This watermelon and orzo salad is inspired by a Mediterranian salad that is popular throughout Southern Italy and Greece.
The refreshing mix of watermelon, arugula, feta and orzo provide the foundation for this salad which is perfect to enjoy on a hot summer day. Topped with pistachios, fresh mint, cracked pepper, and tossed with a watermelon-white balsamic vinaigrette, your taste buds will be bouncing all over.
Ingredients for watermelon orzo salad
Our take on a refreshing and light pasta salad, this watermelon orzo salad is seriously the best! It's great as a side dish or as the main meal. Here's what you need:
Watermelon: While watermelon really is the best melon to use in this salad, you could also replace it with cantaloupe or honeydew. Just be sure to taste the melon and adjust the season of the dish in accordance to the sweetness of the melon.
Orzo: Our pasta feature that offers a lighter salad.
Arugula: Arugula provides the perfect balance of peppery sharpness and earthy-green flavor but you could also use watercress, spinach, or sorrel.
Feta: Feta has the briny “funk” you want when enjoying this salad. When small bits of the feta break off from the largely-cut chunks, they blend into the vinaigrette and create an impromptu emulsion that takes the vinaigrette, and salad, to another level.
Pistachios: The pistachios bring a crunch and heartiness and substance to the dish. You can really use any type of nut you prefer, but nothing pairs quite like the pistachio in this Mediterranian-themed salad.
Mint: The mint provides a burst of freshness that reset your palate after each bite. In the absence of mint, feel free to replace it with basil.
What is orzo?
While it looks like rice and has a name that may have you thinking it is a grain similar to quinoa or millet, orzo is actually a pasta. Designed to have a size similar to rice, it's perfect for providing the substance you want from pasta in dishes without having full-sized noodles.
Orzo is especially great for salads or soups where you don’t want the pasta to absorb all the moisture and to become soft and mushy.
To cook orzo, you simply cook it like you would any pasta, in salted boiling water until it is al dente in texture.
Tips on watermelon orzo salad
Using in seasonal ingredients: The key to serving this salad at its finests is the quality of ingredients. This salad should really only be done with fresh mint and watermelon that is in season. If you try to use watermelon, arugula, and mint purchased in the middle of the winter at the store in the dish, it just won’t feature the same burst and pops of flavor and will taste rather uninspiring.
Seasoning the salad: Don’t forget to season your watermelon slightly. Remember, salt is a flavor enhancer and it opens the pores on your tongue and allows you to taste. For that reason, you should even season your fruit with salt (but just a little). Try it in small batches to see how much salt you like first. Also, if the watermelon is lacking in flavor, feel free to drizzle a little honey on there to give the melon a boost.
Cooking the orzo: This is one of those recipes where it is better to overcook the orzo than undercook it. So if you are unsure about whether the orzo is done, go ahead and give it another minute. Because of the fact that you are serving the orzo chilled, you would prefer that it is softer and more absorbent for the vinaigrette rather than crunchy.
Adding veggies: Feel free to add complementary vegetables such as cucumbers and tomatoes to turn this salad into a more “traditional” vegetable-based pasta salad.
Watermelon juice: When straining the refrigerated watermelon, don’t throw out the liquid! You can use it for aqua fresca or in your next watermelon tequila drink!
We hope you enjoy this incredibly refreshing, summer in a dish meal!
Cheers and eat well!
Watermelon Orzo Salad
It doesn’t get more summer than this Watermelon Orzo Salad. With Mediterranean flavors and all the freshness of a summer garden’s bounty, this unique take on a pasta salad will have you scratching the mayo-based pasta salads in favor of this one.
Dice the watermelon by cutting both the top and bottom off of the watermelon so that you can see the red of the melon as a circle on both sides. With the melon sitting upright, carefully cut from the top down, in a slightly “C” shape so that you trim off the outer rind of the melon and are left with only the red. (similar to skinning an orange before segmenting.) Continue that process, rotating the melon, until all the outer rind is removed. Slice the melon into manageable pieces and dice the melon into cubes roughly ¾ inch by ¾ inch large. Set 3 cups of the watermelon aside for the salad and use some of the scraps for the vinaigrette.
Before storing in the refrigerator, season the 3 cups of diced watermelon for the salad with a few pinches of salt. Set the watermelon in the fridge.
Next, make the watermelon-white balsamic vinaigrette using the scraps from cutting the watermelon.
Cook the orzo pasta in accordance with time on the package by boiling in slightly-salted water till al dente.
When done, strain and place into a bowl. Toss the orzo with ½ cup of the watermelon-balsamic vinaigrette and refrigerate until cool (about 1 hour).
Preheat an oven to 350 F.
Lay the shelled pistachios on a nice even layer on a baking sheet and roast at 350 F for about 4-6 minutes or until toasted slightly. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature.
Pluck the mint leaves from the stems and place it in a large bowl with your arugula.
If it is not pre-crumbled, dice your feta into cubes that are about ½ inch x ½ inch large.
Add half the feta to the arugula and mint mixture.
Once cooled, remove the orzo and the diced watermelon from the fridge. Strain off the liquid that has seeped out of the cut watermelon from earlier and season the watermelon with 4-6 nice cracks of black pepper (about ⅓ teaspoon).
Gently add the watermelon to the orzo and stir, being careful not to break up the watermelon too much.
Right before serving, add the feta, mint and arugula mixture to the watermelon and orzo mixture and gently toss to combine.
Taste a bit of the mixture and adjust the flavor by adding more salt or vinaigrette if needed.
Garnish with the toasted pistachios, the remaining feta, and a nice drizzle of the remaining watermelon-balsamic vinaigrette and enjoy!
Watermelon White Balsamic Vinaigrette
Turn off the blender and add the dijon mustard, the honey, the salt and the pepper. Blend again for another 15 seconds until everything is incorporated.
Pick the leaves of mint off the stems and gently chop. Set the mint aside.
While running the blender at its slowest speed, and slowly stream in the oil into the vinaigrette until all the oil is incorporated.
Once incorporated, turn the blender up to high for about 5 seconds and then turn it off.
(You are forming an emulsion between the oil and other ingredients so the mixture should be smooth and blended together, loosely resembling a smoothie.)
Gently stir in the chopped mint and allow the vinaigrette to sit in the fridge for 1 hour for all the flavors to come together. Season to taste before using.
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