoxicated by the novelty and the wine.
Later in the trip we travelled by boat together to a small island called Paros which further solidified my love for all things Greek. The beaches were exquisitely beautiful, the food was fresh and rustic and day drinking followed by a nap was never frowned upon. We spent our evenings at the Taverna by the ocean, our mornings smoking and drinking coffee. All in all, it was a beautiful trip. I have never been anywhere else where smoking was so accepted and encouraged and unfortunately even as a heavy smoker, I succumbed to a respiratory illness towards the end of the trip but I won’t bore you with that story.
I returned from Greece inspired. I began cooking with more fresh herbs, more fresh lemon, and started playing with all the flavors I had enjoyed while travelling that gorgeous country. I treasure the memory of that voyage and the friendship I forged with Thal and her family of delicious nonconformists. Over the years my fascination with Mediterranean foods and flavors has blossomed into an obsession. This salad is like a bowl of Thalassa herself. Fresh, sweet, zesty, tart ,textural ,slightly unorthodox and rich with color. I hope you try it.
Greek Orzo Salad
- 1 pound orzo
- 4 each persian cucumbers chopped
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved
- 1/2 ea red onion chopped
- 10 ea calamata olives
- 1 ea avocado
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp pure maple syrup
- 2 1/2 each lemons juiced
- 1 pinch dry italian seasoning
- 1 pinch salt and black pepper to taste
- Cook 1 box orzo pasta as directed, rinse with cold water and drain.
- Put Orzo in a large mixing bowl and add 2T olive oil, 2 tsp pure maple syrup and the juice of 2 lemons. Mix with hands to distribute evenly throughout pasta
- Add chopped Persian cucumbers, halved cherry tomatoes, red onion diced small and calamata olives halved to bowl, salt lightly, drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive oil, a pinch of dried Italian seasoning and a few grinds of black pepper then mix into orzo with hands.
- Top with salted sliced avocado and a squeeze of lemon