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.
- 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
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.
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.
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).
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.
Check for flavor—again—adding more cinnamon or oregano if needed. When orzo is soft, remove from heat. Top with grated cheese and serve.
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.
Ohhh! My throat is a little sore, too. How well does it ship?!
Haha! It ships well. Looks like we lots of manestra for lemons trading in our future
I just made this! So yummy!
Ah that makes me so happy to hear, thank you!
It’s simmering on the stove right now. The house smells amazing . Thank you so much for the recipe Eleni, Much Appreciated 👍
It’s my pleasure! I hope you enjoy 🙂
I agree in Greek it’s Kritheraki. But in the UK it’s popular as Orzo. I usually buy a Greek brand though. My Mother in law taught me to make this but we bake in the oven in a tapsi. It’s my favourite comfort food along with Youvetsi. Nice to see original Greek recipes. Thank you for sharing.
Ah interesting! Yes I always knew It as orzo through my yiayia. Youvetsi is such a great dish, I need to add It to my website thank you for the good reminder! And thank you for stopping by and leaving such a nice comment. Makes me so happy to share 🙂
Looks wonderful and can’t wait to try her/your receipt!!!
Thanks so much! It’s delicious. I hope you try it and like it as much as I do 🙂
Please, please, please….it is KRITHARAKI…..not orzo (Spanish) or manestra (Italian)! It’s like fingers on a blackboard when I hear kritharaki, a very nice Greek word, called by any other foreign word.
Hi Katina, thank you for your comment. My family (and many others) go by the name of manestra, as it’s the type of grain we use. I’ve researched and discovered the dish goes by many names (orzo, manestra, and of course kritharaki). My yiayia always called it manestra, so that’s why I named it as such. I will edit and mention it’s actual name of Kritharaki, because I do agree, that’s what it really is! I just like the tradition from my yiayia 🙂
Thank you for posting your Yiayia’s recipe.
My father used to make this and I tried this recipe for the first time a few weeks ago.
It wasn’t as good as my dad’s, but that’s my fault not yours.
I’m about to try it again now.
Wish me luck.
Sometimes we become acquired to the way our parents/grandparents make things that no matter what, nothing will compare. I’m the same way with many things. And I’m totally ok with that! I hope you still liked the flavor.
I call it manestra because that’s what my Greek father called it.
I never knew this dish as anything else but kritharaki. I didn’t know what orzo was I had to look it up on Google.
I made this for dinner and absolutely loved it.
Thankyou for sharing this recipe.
Oh yes, technically it’s called kritharaki but since my yiayia used packages of orzo, she calls It orzo! So glad you liked the dish that always makes me so happy to hear 🙂
Yes my grandmother called it manestra. And she was born in Greece in 1920. Maybe it depends what part of Greece you come from.
Manestra is what the Macedonians call Orzo.
Looks fantastic, love the traditional tasty recipes like this one 😀
Thanks so much! 🤗 traditional is my fave
Absolutely delicious! Thank you for the amazing recipe. My kids love it and are disappointed if it’s not on the menu for the week, lol! Efxaharistoume, yiayia!
Ah I am happy to hear that you and your kids love the dish! So funny they get disappointed if you don’t make it because that’s how i get too LOL! Thanks for tasting and making, I will tell my Yiayia she has a fan! 🙂
My mother always called it Manestra too I still call it Manestra.
Ah yes, everyone seems to have a different name for It! I like manestra 😋
Love this so much!!! Reminds me of my Yiayia too! She always called it manestra. My mom always made it for us growing up using my Yiayia’s recipe. Making some tonight for my little Amalia, and carrying on the tradition of “manestra” ❤️😘
Love the dishes that remind you of your yiayia/grandparents! Thank you so much, I hope you enjoy the dish. <3
Thank you for this recipe! Just made this and my boys loved it!! I usually make this manestra dish with chicken, never made it with ground beef. Super tasty! I will definitely be making this again :).
So happy to hear you tried, and liked this dish! It’s always been a hit in my home so I love to see it’s reaching others. Thank you 🙂
We used to have it as a side to roast leg of lamb…no meat in it but with the lamb drippings and lemon juice instead of cinnamon
Mmmmm that sounds perfect! And now I want lamb 😋
My Yiayia called it Manestra also. She was born in Lemnos. Maybe it’s a regional thing?
Yes maybe It is a regional thing! Many Greek dishes are called different names based on region. My Yiayia calls this one orzo because the pasta package she uses is orzo haha.. simple as It gets
it is a regional thing, Eleni, you are a very lucky girl having your grandma spoiling you and passing over traditiones and culture, i had the same from my mother and sister, greek food are very tasty and healthy, tomorrow i ll do the arni pilafi, i do add cumin, i recomend you try it.
keep it up
ooh i’ll have to try with cumin, thank you! And yes, feeling very blessed indeed 🙂
What do you mean by “cans of tomato sauce”? Is it puree?
Hey Danielle, yes tomato sauce is basically the same as puree if you can’t find the cans of sauce! Tomato puree is just a bit thicker, so you may need to add more liquid to adjust. Hope that helps!
Hi Im Indonesian married Greek man, I just tried this recipe and it was yuuumm..will give to my family tomorrow, Im sure they would like it. Thank you Eleni!
Oh my goodness, that makes me so happy to hear! It’s seriously one of my favorite recipes, so I’m glad you enjoyed It as well. Thank you for sharing!
Hi. If using beef broth when do you include ? Thx !
Hi! Add It the same time as the water, or do half and half. I like to add It when I think the pot needs more liquid, as well as when I reheat the orzo, I’ll always had broth because It will thicken as It sits. Enjoy 🙂
This dish reminds me of something similar. Not sure of spelling but we called it Pasta Shita. A family friend always made it for us when he visited.
Call it by any name you like…but mostly call it delicious! My grocery store only stocks Orzo, so that’s what I use. Thank you for sharing this priceless recipe.
Ah that makes me so happy to hear Pamela. It’s definitely a favorite in our home and I hope It will be in yours, too.
Been eating this all my life but mom never used ground beef. She actually bakes hers with either a beef tenderloin or chicken. Give that a shot!
Oh yes, I need to post a recipe like that. Technically that way is called yiovetsi/giouvetsi. So goood! 🙂
This looks like an awesome manestra recipe, thank you! We like to jazz it up with feta cheese and Kalamata olives. Your yaiyai and you are very sweet people 😍
Oh yum that sounds nice to add some saltiness to the meal! thank you so much 🙂
Elena, this is absolutely delicious! I am A first generation Macedonian/Greek and we call it Manestra and we use orzo shaped pasta because that’s what’s available. We also bake it with beef or pork shanks until fall-from-the-bone tender. I love your recipes and amazing sense of flavours. Thank you for this humble recipe!
So happy to share recipes like this and to see so many people like you leave such nice comments! Fall of the bone anything sounds wonderful! I need to put up a youvetsi recipe.