Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup

Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup is an easy, healthy, cozy soup laced with bright, fresh, lemony goodness.

This lemon chicken orzo soup is refreshing, comforting, simple to make, nutritious and extremely versatile. It’s a one pot wonder loaded with everyday ingredients of juicy chicken, tender orzo, carrots, celery, and zucchini in a vibrant lemony broth laced with fresh dill and Parmesan. This lemon chicken orzo soup is also extremely versatile – swap the orzo for pasta, rice or lentils, the chicken for ground chicken or rotisserie chicken and the veggies for your favorites. This orzo soup also makes a great freezer friendly meal, just leave out the orzo and add it when you are ready to eat the soup.  Serve your lemon chicken orzo soup with dinner rolls and salad for a complete feast!

Warming up to a big bowl of chicken soup not only fills the belly and warms the soul, but is easy and makes great meal prep and/or leftovers. Don’t miss some of our favorite chicken soup recipes such as Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup, Lemon Chicken Tortellini Soup, Chicken Tortilla Soup. Creamy Chicken Wild Rice Soup, Tom Kha Gai and Thai Chicken Noodle Soup 

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Chicken Orzo Soup

In springtime my taste buds are confused.  Their yearnings teeter between cozy comfort food and bright, fresh flavors, but they’re not quite ready for summer salads.  Enter lemon chicken orzo soup packed with feel-good ingredients and a sunny lift from the citrus. 

This lemon chicken orzo soup is reminiscent of classic chicken noodle soup, but — dare I say it? — BETTER!   It’s like the bright cousin that will fill and warm you up without weighing you down.  While this orzo soup bears some resemblance to chicken noodle soup – the warm, satisfying, slurp-worthy broth, nutritious veggies and lean protein – a few swaps and additions truly make it a unique, stand-alone star:

In this lemon chicken orzo soup:

  • the noodles are swapped with al-dente, short orzo pasta with a crave-worthy texture
  • the broth is spiked with bright, fresh, lemon juice that enlivens and brightens all of the flavors
  • a handful of fresh chopped dill infuses the soup with fresh, citrus-like herbaceous notes
  • freshly grated Parmesan adds a nutty nuance that balances the bright kiss of lemon

What we’re left with is a vibrant, refreshing soup that’s also cozy, comforting and won’t leave you wanting a sandwich an hour later.

Best of all, this chicken orzo soup is all made in one pot with pantry friendly ingredients- even the chicken and orzo!  This means you only have one pot to wash!  Just sear the chicken (or use shortcut rotisserie chicken), sauté the onions, carrots and celery for a couple minutes, add the broth and seasonings and simmer away.  When the chicken is tender, you’ll remove it to the pot to shred then add the orzo pasta and zucchini and cook until al dente, then finally stir in freshly grated Parmesan and lemon juice.   

You can enjoy a big, cozy bowl of your unabashedly bright, flavorful orzo soup immediately, or the leftovers are just as tasty the next day – another win for lemon chicken orzo soup!

Ingredients in Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup

What I love most about this chicken orzo soup is that it’s packed with flavor, but requires very few ingredients. Here’s all you’ll need to make this recipe: 

  • Orzo pasta: (also known as risoni and Italian for “barley”) looks like rice, but it’s actually a quick cooking, rice-shaped pasta.   It can be found in the pasta aisle of your local grocery store.  You can use white or wheat orzo pasta and adjust the cooking time accordingly.
  • Lemon juice: Freshly squeezed, please! You’ll need roughly 2 tablespoons of juice or more to taste depending on how “lemony” you like it.
  • Chicken: Use boneless skinless thighs that you’ve patted dry and seasoned with salt and pepper for the juiciest chicken. You can also use chicken breasts or rotisserie chicken (detailed below).
  • Olive oil: Always use a high-quality extra virgin olive oil for the best flavor. 
  • Butter: Whenever I sauté anything in butter, I always pair it with some olive oil. The oil prevents the butter from burning. Use unsalted butter or adjust the salt in the recipe.
  • Onion: Use one diced yellow onion. When a recipe doesn’t specify a specific onion, use yellow onion.
  • Celery: You’ll need 3 stalks of celery for this recipe chopped on the larger side. 
  • Carrots: You’ll need about 3 medium carrots chopped into bite-sized pieces. 
  • Garlic: Use 4-6 garlic cloves depending on your garlic love. You may also substitute with 1 teaspoon garlic powder if you’re in a bind.
  • Chicken broth:  Use low sodium chicken broth otherwise your orzo soup will be too salty.  Using low sodium broth also allows us to use chicken bouillon which amps up the flavor. Don’t swap out the chicken broth for veggie broth because it doesn’t have the same satisfying chicken flavor.
  • Chicken bouillon:  The bouillon adds an even richer, deeply satisfying chicken flavor.  You can use granulated bouillon (powder), bouillon cubes or better than bouillon.  Add the bouillon to the soup without dissolving in liquid first. If using cubes, you will need 2 which you crush up and then add directly to the broth.
  • Dried herbs: I’ve used dried parsley, dried oregano, dried basil, dried thyme, dried rosemary, and a bay leaf at the beginning of the simmering soup, all of which infuse the broth with earthy goodness.
  • Fresh herbs:  Fresh dill added at the end of the soup pumps up the herbaceous flavor and adds that characteristic lively, earthy dill flavor that sets this soup apart.
top view of easy, healthy lemon chicken orzo soup in a Dutch oven

