We’re excited to welcome Kiki Vagianos to our family of columnists! Kiki lives and cooks in Boston. She spends her free time collecting, testing and posting favorite traditional Greek lenten recipes at The Greek Vegan. She loves sharing these simple and delicious authentic dishes and helping to bring them back into kitchens throughout the Greek diaspora. Kali Orexi!
Manestra aka Kritharaki
Manestra aka kritharaki as the Greeks call it– is a very traditional hearty, rich dish enjoyed all over Greece and it’s the perfect meal on a cold winter day. Manestra warms you with the flavors of summer sun tomatoes and fills you with buttery plump orzo. It’s completely addictive so be sure to use your bottomless bowls for this dish!
A one-pot-wonder, manestra is so simple to make you’ll be so surprised by how flavorful and satisfying it is. Just keep in mind that, with only 5 ingredients, the quality of your ingredients have to be top shelf in this recipe.
Its always preferable to roast your own tomatoes but canned work well to. Be sure to use whole, peeled canned tomatoes (NOT crushed or sauce) and to drain off any liquid that they may be packed in. You want just the tomatoes themselves. Break them up well with a fork and they’ll just melt into the soup.
Greek oregano is the star (and only) herb in this dish so when you can, use Greek oregano on the stem. The flavor is stronger and brighter. Good quality Greek oregano will leave oregano oil behind on your skin when you crush it. The aroma is one of a kind and the taste is just made to go with tomatoes.
Make sure to stay near the stove while your manestra is cooking and stir the orzo frequently. Orzo has the tendency to stick to the bottom of the pot so gently stir, stir, stir. Keep your stove on low heat the entire cooking time and you should be fine. Gentle, low heat is very important to bring all the flavors together perfectly.
If a few orzo do start to stick to the bottom of the pan, give them a gentle nudge or two with the edge of your wooden spoon and they should come loose easily. A 3qt saucepan fits this recipe perfectly. This recipe serves 4 generously and is easily scaled to fit your needs.
2 cups whole, peeled tomatoes (preferably roasted tomatoes)
1 1/2 cups orzo
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 tbsp dried, crushed Greek oregano
1 tsp salt /freshly ground pepper
5 cups water
(1) Sauté onions in olive oil over low heat until soft.
(2) Add tomatoes, crushed oregano, spices and orzo. Stir to combine well. Cook on low heat for 5 minutes.
(3) Add water and cook gently on low heat for approximately 25 minutes. Stir often to make sure your orzo doesn’t stick to the bottom of your pot. If some do stick, just work them loose with the back of a wooden spoon. Serve hot with crusty bread.
(4) Reheat: add a few tablespoons of water to loosen up the manestra. Warm manestra, covered, on low heat with added water.