When you think of easy-to-prep sides, rice usually comes to mind. Sure, a helping goes well with practically any meat and vegetable dish. But, if you’re like us, you’re always looking for ways to sneak a little extra protein into your meals to help dial down hunger, build muscle and increase metabolism. Enter orzo. This variety of pasta closely resembles rice, as it too comes in individual grains, making it the ideal rice swap for your favorite dishes including pilafs, soups and salads. Even better, enjoying orzo comes with a nice nutritional boost since it’s packed with good-for-you protein and fiber. Keep reading to learn more about the promising health benefits of eating orzo and chef’s tips for cooking it in 10 minutes or less!
What is orzo?
Orzo is a small rice-shaped pasta that’s made from a dough containing water and semolina, a type of flour that comes from durum wheat. Thanks to the semolina, this pasta boasts a nutty flavor, chewy texture and high protein content. And since it’s so small, it cooks up fast, typically in eight minutes. You can easily find orzo in the dried pasta aisle to use in your everyday cooking.
The health benefits of orzo
Orzo may be a little pasta, but it’s got big health benefits. In fact, it’s a protein powerhouse, with ¼ cup of uncooked orzo from a brand like Barilla contains about 200 calories and 7 grams of protein. Meanwhile, the same amount of basmati rice from Jyoti Natural Foods has 210 calories and 4 grams of protein.
Orzo’s higher protein content is key, as research links this nutrient with boosting metabolism, which helps with weight loss, lowering blood pressure and reducing heart disease risk.
In addition to containing more protein with fewer calories, there’s about 5 total fiber grams per ¼ cup of Barilla’s orzo. This is higher than the 1 gram listed on Jyoti basmati rice’s nutrition facts label, making orzo a fiber-rich food to aid digestion, boost gut health and lower cholesterol levels.
3 top tips for cooking orzo
One of the perks of keeping orzo handy is that it’s quick and easy to cook in under 10 minutes. Below, food blogger Lisa Lotts of Garlic and Zest shares her three top tips for cooking orzo so it’s tender and delicious.
1. Use this much water when cooking.
When boiling orzo as a standalone side, use 6 cups of water for every 1 cup of orzo. This is key as it gives the pasta enough room to cook without sticking together.
2. Add salt to the water.
Sprinkling a heaped tablespoon of salt into the 6 cups of boiling water will season the orzo as it cooks, so you get guaranteed tasty results. Once the salt dissolves, stir in the pasta and cook for approximately 8 to 10 minutes until al dente (Italian for “to the tooth”). Then, similar to regular pasta, drain the orzo in a strainer — just be sure to use a fine-mesh one so the grains don’t spill into your sink.
3. Give it a rinse to make it mush-proof.
While orzo is delicious when warm, you can also use it in a cold salad. Just be sure to allow the cooked pasta to cool down by letting it sit at room temperature or rinsing it with cold water and then drying it off. Otherwise, combining hot pasta with vinaigrettes or salad dressings will cause the orzo to absorb the dressing and produce a mushy salad.
2 mouthwatering orzo recipes
Enjoying orzo is as simple as turning it into creamy pilaf or tossing it with your favorite ingredients for a salad. Whip up these recipes the next time you want to give orzo a go to upgrade any savory dish!
Orzo Rice Pilaf
- 1 cup long-grain white rice
- 3 Tbs. salted butter, divided
- 1 shallot, finely diced
- ½ cup dry orzo
- 1 Tbs. minced garlic (about 2 large cloves)
- 1 tsp. finely minced fresh rosemary
- 1 tsp. finely minced fresh thyme
- 2½ cups low-sodium vegetable broth (or low-sodium chicken broth)
- Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
- Active: 15 mins
- Total time: 25 mins
- Yield: 6 servings
- Pour rice into fine-mesh strainer and rinse thoroughly, until water runs clear. This remove extra starch from rice. Allow rice to drain and set aside.
- Melt 2 Tbs. of salted butter in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add shallot and cook until it’s softened, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add orzo and toast until golden-brown, about 3 minutes. Pour in rice and toast until golden-brown, another 2 to 3 minutes. Stir mixture frequently to prevent burning.
- Make well in center of orzo-rice mixture and add garlic, rosemary and thyme. Sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Pour broth into mixture and bring to boil. Cover with lid and reduce heat to low until broth reaches gentle simmer. Simmer until water is absorbed and rice is tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
- Remove pan from heat and let sit, covered, about 5 minutes to absorb extra liquid.
- Take lid off pan, and add remaining 1 Tbs. of butter, salt and pepper (to taste). Stir gently with tines of fork until butter is melted completely and rice is fluffy.
Herbed Orzo Salad
Just as tasty warm or at room temperature, this zesty pasta toss gets a tangy kick from crumbled feta.
- 1 cup dry orzo
- ⅓ cup bottled Greek vinaigrette salad dressing
- 1 lemon
- 1 seedless cucumber, quartered, sliced
- 1 cup drained, sliced roasted red peppers
- ¾ cup sliced pitted Kalamata olives
- ¾ cup crumbled feta cheese
- ½ cup sliced red onion
- ¼ cup minced fresh dill
- ¼ cup minced fresh mint
- 2 Tbs. minced fresh parsley
- Active: 20 mins
- Total time: 40 mins
- Yield: 6 servings
- In large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta according to package directions for al dente; drain well. Transfer to large serving bowl; toss with vinaigrette.
- Grate 1 tsp. zest and squeeze 2 Tbs. juice from lemon. Add to bowl with orzo. Stir in cucumber, red peppers, olives, feta, onion, dill, mint and parsley. Season with ¼ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper. Serve immediately or cover and chill until ready to serve.
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