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Ease of preparation, pleasing flavors and distinctive textures characterize this unique, exceptionally nutritious summer salad. The combination of orzo and chickpeas lends the dish a lightly exotic flavor enhanced by the herbs, tomatoes, lemon and touch of honey.
Orzo isn't yet widely used here in the States, but it boasts some interesting qualities. Although the shape of this pasta resembles grains of rice, its name is the Italian word for barley.
Closely related to couscous, it is often used interchangeably with barley, rice and other grains. It is extremely popular throughout the Mediterranean, where it is valued for its versatility and its silky, shiny appearance when cooked.
Orzo's origins, like those of pasta itself, are shrouded in mystery. Some say Marco Polo brought pasta back to Venice from China in the 13th century. Others say it was brought to Italy with Germanic tribes in the 5th century. There are other claims, but one thing is indisputable: Italy has turned pasta into an art form.
Another unique feature of this salad are the chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans. The name traces back through the French chiche and all the way back to the Latin word cicer. It is widely believed that the word garbanzo found its way into English as a corruption of the Old Spanish word garroba. Chickpeas were harvested in France, Turkey and the Middle East as long ago as 7500 BC.
Today they are grown in the Mediterranean, western Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Very versatile, they can be enjoyed warm or cold. For this recipe, they add just the right measure of flavor and texture, providing a healthy dose of fiber along with nutrients like calcium, folate, iron, magnesium and zinc.
The tomatoes add interesting color and consistency. Basil infuses the salad with a hint of sweetness that's reminiscent of cloves. Mint imparts a fresh aromatic quality and a cool flavor that's rounded out by the combination of lemon and honey.
Orzo Summer Salad
Makes 4 servings.
370 calories 12 g total fat 0 g saturated fat 59 g carbohydrate
10 g protein 6 g dietary fiber 110 mg sodium