Orzo Pasta Salad bursting with your favorite Greek fixings on your table in 30 minutes!
This Orzo Pasta Salad recipe is a fabulous side to practically every meal as well as an in-demand potluck, picnic and party side. It’s also hearty enough to stand alone as a refreshing lunch or light dinner. This orzo pasta salad is loaded with al dente orzo pasta, crisp cucumbers, juicy tomatoes, crunchy bell peppers, charred, caramelized sweet corn, zippy red onions, tangy Kalamata olives, and salty creamy feta, all brightened by tangy, herb vinaigrette! It’s easy to make, exploding with a rainbow of bright flavors and textures and the orzo pasta salad can be made ahead of time for the perfect stress-free win!
ORZO PASTA SALAD RECIPE
I am thrilled to bring you this winning orzo pasta salad recipe. Both Patrick and I are obsessed. It’s hearty, comforting and refreshing all at the same time and belongs on your table all summer long – and beyond. It is inspired by all my favorite fresh Greek flavors so it pairs beautifully with Chicken Souvlaki, Beef Souvlaki Chicken Gyros, but is is equally delicious with brisket, burgers, grilled chicken AKA anything that needs a refreshing side.
Here are just a few reasons you’ll love this orzo pasta recipe:
- Lemony Orzo. In addition to the bounty of fresh ingredients, what sets this orzo pasta salad apart is that the orzo actually cooks with chicken broth and lemon juice so it is stand-alone bright and lemony. This also means you need less dressing because the orzo is already infused with flavor.
- Charred corn. The charred, caramelized sweet corn adds pops of succulent, sweet morsels that enliven the entire orzo pasta salad – please don’t skip!
- Texture heaven. To that end, this pasta salad recipe is packed with veggies for contrasting textures, so each and every bite is a symphony of not just flavor – but texture!
- Quick. This Greek orzo pasta salad can be on your table in 30 minutes!
- Easy. If you know how to stir and chop, then you can make this pasta salad. So, please don’t be intimidated when you look at the ingredients – the orzo is just a dump and simmer and the dressing is just a whisk away.
- Healthy. This pasta salad tastes like an indulgence because it’s unbelievably delicious but it’s actually healthy. So, give into those cravings and munch on.
- Customizable. You can customize your orzo pasta salad recipe with any of your favorite add-ins or omit what you don’t like or have on hand.
- Make it Dinner. This Greek orzo pasta is a side or dinner all in one! It boasts chickpeas for added protein but you can also add shredded rotisserie chicken, Greek Chicken, shrimp, etc.
- Make ahead. You can make this pasta salad in advance then bring it out when it’s time to serve for stress free entertaining, lunch or dinners without the last-minute hustle.
- Scale Up or Down. This orzo pasta salad recipe can be cut in half or doubled, or tripled depending on your needs.
- Potluck pleaser. This orzo pasta salad is perfect for potlucks for all of the aforementioned reasons. Bring it to potlucks, pool parties, picnics but please don’t wait for a special occasion – it just needs to be made soon. And often.
- Great leftovers. This pasta salad is delicious served immediately or it makes fantastic leftovers, so I promise none of it will go to waste.
WHAT IS ORZO?
I chose orzo for this Greek orzo pasta salad because of its fabulous texture. Orzo, (also known as risoni and Italian for “barley”) is a short-cut rice-shaped pasta.
HOW DO I USE ORZO?
Just like all pastas, orzo is cooked by boiling in water (or in this case chicken broth and lemon juice) until al dente. You may use orzo instead of rice or pasta in many dishes. Orzo is often used in rice pilaf, in soups, and sides. It’s a favorite of mine, so I’ve already showcased it in:
- Mushroom Orzo Pasta in Asiago Cream Sauce
- Lemon Garlic Shrimp with Greek Orzo
- Italian Chicken Orzo Pasta
- Parmesan Meatballs and Orzo
- Southwest Orzo Salad
What is orzo made of?
Orzo is usually made from white flour, although it can be made from whole-grain flour. Both orzo pasta and rice are categorized as cereal grains but orzo is not gluten free. For this recipe, we are going to use the traditional white-flour orzo.
Is orzo pasta healthier than rice?
Orzo pasta boasts twice the protein of brown rice and is a good source of thiamin and niacin as well as some B6, folate, iron and zinc.
Orzo is a glucose bearing carbohydrate that creates serotonin, the “happiness neurotransmitter,” and eating this orzo pasta salad will certainly make you happy!
INGREDIENTS FOR ORZO PASTA SALAD RECIPE
FOR THE ORZO PASTA:
The orzo is first sautéed with red onions in olive oil and butter and then simmered with chicken broth, lemon juice, salt and pepper. This requires a few extra pantry friendly ingredients other than just water and orzo, but I promise, the payoff is SO worth it. You will need:
- Orzo. I love orzo pasta because of its fabulous texture. It tastes similar to rice but is harder to overcook and become mushy. Orzo is easy to find in the pasta section of our grocery store. Pick up a few boxes so you can make all of my orzo recipes!