Can I Use Chicken Breasts? 

Absolutely! You can still use chicken breasts in this chicken orzo soup, but because they are leaner than chicken thighs, they will not be as juicy or as flavorful, so make sure not to overcook. If using chicken breasts, I suggest bone-in chicken breasts, but boneless will work as well.

Can I Use a Rotisserie Chicken? 

Also, yes! Rotisserie chicken is my second choice to use in easy chicken orzo soup after chicken thighs. Rotisserie chicken comes lightly seasoned for an added depth of flavor and is a mix of both light and dark meat. It also comes perfectly tender and ready to slurp up.

To use rotisserie chicken, shred the chicken, discard the bones, and add about 3 cups shredded chicken to the soup when you add the orzo so the chicken can soak up all that brothy goodness.  

CAn I USE FROZEN VEGETABLES?

Yes!  Frozen vegetables are a great shortcut in this orzo soup recipe. Add the vegetables the last 15 minutes – no need to thaw.  

IS THIS SOUP GLUTEN FREE?

No.  Orzo is a pasta and not a rice so it is not gluten free.  To make gluten free chicken orzo soup, use gluten free pasta such as this one by Delallo made from corn and rice. 

How to Make Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup

Once the ingredients are prepped, this chicken orzo soup takes about 30 minutes to cook. Perfect for busy weeknights! Here’s how the soup is made: 

Step 1: Sear the Chicken 

Season the chicken with ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large soup pot. Once the oil is shimmering, add the chicken thighs to the pot and sear on both sides until golden. Once seared, remove to a plate but leave the dripping behind (they’re full of flavor!). 

showing how to make llemon chicken orzo soup by searing chicken thighs

Step 2: Sauté the Veggies 

To the same pot, melt the butter. Add the onion, carrots, and celery to the pot and sauté until the onions are softened. It’s okay if they other veggies aren’t soft at this point. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant. 

showing how to make lemon chicken orzo soup by sauteing onion, celery and carrots

Step 3: Cook the Soup

Add the chicken back to the pot, along with the bouillon, broth, herbs, and seasonings. Bring the soup to a simmer and let cook for about 15 minutes, or until the chicken is tender.

showing how to make lemon chicken orzo soup by adding chicken, chicken broth and seasonings to the pot

Step 4: Shred the Chicken 

Once the chicken is cooked through and tender, remove it to a cutting board and shred with two forks. Return the chicken to the pot. While you’re shredding the chicken, add the orzo and zucchini to the pot and let it cook. 

showing how to make lemon chicken orzo soup by adding orzo and zucchini to the soup

Step 5: Finish the Soup

Add the shredded chicken to the pot followed by Parmesan cheese and stir to melt. Add the lemon juice and fresh dill. Stir the soup and give it a taste; adjust seasonings as necessary. 

showing how to make lemon chicken orzo soup by adding shredded chicken and dill to the soup
Greek lemon chicken orzo soup in a Dutch oven with fresh dill

