Yiayia’s Orzo (Kritharaki)

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 manestra, so I stuck with what she calls her dish.


Yiayia's Manestra (Kritharaki)
Recipe type: Main Course
Serves: 6-8
Manestra (better known as kritharaki in Greece) is a Greek dish made with orzo and a delicious meat sauce.
  • -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)
  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!
*ketchup can be added to the tomato sauce for a little sweetener






16 thoughts on “Yiayia’s Orzo (Kritharaki)

  1. katinahughes2014 says:

    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.

    • mybigfatgreekfanny says:

      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 🙂

    • elenisaltas says:

      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! 🙂

  2. Panayota says:

    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 :).

    • elenisaltas says:

      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 🙂

    • elenisaltas says:

      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

Leave a Comment