Yiayia’s Orzo


By: Eleni Saltas

Nothing brings a smile to my face quite like seeing my Yiayia Saltas walk up the driveway carrying a pot of orzo. She makes me a batch nearly every month. She makes it for me when my parents go out of town, when I’m sick, or just because it’s a Tuesday. And when I say she makes it for me, she technically brings it over for my entire family but I’m always the one who hoards the pot and gobbles it down the fastest. It’s that good. I’ve eaten yiayia’s orzo so many times that I never bothered to learn how to make it. I always figured she would make it for me. Then, after going without orzo longer than usual, I left her a voicemail to say I was craving a batch. She immediately texted—yes, my super hip and tech-savvy 91-year-old yiayia texted me back— “Let’s make it together, it’s time you learned on your own.” So, we made orzo together, and now you are one lucky duck reader and cook.

Yiayia’s orzo is filling and so addictive you won’t want to share. You just can’t beat simple comfort food, especially when brought to you by Yiayia Saltas. And when you do make the dish, be sure to post it on Facebook because my yiayia will like it, comment on it, and share it. Not only can the woman cook but she Facebook’s better than most. Sagapo (I love you), Yiayia. Thank you for teaching me how to make orzo on my own. I do think I’m coming down with a sore throat, so maybe make me one or two more pots full, please.

*In Greece, this dish is actually called Kritharaki. My yiayia has always called it orzo, so I stuck with what she calls her dish.

Prep Time:


Total Time:



6-8 bowls

Good For:



  • 1 ½ pounds ground beef
  • 1 ½ cups orzo (In Greek, kritharaki or manestra)
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans tomato sauce
  • 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons dry oregano, or more to taste
  • 1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon, or more to taste
  • 4 to 5 cups of water
  • Beef broth (optional)
  • ¼ cup ketchup (optional)*
  • Grated cheese (mizithra or Parmesan)

Step by Step Instructions

Step 1

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and add the ground beef. Pound the beef with a spoon to break up into chunks. Season with salt, pepper, cinnamon and oregano, and brown the beef. Add onions and garlic and cook until onions have softened and stir continuously.

Step 2

Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes (and ketchup if using it) to the pot. After pouring the cans of tomato sauce and diced tomatoes in, fill the cans up with water and pour that into the pot, too.

Step 3

Cover the pan with a lid (leave the lid off slightly). Be sure to stir occasionally. Cook for about 30 minutes and taste for flavor. Add more salt and pepper, cinnamon and oregano if needed. Add more of what you prefer. Turn down the heat and let simmer, constantly checking and stirring (stir from the bottom).

Step 4

Once the meat has cooked, add the orzo, stirring constantly so it doesn’t stick together. Add water to the pot to cover the orzo. 

Cover the pan with the lid (leave the lid off slightly) and let cook for about 20 minutes. Make sure to stir occasionally, stirring from the bottom of the pan.

Step 5

Check for flavor—again—adding more cinnamon or oregano if needed. When orzo is soft, remove from heat. Top with grated cheese and serve.

Recipe Notes

A tip from my yiayia:

Ketchup can be added to the tomato sauce to sweeten it. You can use a pinch of sugar instead, or omit this step. She does this in many of her stews and sauces.