Tips for Making Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup

  • For the juiciest chicken: This recipe will work chicken breasts or chicken thighs, but for best flavor, use chicken thighs or shredded rotisserie chicken as thighs are far more tender than chicken breast and impart more flavor to the broth.
  • Vegetable size: Chop carrots and celery at least 1/4” thick. Avoid chopping your vegetables too small or they can become mushy.
  • Customize vegetables: There’s a lot of flexibility!  You can use whatever veggies you have on hand or mix it up just for fun! Green beans, corn, zucchini, cabbage, spinach, etc. would all be delicious. Just be aware of veggie cooking times – for example, green beans take longer to cook than peas and cabbage, which just takes minutes.
  • Don’t overcook the orzo:  You want the pasta to have a little bite to it because it will continue to cook as the hot soup sits, so make sure to not overcook it!
  • Scale up or down: This recipe can easily be scaled up or down. You can scale down if you don’t have a large family and don’t want leftovers.  If you do love leftovers (raising my hand high), then you will love leftover lemon chicken orzo soup for an easy lunch or dinner!
  • Consistency: The “chunkiness” of this orzo soup is personal preference. For a less chunky soup, simply add additional broth at the end of cooking.
  • Fresh herbs: Add a pop of freshness with fresh parsley or other herbs at the end of cooking. You may also cook the soup with fresh herbs such as rosemary or thyme tide into a bundle so it’s easily removable at the end of simmering.
  • Add additional liquid: The orzo will absorb the broth as it sits in the soup so you will need to add additional broth if not immediately serving or when reheating.

orzo soup Variations 

  • Chicken Rice Soup: Transform Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup into Chicken and Rice Soup by swapping the pasta for rice. Long-grain white rice will take 8-12 minutes to simmer in the soup. I do not recommend using brown rice unless you cook it separately or the veggies will overcook.
  • Chicken Barley Soup: Pearl barley is another delightful swap for orzo like in my Beef and Barley Soup.  The pearl barley will need to simmer for a total of about 30 minutes.
  • Chicken Quinoa Soup: For a higher protein option, you can swap the orzo for quinoa, rinsed and drained and simmer for about 25 minutes.
  • Chicken Potato Soup: Swap the orzo for 3 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch chunks, or even sweet potatoes and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes.
  • Chicken Tortellini Soup: Swap the orzo for 12 oz. uncooked fresh cheese tortellini.  Tortellini only requires a couple minutes to cook, so add it at the very end and watch them closely!  
  • Swap the orzo for another for pasta:  You can swap the orzo for a different small pasta such as small/mini pasta shells, ditalini (the small short tubes), acini de pepe or mini penne.   Add the pasta the last 8-10 minutes and cook just until al dente.
  • Swap veggies: Green beans, corn, peas, bell peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, butternut squash, canned tomatoes, or fresh spinach or kale would be tasty. Add green beans, bell peppers and cauliflower the last 10 minutes of cooking so they don’t overcook.  Add leafy greens at the end of cooking to wilt.
  • Swap protein: You can use any of your favorite protein in place of the chicken – lean ground beef, ground turkey, ground chicken, etc.  Brown the protein with the onions, carrots and celery, crumbling as you cook. Ham would also be a tasty swap. Add ham at the end of cooking and heat through.  Ham can be quite salty so omit the salt in the recipe and add salt to taste.
  • Add beans:  Add cannellini beans for their slight sweetness, creaminess and meaty texture.  Add them with the zucchini so they soften but retain their structure.
up close of a ladle scooping up lemon chicken orzo soup

Can I Make This chicken orzo soup in a Slow Cooker? 

Yes! Here’s how I would recommend making this lemon chicken orzo soup in a slow cooker: 

  1. Add seasoned chicken to the bottom of a lightly greased 6-quart or larger slow cooker.  You don’t have to sear the chicken first, but it will add additional flavor.
  2. Top chicken with onion, carrots, celery, garlic, chicken broth and all seasonings; gently stir.
  3. Cover and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours, or HIGH for 3-4 hours; until vegetables are tender and chicken is tender enough to shred.
  4. Remove chicken to a cutting board and shred into bite size pieces. Transfer shredded chicken to the slow cooker and let it cook on LOW for 20 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, cook orzo until al dente separately on the stove. I do NOT recommend cooking orzo in the slow cooker because it needs to be cooked at a rolling boil in order to not become gummy. Once cooked, stir in the soup and serve. 

Can I Prep this orzo soup in Advance? 

