I’ve loved manestra (aka orzo) since I was a child. It was a staple in my family’s Greek household. Funny thing, though. It was never served cold, in a salad, or toasted and combined with rice for a pilaf. It was always cooked in a tomato broth and seasoned with cinnamon, allspice, and oregano. My mother cooked it as part of a braised meal, with either chicken pieces or beef/lamb chunks. (If you’re interested in my family’s Chicken with Manestra recipe, click HERE for a video on YouTube and HERE and scroll down for a PDF version. Just be sure to eliminate the salt altogether and used low sodium/NSA products.)
For some reason, my mother always added cubed carrots to the dish, so that’s what I do too. The manestra was served with grated Parmesan cheese and a large dollop of plain yogurt. The tanginess of the yogurt was a nice contrast to the sweetness of the spices and carrots.
A few weeks ago, I was craving some manestra, but I wanted to cook a quicker version. I immediately thought of hamburger. Now, this was something my mother never did. But I figured, “Why not?” It couldn’t have been simpler. The end result was quite tasty and definitely satisfied my hankering for manestra.
Manestra (Orzo) with Hamburger – Greek Style
1 lb. ground beef, turkey, or chicken
1 small onion, finely diced
1 carrot cut into small cubes (or equivalent amount of baby carrots cut into ¼ in. slices)
1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed
1 8-oz. can NSA tomato sauce
¼ - ⅛ tsp. cinnamon (if you’re unsure, use the lesser amount)
1 pinch - ⅛ tsp. allspice (if you’re unsure, use the lesser amount)
1 tsp. oregano
2 cups water (or NSA chicken broth)
1 cup manestra/orzo
Brown meat,onion, and carrot in large pot over medium heat. When meat mixture is almost cooked through, add garlic and continue cooking for about 1 minute. Then add the tomato sauce and spices. Add the oregano by crushing in your hand to release flavor. Stir everything well to combine.
Add water/broth and bring to a boil. Add manestra/orzo. Stir well and turn heat to low. Simmer covered, stirring occasionally, until pasta is cooked through but not mushy (about 20 minutes). Add more water by tablespoon if needed, but do not overcook the pasta. Remove from heat and let rest for about 5-10 minutes before serving.
Serve with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan or crumbled feta. (If you’re brave enough, try a couple of dollops of plain, unflavored yogurt. A forkful of manestra dipped into a bit of tangy yogurt.)