Orzo Cucumber Salad

Let’s talk about a basic salad. One that has the very basic formula of vegetable+grain+lemon juice+olive oil+cheese. Are you with me? I worry that you may be bored with something so simple, something I’m confident you have figured out on your own.

Yet I feel the urge to plug for the very basic salad recipe. There’s something so refreshing about the ability to bring together a satisfying and healthy dish that goes only a few steps beyond bagged salad greens and bottled dressing, something I used to use to fill in the blanks of meals and snacks here and there. I much prefer something like this, don’t you?

Take note: this is another recipe with less than 10 ingredients!

Orzo Cucumber Salad
Version inspired by Real Simple Magazine

3-4 ounces cucumber, chopped
~2 ounces another vegetable, like green pepper, chopped
2 ounces Feta/approx. 1/2 Cup, crumbled
3 small scallions, thinly sliced
1.5 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1.5 Tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper

Consider that there are unlimited options for variation here. This other recipe I was considering used sun-dried tomato and red onion. Shallots would work. And if you are fresh out of fresh lemons, champagne or white wine vinegar make sense.

If you're wondering what I am doing with the rest of that sizable green pepper, it is going into this weekend's Super Bowl chili.

If you’re wondering what I am doing with the rest of that sizable green pepper, it is going into this weekend’s Super Bowl chili.


Cook the orzo according to the package directions. Drain; run under cold water to cool and shake well to remove excess water.

Prepare vegetables:
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Aside: as you know, I made a resolution to take prompter action on my task list. One such task was to have the kitchen knives professional sharpened, something we never had done. We have a honing device, like this:
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which you’re supposed to use often, and an old electric sharpener kinda like this that never provided satisfactory results. In my singular experience, it is surprisingly easy to find a traveling knife sharpener who picks up the phone, makes an appointment to come to your house at your convenience, and then accepts payment on a per knife basis. Easy peasy.

I have noticed a huge improvement in some cases. For some reason, scallions had been giving me trouble with the duller chef’s knife, and is where I felt a serious difference and ease in making thin slices.
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In a medium bowl, toss the orzo with the cucumber, Feta, scallions, green pepper, lemon juice, oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper.

Mmm feta. Can't I just eat this?

Mmm feta and lemon juice. Can’t I just eat this?


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Enjoy cold or at room temperature.

Italian-American Wedding Soup

This recipe is brought to you by the letter E…for escarole. Escarole, that vegetable that makes me groan, because it tastes so bitter raw. Which means I have to make an E for effort to cook it, and when I do, I always feel the need to do something complicated instead of simply sautéing it. Yes, I know this is MY problem.

I was surprised to discover that escarole is a fairly normal ingredient to add to Italian Wedding Soup. The Italian-Style Wedding Soup flavor of Campbell’s used to be one of my favorites as a kid. Yet I’m not sure I have had soup by the same name since then, and I had never made it at home. Of course, it is just a name, and there’s a good chance I have had a chicken-broth-based-vegetable-soup-with-meat-and-sometimes-pasta. Did you know that “wedding soup” was a mistranslation, and the original Italian phrase actually meant “married soup,” because of how well meats and green vegetables marry together? Now you know.

I really enjoyed how this came out using the slow cooker. The meatballs were so tender. Each vegetable added something interesting to the overall flavor. And with the chicken broth base, it definitely came out tasting like comfort food.

Italian Wedding Soup with Escarole
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

DSC_6095Because I only had 1 pound of ground beef instead of 1.5, I scaled most of the entire recipe down by 25%–including using 3/4 of my 2 beaten eggs. I’ll spare you that silly instruction on the ingredient list (I probably could have gotten by with just 1 egg).

Besides keeping close to recommended ratios for keeping meatballs together, the recipe is, of course, flexible. If you increase the greens, like I did, be sure to compensate with added broth.

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs (I used panko run through the food processor, but it would have probably worked in its original form)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
(I used 1 pound, as mentioned earlier)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
(I used 6)
3 large carrots, chopped (I used 3/4 Cup)
2 pieces of celery, chopped (I used 1/2 Cup)
1/2 onion, chopped (I used 1/4 Cup)
2 tablespoons snipped fresh oregano or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed (I used 1 tsp dried)
3/4 teaspoon dried basil (I used 1/2 tsp)
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder (I used 1/2 tsp)
2 bay leaves (I used 2 small Long Island bay leaves collected during a foraging tour with Wildman Steve Brill)
1 small head escarole (8 ounces), trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch strips (I used 6 ounces sliced escarole and 3.5 ounces of a mysterious green from my CSA I believe was mustard greens)
1 cup small pasta (I used whole wheat orzo because I had it – 3/4 Cup)
Fresh oregano sprigs (optional)

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Escarole

Escarole

Mustard greens?

Mustard greens?


In a large bowl, combine eggs, onion, bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper.
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Add ground beef; mix well.
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Shape mixture into about forty 1-1/4-inch meatballs.
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Now it is time to choose your method for browning the meatballs. One possibility is to use a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil, and brown meatballs, half at a time, draining on paper towels. I tried this for the first half, and turning the meatballs was a challenge. It was much easier to bake them in oven at 350, turning once, for 10-15 min total.

In a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine broth, carrots, dried herbs and spices, if using (oregano, basil, garlic powder etc.) the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Gently add meatballs.
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Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 6 hours, or on high-heat setting for 3 hours, stirring in fresh oregano (if using), pasta, and greens during the last 20 minutes of cooking.
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Ladle into bowls. Garnish if desired. Sit back and enjoy.
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