Manestra is a very traditional hearty, rich soup enjoyed all over Greece. It’s the perfect meal on a cold winter day. Manestra warms you with the flavors of summer sun tomatoes and fills you with buttery plump orzo. Just to warn you, it’s completely addictive so be sure to use your bottomless bowls for this dish.
This one-pot-wonder is so simple to make, you’ll be so surprised by how flavorful and satisfying it is. With only 5 ingredients, the quality of your tomatoes, Greek oregano and olive oil have to be top shelf in this recipe. Roasted, peeled garden tomatoes are always best and I save my frozen stash especially for this dish but you can use a good canned substitute too.
Whether using roasted or canned tomatoes, make sure to use whole, peeled tomatoes and to drain off any sauce that they may be packed in. You want just the tomatoes themselves. Break them up well with a fork and they’ll just melt into the soup.
The star herb in Manestra is Greek oregano. It is the only herb in this dish and is one of the few recipes that gives oregano the showcase it so deserves. I highly recommend buying Greek oregano on the stem. The flavor is stronger and brighter. You can tell the difference by crushing some of the dried oregano leaves between your fingertips. Good, quality Greek oregano will leave oregano oil behind on your skin. The aroma is one of a kind and the taste is just made to go with tomatoes.
When the onions are sautéed soft and translucent, add the orzo, tomato, oregano and spices and mix thoroughly. Cook for just 5 minutes to cook all of the amazing flavors into the orzo before adding the water.
Once you add the water, make sure to stay near the stove and stir the orzo frequently. Orzo has the tendency to stick to the bottom of the pot so stir, stir, stir. Keep your stove on low heat the entire cooking time and you should be fine. Gentle, low heat is very important to bring all the flavors together perfectly.
If a few orzo do start to stick to the bottom of the pan, give them a gentle nudge or two with the edge of your wooden spoon and they should come loose easily.
A 3qt saucepan fits this recipe perfectly.
- 2 cups whole, peeled tomatoes (preferably roasted tomatoes)
- 1 1/2 cups orzo
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 2 tbsp dried, crushed Greek oregano
- 1 tsp salt /freshly ground pepper
- 5 cups water
Saute onions in olive oil over low heat until soft. Add tomatoes, oregano, spices and orzo. Stir to combine well. Cook on low heat for 5 minutes. Add water and cook gently on low heat for approximately 25 minutes. Stir often to make sure your orzo doesn’t stick to the bottom of your pot. Serve hot with crusty bread.
To reheat, you may need to add a few tablespoons of water to loosen up the soup as the orzo absorbs the soup liquid the longer it sits. Reheat, covered, on low heat with added water. You’ll fall in love with this one-pot-Greek-vegan-wonder!
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How many servings does this recipe yield?
As a main course, this re4cipe serves approx 4 adults. As a first course, it will serve about 6 adults. Hope you enjoy it!
I’m so delighted to find your blog thru “Great Lent Gourmet!” It looks really lovely : )
This is one of those rare perfect recipes. It’s so easy and so delicious (my favorite combination), and it works for any time of year. Yesterday was cold and rainy, and this was the perfect dinner to fix. I served it with ciabatta bread that I brushed with EVOO and sprinkled with salt, pepper, and garlic powder before browning in the toaster oven. It was heavenly. Thanks for the great recipe! I’m ready to try another! 🙂
I’m so glad you liked it! And your toasted bread sounds delicious and perfect with Manestra. Hope you find lots of other yummy dishes – thanks for being here 🙂
Doesn’t orzo have egg in it? making it non vegan? or am i mistaken?
Hi Trace, There are no eggs in orzo. Orzo is a simple semolina pasta like spaghetti, just shaped like a grain of rice albeit a fat one 🙂 I think perhaps fettucine and egg noodles do but orzo does not – enjoy with a clear conscience! Kiki
This is an awesome recipe, thanks! My goddaughter and I made a batch on Sunday after Church and have been eating it for dinner during Holy Week so far, perfect for the very rainy and cold autumn weather here in Australia.
This looks so yummy! I also love your descriptions and recipe text- so warm, inviting, fun, and user friendly! Not to mention the pics! I cook a lot of vegan dishes and so enjoy cooking- but haven’t made soups often and this looks so simple and easy to try- can’t wait to do so. I also find orzo so comforting! Thank you!
What would you suggest as a gluten free alternative to orzo? Just a nice, long grain rice?
Hi Nicole, I asked a gluten-free friend and she suggests the pasta recipe for gluten-free orzo at http://www.lemonstolemonade.net/blog/2014/4/4/gluten-free-orzo-greek-salad-recipe – hope this helps! Kiki 🙂
for the manestra, instead of water, can I put Chicken broth? I think it will be tastier..
I’m sure you could. I do sub out homemade vegetable broth when I have it on hand for water in other soup recipes so you should be good. Do consider though, if your chicken broth adds additional fat to the recipe you may consider cutting a bit back on your olive oil to balance out. The water of course has no fat and veggie broth a negligible amount if any at all so the olive oil amount in this recipes compensates for that. Let me know how it turns out if you try with broth 🙂
Yum….want to try this very much. I am not vegetarian but like to eat vegan meals twice a week for health sake and will incorporate this into my diet.
Stir in some spinach for a delicious variation!
that sounds wonderful! I’ll be sure to try it soon – thanks for sharing Yiayia 🙂
I made this tonight and it reminded me of my childhood. Thank you
Thank you Kiki for bringing me back a beloved childhood recipe. I remember making this the last time and my orzo tasted very starchy. Any suggestions? And any suggestions other than canned tomatoes? I try not to use canned foods. Thank you
I’m with you on limiting canned foods so I try whenever possible to roast my own, then peel and freeze (or use immediately!). Here’s my go to for that https://thegreekvegan.com/roastedtomatoes/
For the starchy orzo, in my experience the starchiness differs with different brands of orzo. Not sure why and even after asking around, have gotten no good answer as to why that is, only confirmation that others have had found the same issue. I usually go with Barilla for a medium starch orzo and when making for my aunt Helen, who loves a mushy manestra, I use a local Italian brand that is super starchy and almost melts into the ‘sauce/soup’. I’d try another brand of orzo and see what you think 🙂
Absolutely delicious!!! I was looking for a recipe to use some beautiful dried Greek oregano I had and I’m so happy I came across yours. I just made it and the taste is really wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing this. I love your website!
Is it possible to use fresh Greek oregano and if you can what is the amount you can use?
Kiki, I have made this recipe several times, but my question is, am I reading the orzo amount correctly? 1 and 1/2 cups? I have to really thin it out to make it soup like. It is otherwise really delicious and we all love it.
Pam, I’ve found that all orzo is not the same 🙁 They differ widely by brand – some absorb more water/liquid and some less. If you consistently use the same brand, def try scaling back the amount of orzo. With a bit of luck, that should give you a ‘soupier’ consistency 🙂