Mediterranean Orzo Salad

I often find lunch to be a problematic endeavor. It usually catches me off-guard–there I am, typing away furiously, and lo and behold, its 12:34 pm and my stomach is growling.

During fieldwork, following Kashmiri norms, I cut out lunch altogether. Instead, I would eat a massive brunch of ghee-soaked parathas and yoghurt (not Kashmiri) until my tummy ached. “Lunch” consisted of coffee or tea, maybe a piece or two of toast if one of the doctors ordered some from the hospital canteen. Then, I’d rush home at 6 pm sharp, and a glorious mountain of sticky rice and hak (spinach) or other vegetables would be waiting for me. This, I would consume, with my hands, with half an eye on the banal Hindi serial on the telly. Now, I know this was not at all a healthy schedule (I am well aware of the six small meals a day thing, but really? who has time to cook six meals?) and I am not advocating the two huge meals a day routine. But, honestly, I miss the simplicity of that schedule, no lunch problem plaguing me.

Now, ready to start a new teaching term (tomorrow folks!), I find myself all too often in that stomach-grumbling phase and again, unprepared. Out of desperation, I will eat something on campus: packaged veggie sushi or tacos or a $10 salad and inevitably feel guilty. I’m determined to put an end to this mindless/unhealthy eating this term and am on the lookout for lunches that carry well, are easy to prepare, delicious, and healthy. Early career teachers also know about the stomach butterflies on teaching days that we must factor into the eternal ‘what to take for lunch’ question. If you have other good suggestions for office lunches that fit the bill, do share.

The following recipe, a sunny, bright, Mediterranean-inspired salad that I recently discovered, is ideal. It can jostle around in your bag all day (trust me, I tested), it’s lovely and refreshing at room temperature or cold, and its light and filling at the same time. I mean, chickpeas, olives, tomatoes, feta, parsley…these are really some of my favorite things. You don’t even need to worry about packing the dressing separately, because the orzo and vegetables soak up the flavor really nicely, all day long.

My Trader Joe's haul

You can easily prepare this in the morning before you dart out the door, while you are doing five other things. I recommend making a big batch and keeping it in the fridge. It will keep for a couple of days (although I recommend keeping your dressing separate if you are going to store for more than a day). This rainbow-colored salad looks beautiful and each bite is different. It makes eating lunch at your desk actually something to look forward to!

Prep time: 20 minutes

Serves: 2 big lunch portions (or 3 smaller)


1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

Juice of one lemon

1 roma tomato chopped, with seeds removed, or 15 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

1 dozen, black, pitted kalamata olives, halved

1 bunch curly parsley, chopped

8 oz. or 200 grams chickpeas or garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 small red onion, chopped

3 oz. feta, crumbled (approx.)

1 yellow/orange bell pepper (optional)

1 cup orzo, cooked according to package instructions

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Put about 8 cups of water to boil. When the water comes to a rolling boil, add salt and 1 cup of orzo. Stir the orzo occassionally and cook according to package instructions (about 9 minutes). When it’s done, drain the water and put your orzo into a big serving bowl and let cool. Note: your orzo will expand significantly after it cooks.Orzo1

Orzo: after

2.  While your orzo is cooking, prepare your dressing. Add lemon juice, one chopped garlic clove, salt, pepper, and olive oil into a mason jar and shake well until the dressing becomes creamy and a mellow yellow color. Set aside.De-seed and chop your tomatoes, olives, orange or yellow pepper, parsley, and red onion.

3. Open your can of chickpeas/garbanzo beans, drain out the water and rinse the beans well.

4. Time to assemble! Over your orzo, distribute all your veggies on top, with your parsley last. Crumble the feta over the veggies. Add the dressing and mix everything gently, but well. Note: if you don’t want such a robust onion flavor in your salad or, say, you have student conferences all afternoon, you can mix a bit of the red onion in with your dressing instead. The acid from the lemon juice will mellow out the flavor. Starting to look beautiful!

5. Add a little more parsley and/or feta for garnishing if you desire. Bon appetit!


Late summer cucumber and poppy seed salad

cucumber7Summer is on its way out in much of the US, but here in southern California, it rages on. I’m so excited to be back in the kitchen (a new kitchen) after the tumult of packing, moving, leaving, mourning…but finally I feel settled in my new pad and I promise I will be blogging more regularly.

One of my favorite summer foods is the cucumber. I love cucumbers in gazpachos, Indian style, with a little lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and in this salad, where they gain a sharp, sweet pickled quality and are a wonderful accompaniment for a barbeque, burgers (veggie/not), or with a sandwich for lunch. This salad is from one of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks (Ottolenghi), which I turn to on a regular basis to shake things up. I love the way the ribbons of red chilli look in the bed of green.

It’s bright, punchy, and easy. Also, it keeps for a day or two, particularly if you separate the dressing from the cucumbers until you are ready to eat.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Serves: 4


6 small cucumbers (Persian if you can find them – they are crunchy, seedless, and delicious)

1 red chile/red chili (depending on where in the world you are) – remove seeds if you don’t want the heat

3 tbsp. coarsely chopped cilantro

4 tbsp. rice wine vinegar (substitute white wine vinegar if you prefer)

4 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. poppy seeds

2 tsp. superfine sugar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Wash then chop off and discard the ends of the cucumbers. Cut them in half lengthwise and slice them at an angle. I like the pieces to be a bit chunky, about 1/2″ thick. Add the chopped chile/chili.cucumber2

2.  Mix together the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl. Add the cucumbers and gently mix everything, making sure that the cucumbers are well-coated with the dressing.cucumber53. Taste – the cucumbers should be sharp and sweet, pickle-like.

4.  Serve immediately, or if you are refrigerating, drain off some of the liquid and save it in a separate container. Then, just before serving, pour it over the cucumbers.


Happy eating! PS–I missed you.