This blog is all about learning, and eating, as many Greek recipes as possible. But there’s one recipe I’ve put off learning—manestra. Manestra (better known as kritharaki in Greece) is a Greek dish made with orzo in a tasty tomato sauce and is one of my favorite Greek dishes. My yiayia (grandma) 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 it’s always me who hoards the pot and gobbles it down the fastest. It’s that good. Nothing brings a smile to my face quite like seeing my yiayia walk up the driveway carrying a pot of manestra.
I’ve eaten my yiayia’s manestra so many times that I could make it for myself based on taste memory. But I never thought I would have to because I always figured my yiayia would make it for me. Then, after going without manestra longer than usual, I called my yiayia and left her a voicemail to see if she could make me a pot. She immediately texted, yes my super hip and tech-savvy 89-year-old yiayia texted me back with, “let’s make it together, it’s time you learned on your own.” So we made manestra together, and now I can share the recipe with others.
Yiayia’s manestra 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. Yes, not only can the woman cook but she Facebook’s better than most, too. Sagapo, yiayia. Thank you for teaching me how to make manestra 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 manestra, so I stuck with what she calls her dish.
-1 ½ lb ground beef
-1 ½ cups preferred pasta (Greek kritharaki, orzo, or manestra)
-¼ cup olive oil
-1 medium yellow onion, diced
-3 cloves garlic, chopped
-2 cans of tomato sauce (15 oz)
-1 can of diced tomatoes (15 oz)
-salt and pepper to taste
-3 Tablespoons dry oregano, or more to taste
-1½ tsp. cinnamon, or more to taste
-4 to 5 cups of water
-beef broth (optional)
-¼ cup ketchup (optional)*
-grated cheese (mizithra or parmesan)
*ketchup can be added to the tomato sauce for a little sweetener
1. In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and add in 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.
2. Add onions and garlic and sauté until onions have softened. Make sure to stir continuously.
3. Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes (and ketchup if using it) to the pot. After pouring the cans of tomato sauce and diced tomatoes, fill the cans up with water and pour into the pot.
4. Cover the pan with a lid (leave the lid off slightly). Be sure to stir occasionally.
5. Let cook for about 30 minutes and taste for seasoning. Add more salt and pepper, cinnamon and oregano if needed. Add more of what you prefer.
6. Turn down the heat and let simmer, and constantly check and stir (stirring from the bottom).
7. Once the meat has cooked, add the orzo. As you pour in the orzo, constantly stir as you add in so the orzo doesn’t stick together. Add more water to the pot to cover the orzo.
8. 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.
9. Check for seasoning, adding more cinnamon or oregano if needed.
10. Once orzo is cooked and soft, take off the heat.
11. Top with grated cheese (mizithra or parmesan) and enjoy!