Main Course,  Recipes

Orzo Salad with Asparagus, Artichokes, Tuna & Lemon Vodka Vinaigrette

Asparagus. Artichokes. Tuna….Vodka?
What do these ingredients all have in common? Not much, but that’s the point.

They are the four ingredients chosen at random for this month’s Paper Chef  Challenge by last month’s winner, Allison of Local Lemons. I almost didn’t participate because I really don’t like vodka. My passionate dislike goes back to an “incident” involving one too many Screwdrivers (the drink, not the tool, though come to think of it, a certain boy was being a tool which is what led to the Screwdrivers…but I digress) in my freshman year of college. Let’s just say it’s been over 20 years and I still can’t touch the stuff.

So it was with some difficulty I came up with a recipe which included the dreaded spirit. I thought about doing a pasta with vodka sauce, but really, I wanted to be able to eat what I made and I don’t even like it in my pasta. I thought about doing something with a seared rare tuna, as seafood was my specialty in my former life, but again, I just couldn’t make it work with the vodka. Ultimately, I ended up with this light summer salad hoping the vodka would add that je ne sais quoi to the vinaigrette.
Guess what? I actually enjoyed it. That doesn’t mean I’ll be drinking a Screwdriver any time soon. Though I’m still with a certain boy 23 years later, I’d rather drink tequila.

Let me know if you’ve ever been challenged to cook with an ingredient you don’t like. How did it turn out?

***Note, this recipe ended up winning the Paper Chef competition (yay!). You can see Allison’s comments here:

Orzo Salad with Asparagus, Artichokes, Tuna, & Lemon Vodka Vinaigrette
1 lb dry Orzo pasta
1 Tbsp olive oil
8 oz cooked asparagus, blanched and shocked
12 oz artichoke hearts, quartered
3 oz kalamata olives, sliced
8 oz diced tomatoes
4 oz diced yellow pepper
2 cans (6 oz each) solid white albacore tuna
2 Tbsp fresh basil
6-8 oz Lemon Vodka Vinaigrette (recipe below)

Cook the orzo in a large pot of salted boiling water until done, about 12 min. Drain, run cold water over to stop the cooking, and put it in a large mixing bowl. Mix in 1 Tbsp olive oil to keep the orzo from sticking together.

Cook the asparagus until just tender in boiling water (for pencil-thin asparagus this can be less than a minute), remove and quickly drop in a bath of ice water to “shock” the asparagus. This stops the cooking and sets the color.

Cut the asparagus into 2 inch pieces.

Slice and dice the artichoke hearts, olives, tomatoes and peppers.

Mix the vegetables into the orzo.

Add in the drained tuna and fresh basil.

Add in the dressing to taste. I recommend you start with half the dressing and then add more as needed. If the salad is going to sit, it will absorb the dressing and you may need to add more later.

Makes about 10 cups of salad, enough for a picnic, pot luck, or warm summer night’s meal.


Lemon Vodka Vinaigrette

2 oz vodka
2 oz lemon juice
6 oz extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
salt and pepper

Whisk all ingredients together or shake in a jar. For vinaigrette basics, see my post on How to Make a Basic Vinaigrette


  • kathy matteson

    We are back from a fabulous trip to Spain and France, enhanced all the more by postings and information online from folks like you. I like the orzo/pasta dish, and I will try it.

    You asked about cooking with an ingredient you don’t like. I cannot abide saffron – don’t like the taste, the smell, the color – pretty much everything about it. I made a paella for a dinner party long ago (after friends brought us saffron from Spain), and it was good, although I’ve not made it again since. I avoid saffron on menus.

    Let me know if you are interested in info on the 3-bedroom apartment we rented in Paris. It was on rue Saint Dominique in the 7th, so great location, and it was comfy and large (by Paris standards). Beds and most furniture were American brought over by the American owner. It had two bathrooms as well, a decent kitchen, a washer and dryer, and a dining room — worked well for four of us, and it could hold six. It was uncommonly quiet, since it was set well away from the street.

    We ate out one night down the street at La Fontaine de Mars. Little did we know that the Obamas would have a date night there two nights later!

    Thanks again for your input before our trip.


  • Tricia

    Nice looking salad and tasty-sounding recipe! We don’t have liquor in our house, so I sat out this round, but just now realized as I was reading the round-up that I’ve seen vodka at the neighbors’ house. I should have borrowed a smidgen from them!

  • Murasaki Shikibu

    Congratulations. I really love your ‘vinaigrette’ which doesn’t contain any vinegar in it. (I don’t like any kind of vinegar)

    Your execution looks great and this is something we’d all like to eat when the weather gets way too warm….like now. :p

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