This chicken orzo soup is very simple, but it does require some prep work as far chopping the vegetables. You can save time by:

  • Trim chicken.  Trim off excess fat from chicken then store chicken in an airtight container or freezer bag in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. 
  • Chop vegetables: Chop the vegetables a couple days ahead of time, the night before dinner or just a few hours before cooking, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Measure Spices: It doesn’t take long to measure out the herbs and spices, but you can certainly do it beforehand and store the mix in an airtight bag or container.
  • Grate Parmesan: Finely grate the Parmesan and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
top view of a bowl of lemon chicken orzo soup

CAN I MAKE chicken orzo sOUP AHEAD OF TIME?

Yes! The flavors of this lemon chicken orzo soup are fantastic the next day but the orzo will soak up broth while it sits so you’ll need to stir in additional broth to reach desired consistency.   Now, just reheat per below instructions.

How to Store Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup

Let the soup cool to room temperature, then cover and store in your Dutch oven or transfer to an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 5 days.

HOW TO Reheat LEMON CHICKEN ORZO SOUP

  • Crockpot: Transfer soup to crockpot and heat on low for 1-2 hours, adding additional broth as needed.
  • Stove: Reheat large batches on the stove over medium low heat, stirring occasionally until warmed through, adding additional broth as needed.
  • Microwave: For smaller batches or individual servings, transfer soup to a microwave-safe dish, add additional broth as needed, cover with a microwave-safe lid or paper towel. Microwave for 90 seconds, stir, then continue to microwave for 30-second intervals, if needed.

Can I Freeze lemon Chicken Orzo Soup? 

Yes, you can freeze the lemon chicken orzo soup. Note that the orzo may change texture and become mushy so I suggest freezing the soup without the orzo then adding it to the soup when reheating. 

  1. Cook: Cook the soup according to recipe directions but omit the orzo if you’re make the soup strictly to freeze.  If enjoying some of the soup now and freezing some for later, then cook the orzo separately and only add orzo to servings you are enjoying immediately.
  2. Cool: Allow soup to cool completely before freezing to preserve the integrity of the ingredients and prevent it from entering the “danger zone.”
  3. Package: Transfer soup to an airtight freezer-safe container or freezer bag. You can even use sandwich size plastic bags for individual portions. Squeeze out any excess air to prevent freezer burn and label
  4. Freeze. Freeze for up to 3 months.
  5. Thaw/Reheat. When ready to use, thaw overnight in the refrigerator then reheat in the microwave, crockpot or stove according to aforementioned instructions.

What to Serve with Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup

This chicken orzo soup is hearty and comforting, and full of protein, carbs and veggies, so it doesn’t need much as far as sides go. I love serving it with crusty bread, garlic bread, dinner rolls or breadsticks, along with a fruit salad and big green salad, green bean salad, apple salador a wedge salad.

Looking for More Chicken Soup Recipes? 

side view of lemon chicken orzo soup with chicken, and fresh dill

Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup

Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup is an easy, healthy, cozy soup laced with bright, fresh, lemony deliciousness. It’s a one pot wonder loaded with everyday ingredients of juicy chicken, tender orzo, carrots, celery, and zucchini in a vibrant lemony broth laced with fresh dill and Parmesan. This lemon chicken orzo soup is also extremely versatile – swap the orzo for pasta, rice or lentils, the chicken for ground chicken or rotisserie chicken and the veggies for your favorites. This orzo soup also makes a great freezer friendly meal, just leave out the orzo and add it when you are ready to eat the soup.  Serve your lemon chicken orzo soup with dinner rolls and salad for a complete feast!
Servings: 6 -8 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes

Ingredients

Soup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs patted dry OR rotisserie chicken (see notes)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • pinch -1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional for a kick)
  • 10-12 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons chicken bouillon or better than bouillon
  • 1 tsp EACH dried parsley, dried oregano
  • ½ tsp EACH dried basil, dried thyme, rosemary

ADD LATER

  • 1 cup orzo pasta (uncooked)
  • 1 zucchini, quartered, sliced thick
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice, more or less to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, more or less to taste

