Strawberry Dill Orzo Salad and my favorite Vinaigrette

What I wish Emily would have said in her last post was...

SPRING BREAKKK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Em was one of the lucky ones to escape winter's death grip by traveling south not once but twice in one month.  While her first adventure to one of our nation's greatest wonders was certainly Grand (see what I did there?), I would venture to say her second trip was certainly epic in its own way.

Because she came to visit me! Oh, who am I kidding.  She came to visit her niece. The little show stealer.  But fine by me.  It meant I got a bit of a break from the little lady, and bonus, I got to visit with my sis and BIL.  Not to mention the fact that Em and I could actually EAT the food we prepared for each other, instead of just salivating over a computer screen. Woot Woot!

And boy did we make some pretty fantastic meals that week, some which might even make an appearance in this space some day. But since Emily introduced travel food in her last post, I thought I would share a little salad we had together while out exploring the Texas Hill Country 

But first, can I just brag for a teensie bit about how lucky I am to live in Texas this year while Chicago is experiencing the coldest winter to date?  Because in the very same week Chicago was hit with yet another X-inch snow storm, we just mosied on down the road a clip and picked ourselves some ripe, red, and juicy strawberries from a local farm, IN MARCH!  Crazy.  I'm still pinching myself. 

Is there really any treat quite as fantastic as a strawberry plucked straight from the vine, and popped into your mouth? Caroline doesn't think so.

In preparation for this little field trip, I began pinning various strawberry recipes on to my Pinterest boards (as if there would be any strawberries left for recipes. Pretty sure most didn't make it passed their delicious doom topping vanilla ice cream later that night). A recipe for Strawberry Dill Orzo salad caught my eye. I had just picked up some dill in my CSA that week and was anxious to try it out.  

We prepped the salad in the morning and then took it along with us for a picnic at the farm.  All we had to do was slice up some strawberries table side and dig in.  Orzo salad is a great travel picnic food as it holds up well and can be customized in many ways to suit your needs, or pantry.  Pair the orzo with your favorite vinaigrette (this gave me an excuse to include my all time favorite salad dressing recipe), fresh herbs, hearty cheese, nuts for crunch and protein, and any veggies you might have lying around in your fridge.  Top with fresh berries for a sweet-tart pop of interest and you have yourself a great go-to salad for your next picnic outing. 

Let me be honest here and say the salad photographed horribly.  But that's what's so great about travel food.  The beauty isn't in the well styled plate, but the adventure that led you to set out and explore in the first place. Bon appetit and voyage!

Hey sis, try this (oh wait you already did)...

Strawberry Dill Orzo Salad

I would love to link up to the salad I saw, but I can't find it.  I didn't end up following the recipe anyway, just customized to what I had.  And I would encourage you to do the same.

1 pound orzo, cooked to al dente (I used whole wheat)

1 English cucumber, chopped

Handful of fresh dill, chopped

Handful of Havarti cheese (I didn't really like this, probably would have preferred feta, but Em liked it, so to each his/her own)

1/3 cup toasted and chopped almonds

About 1/2 cup favorite vinaigrette, see my favorite below

1/2-1 cup sliced strawberries

Once orzo is cooked and cooled, toss cucumber, dill, nuts and cheese.  Drizzle vinaigrette to taste. Toss everything gently.  Just before serving, top with strawberries. 

Lemon Vinaigrette from Deborah Madison’s cookbook Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone


1 garlic clove

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Pound the garlic with 1/2 teaspoon salt in a mortar until smooth, or swipe it across a cutting board with a knife.  This grinds up the garlic so it can evenly distribute through the dressing.  Whisk the garlic paste with the lemon zest and juice, mustard, and then slowly the oil.  Taste for salt and plenty of pepper.

If you are just using this to dress salad greens, it is also very important to add freshly grated parmesan to the salad, about 1/2 cup.  This is what reminded me so much of my favorite caesar dressing.