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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Asian Orzo Salad Served Up With Fresh Lemon-Lime-Mint-ade

We've been eating out a LOT lately, with heavy and large meals on the menu several days in a row. While it's great to be social and get out on the town a bit, it does do a number on our digestive systems. So this week, I really just wanted to do something light, healthy and super fresh. My bloodstream was clamoring for a detox, so I delivered.

A friend of mine had once made an Asian Orzo salad, and I remembered how light and crisp it was - perfect for summer eating. So I decided I would try that too. I perused a bunch of recipes online, and they all seemed to be roughly the same (but rather heavy on the oil). I wanted a lighter version, so with the online recipes as a vague guidepost, I came up with this variation to serve two:

Asian Orzo Salad

1 chicken breast, cooked & shredded
4 oz. dry orzo (or 2 cups cooked)
1 carrot, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
3/4 cup sugar snap peas, steamed
3/4 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
1/2 cup canned sliced water chestnuts
1/4 cup diced cucumber
4 tsp. oil
3 tsp. rice vinegar (rice wine vinegar also works)
2 tsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. hoisin sauce
salt and pepper

1. I first grilled the chicken on a panini press to cook it, but pan frying it would work just as well. While the chicken was grilling, I boiled the orzo until cooked (about 8 minutes), drained the water and set it aside in a large bowl. Then I shredded the cooked chicken and added it to the orzo bowl.

2. Next I steamed the sugar snap peas, and chopped up all the veggies and chestnuts, and added them to the orzo and chicken.

3. Then I mixed the oil, vinegar, soy sauce and hoisin sauce until blended. Then I added it to the salad and tossed until mixed. I added a little salt and pepper to taste for the finish.

4. Chill for at least half an hour before serving.

My thoughts:
The Asian Orzo salad was perfect for what our mood was: it was light, crisp, cool and a great summer eat. I loved that it was heavy on the veggies, with chicken for protein (and of course the chicken can be substituted with tofu for vegetarians, or delete it completely and just use more orzo for balance with the veggies). The orzo was filling, but I didn't put a lot, so it was decently light on carbs. My husband thought it was great, so I'm happy when he's a happy camper. For me, as a recipe itself, I would probably give it two hearts: ♥♥. It was pretty good and I would be happy to have it again, but I'm not sure it'll quite make it into our usual repertoire. I might also experiment a bit more with the sauce. Hoisin sauce is not one I use regularly. I might try substituting it with oyster sauce instead and adding a little sugar or Splenda if it needs extra sweetening.

EDIT: A week later I tried the same dish and added a dash of white pepper and a few splashes of fish sauce and it was perfect! Just the thing the sauce needed for a little kick: a little savory to counter the sweet of the soy and hoisin. I'm pretty sure that officially bumped it up to three hearts ♥♥♥, and I served it to dinner guests with fresh cherries and lychees for dessert and it was a hit. Light but filling. Yup, fish sauce fixes everything.

However, I did serve it up with fresh, home-made lemonade, which I absolutely LOVED. I have a feeling I'll be making this all summer long.

The Best Lemonade Ever

What makes this the best lemonade is that it is not just lemons. It is lemons plus limes and mint. YUM. I make it with Splenda because I try to avoid too much sugar, but of course it can be made with sugar.

4 lemons
4 limes
8 sprigs of fresh mint
18 packets of Splenda (or 3/4-1 cup sugar, depending on taste)
1 cup of water to boil
2 cups of cool water to add

1. Add Splenda to 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally to dissolve Splenda in the water.

2. Squeeze the lemons and limes (makes about 3/4 cups of lemon-lime juice).

3. Add the Splenda-water to the lemon-lime juice, and add 2 cups cool water. Taste to see if you prefer more lemon-lime juice or more water, but this amount is my personal preference.

4. Muddle and mush the mint sprigs in the bottom of a glass with a spoon (this helps release the menthol). Add to lemonade. Chill for at least an hour before serving.

My thoughts:
I LOVE LOVE LOVE this lemonade. I first stumbled upon it by accident when I only had one lemon available, but a bunch of limes and REALLY wanted lemonade. The limes add just a hint of complexity to the lemons, and the menthol adds a real fun kick. This would also make a great mixer with some good tequila (not Jose Cuervo, but something more along the lines of a Corzo Reposado). I give it: ♥♥♥♥♥ because it is simply amazing.

Rating System:
♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night!
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!
♥♥♥ Great choice for a dinner party!
♥♥ Hey, that was pretty good. We should have it again sometime.
♥ Eh. S'all right....
♠ Ugh, no! That was so bad I just had to share.


  1. oooh.. i can't wait to try making the lemonade!

  2. I give lemonade with mint 5 hearts as well.

  3. I made the salad with salmon instead of chicken and that worked pretty well. The lemonade is indeed amazing. I tried adding Pimm's to it, though -- big mistake. It's perfect as-is.

  4. Oh I'm so glad to hear you tried the lemonade. I seriously drank it every day this week. I'm officially addicted.

    Salmon is a great idea for that salad. I think I'll try it again with salmon!


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