Instructions

  • Heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven/soup pot. Season chicken with ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper then sear until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Remove to a plate but leave drippings.
  • Melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium low heat in drippings. Once melted, increase to medium-high heat and add onions, carrots and celery; sauté for 4 minutes scaping up the golden bits on the bottom of the pan. Add garlic and red pepper and sauté for 30 seconds.
  • Add chicken back to the pot along bouillon, all seasonings and chicken broth. Cover the soup to bring to a simmer, then displace the lid so it’s partially covering the pot, with about a one-inch opening. Simmer the soup for 12-15 minutes or until chicken is tender enough to shred, stirring occasionally and replacing the lid.
  • Once chicken is tender, remove to a cutting board and shred once cool enough to handle; wait to add back to the pot. Meanwhile, stir in the orzo pasta and zucchini to the soup and cook until the orzo is al dente, about 7 to 8 minutes.
  • Reduce heat to low and add Parmesan add shredded chicken to the soup. Stir until Parmesan is melted, then add lemon juice and fresh dill to taste. Stir in additional broth if desired for a less “chunky” soup. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if desired (I like more salt).

Notes

Cooking Tips for Success

  • To use rotisserie chicken: Simmer the soup for 10 minutes in step 3.  Add about 3 cups shredded chicken to the soup when you add the orzo in step 5.
  • Chicken breasts: You can still use chicken breasts in this chicken orzo soup, but because they are leaner than chicken thighs, they will not be as juicy or as flavorful, so make sure not to overcook.
  • Orzo:  It can be found in the pasta aisle of your local grocery store.  You can use white or wheat orzo pasta and adjust the cooking time accordingly.  Make sure not to overcook the orzo because it will continue to cook as the hot soup sits.
  • Gluten free orzo:  Orzo is a pasta and not a rice so it is not gluten free.  To make gluten free chicken orzo soup, use gluten free pasta such as this one by Delallo made from corn and rice. 
  • Chicken bouillon:  Adds an even richer, deeply satisfying chicken flavor.  You can use granulated bouillon (powder), bouillon cubes or better than bouillon.  Add the bouillon to the soup without dissolving in liquid first. If using cubes, you will need 2 which you crush up and then add directly to the broth. If you omit the bouillon, be prepared to add additional salt to amp up the flavor.
  • Vegetable size: Chop the carrots and celery at least ¼-inch thick. Avoid chopping your vegetables too small or they can become mushy.
  • Add additional liquid: The orzo will absorb the broth as it sits in the soup so you will need to add additional broth if not immediately serving or when reheating.
  • Recipe variations:  See post for ideas of how to add beans, different veggies protein and swap the orzo for rice, barley, pasta, etc.  

How to Store and Reheat

  • To store: Let the soup cool to room temperature, then cover and store in your Dutch oven or transfer to an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 5 days.
  • To reheat in the crockpot: Transfer soup to crockpot and heat on low for 1-2 hours, adding additional broth as needed.
  • To reheat on the stove: Reheat large batches on the stove over medium low heat, stirring occasionally until warmed through, adding additional broth as needed.
  • To reheat in the microwave: For smaller batches or individual servings, transfer soup to a microwave-safe dish, add additional broth as needed, cover with a microwave-safe lid or paper towel. Microwave for 90 seconds, stir, then continue to microwave for 30-second intervals, if needed.

How to freeze

You can freeze the lemon chicken orzo soup but the orzo may change texture and become mushy so I suggest freezing the soup without the orzo then adding it to the soup when reheating. 
  1. Cook: Cook the soup according to recipe directions but omit the orzo if you’re make the soup strictly to freeze.  If enjoying some of the soup now and freezing some for later, then cook the orzo separately and only add orzo to servings you are enjoying immediately.
  2. Cool: Allow soup to cool completely before freezing to preserve the integrity of the ingredients and prevent it from entering the “danger zone.”
  3. Package: Transfer soup to an airtight freezer-safe container or freezer bag. You can even use sandwich size plastic bags for individual portions. Squeeze out any excess air to prevent freezer burn and label
  4. Freeze. Freeze for up to 3 months.
  5. Thaw/Reheat. When ready to use, thaw overnight in the refrigerator then reheat in the microwave, crockpot or stove according to aforementioned instructions.

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4 Comments

  1. Ramya says

    will be making this soon with few subs perfect for raining days in Singapore perfect for my after office meals will dm you if i make this and let you know how it goes Thanks Ramya

    • Jen says

      Thanks Ramya, I hope you love it!

  2. Walter Rose says

    Delicious.. used turkey breast and it worked fine. Would like you guys to include nutritional info with your recipes. THANKS

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