Greek-Style Orzo Pasta Salad


Greek-Style Orzo Pasta Salad

This dish grew out of a momentary thought a few years ago when a local hospital ordered a buffet catering meal from us that was for a public reception. One of the tricks for serving a crowd at modest cost is a huge bowl of pasta salad, which was among the dishes the hospital ordered.

Greek Orzo Pasta Salad, without Feta Cheese
Instead of my standard sort of pesto-seasoned pasta salad I suddenly thought to use the ingredients around that I had just made a conventional Greek salad with for a different order, Kalamata olives, pickled peppers, tomatoes, red onions, wine vinegar, oregano, olive oil, feta cheese. Happily, the huge bowl of penne I dressed with all these ingredients tasted tangy and good. More important, the Administrator of the hospital loved the salad, and it was always requested as we catered more events for them. We added it as a standard item for our general catering, special orders, and the deli case.

Here is a version of the salad with an even shorter pasta than penne. Orzo, shaped like rice grains, actually means “barley” in Italian (though the pasta is sometimes called “risoni” in Italy, meaning large [grains of] rice). The result looks like a Mediterranean rice salad, at least if not covered with crumbled feta cheese.

I use the herb sumac in the dressing, which I first learned about when I cooked with Turkish chef friends in Decatur. But sumac actually originated in Greece and, reportedly, is used with meats there as well as throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. A little paprika can be substituted if sumac is not available. Feta cheese is optional, being a bit heavy for summer dining, but it enhances the nutritional value of the salad.

The recipe makes enough salad to serve 4-6 people.


1/2 pound orzo pasta (or penne pasta)

1 medium clove garlic put through a garlic press or finely minced

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon sumac (or 1/2 teaspoon paprika)

3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

3/4 teaspoon dry oregano

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 of a small red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise (julienned)

1/2 cup small cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise

6 tablespoons pitted Kalamata olives, drained

1/4 cup sliced pickled banana peppers

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley leaves (flat “Italian” type preferred)

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, optional


Boil the pasta in plenty of lightly salted water, stirring well after adding the pasta to the water. When just tender to the bite, drain into a sieve and rinse well with cold running water. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl combine the rest of the ingredients except the feta. Mix in the drained pasta, and mix well. Let sit for ten to fifteen minutes, mix again, and taste, If desired, add vinegar or salt to taste (generally do not add salt if salty feta cheese will be added).

Serve mounded slightly on a platter. Sprinkle with crumbled feta, if used.


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