- Olive oil. Use quality extra virgin olive oil for superior flavor.
- Butter. Use unsalted butter so we can control the salt.
- Chicken broth. Use low sodium chicken broth so we can control the salt.
- Red onion. Half of one red onion will do the trick. I don’t recommend substituting with yellow onion as red onion is sweeter and beautifully complements the lemon juice.
- Lemon juice. The orzo cooks in both chicken broth and lemon juice so it actually soaks up the lemon juice and becomes wonderfully bright and lemony. Use fresh lemon juice if possible.
FOR THE SALAD:
- Tomatoes. Please use ripe cherry tomatoes for the best texture. Cherry tomatoes are inherently sweeter than grape tomatoes, so aim for cherry if you can.
- Cucumbers. I use English cucumbers so you don’t have to bother peeling them, but you may also substitute with a peeled, slicing cucumber.
- Corn. You will love the addition of sweet corn! You can char the corn on the grill or in your skillet (instructions included) for a tantalizing sweet and smokey addition or if you’re short on time, you can slice the corn straight off the cob into the orzo pasta salad.
- Bell pepper: I recommend a red, orange or yellow bell pepper because they are sweeter than green.
- Olives. Please use Kalamata olives and not just black olives for their dark, rich intensely fruity flavor. I use pitted Kalamata olives and then slice them because they are juicer and tend to hold together better than jarred sliced olives.
- Chickpeas. Are optional but add a nutty, earthy, creaminess and are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
- Feta cheese. This rich, creamy, salty, tangy cheese adds SO much flavor! It is sold by the block or in crumbles. I always have a large container of feta crumbles in my fridge from Costco, so that is what I use but if you can get your hands-on chunked feta, it is also fabulous!
- Sliced Almonds. Add a delightful crunch I wouldn’t skip but you may substitute with chopped almonds, pine nuts, pistachios, etc.
- Basil: fresh basil adds an oomph of aromatic herb goodness with its hints of pepper, anise, and mint. If you don’t have fresh basil, you may substitute with 1 tablespoon dried basil in the dressing.
FOR THE DRESSING:
- Olive oil. Use quality extra virgin olive oil for superior flavor.
- Red wine vinegar. I don’t recommend swapping with any other vinegar.
- Lemon juice. We don’t need much lemon juice because the orzo is already bursting with lemon flavor.
- Herbs. You will need one tablespoon fresh dill, parsley, oregano OR you may substitute with 1 teaspoon each of dried.
- Dijon mustard: adds subtle tanginess.
- Sugar: balances the vinegar, lemon juice and Dijon.
- Seasonings: garlic powder, salt and pepper. I prefer garlic powder in dressings as it disperses more evenly and doesn’t leave you with raw garlic pieces but you are welcome to use fresh garlic if you prefer.
How to Make Orzo Pasta Salad
STEP 1: MAKE VINIAGRETTE
- Make the dressing by adding olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, Dijon, dill, parsley, oregano, sugar, salt and pepper to either a small bowl and whisking or a jar and shake. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Make sure to make the dressing first so it has time to chill – no one wants warm vinaigrette!
STEP 2: Cook ORZO
- Sauté orzo and red onions for 3-5 minutes, until orzo is toasted and the red onion starts to soften. Sautéing the red onion and toasting the orzo unleashes unparalleled flavor.
- Stir in chicken broth, lemon juice salt and pepper. Simmer until orzo is al dente, 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently the last couple minutes of cooking so it doesn’t burn because most of the liquid will be absorbed by the orzo – we are not draining it after.
- Chill orzo in the refrigerator while you chop your veggies.
STEP 3: ASSEMBLE
- Add the orzo and all of the vegetables, olives, feta and basil to a large bowl. Choose a bowl that gives you some wiggle room to toss, so everything can get evenly combined.
- Add the dressing and toss until evenly coated.
STEP 3: TASTE AND ADJUST
- Taste and season with additional lemon juice or salt and pepper to taste.
Can you eat orzo cold?
Like other pasta salads, orzo can be served cold, but I prefer it at room temperature or only slightly chilled. To do this, transfer the dressing to the fridge for 10-15 minutes while the orzo cooks and you chop your veggies. Transfer the orzo to the refrigerator so it has time to cool to room temperature while you finish chopping your veggies (doesn’t need long). Now everything will just slightly chilled – the perfect temperature to enjoy!
TIPS FOR ORZO PASTA SALAD RECIPE
- Chill dressing. Make sure to make the dressing first so it has time to chill – no one wants warm vinaigrette!
- Don’t overcook orzo. It is important to not overcook your orzo – you want it al dente so it still has a little bite so it can hold up when tossed with the rest of the ingredients.
- Don’t burn orzo. The orzo pasta is meant to absorb all of the liquid it is cooking in as opposed to draining off excess water at the end. This means you will have to pay attention to the orzo towards the end of cooking and stir often so it doesn’t burn.
- Add water if needed. If all the water is gone but the orzo isn’t done cooking, then simply add water, 2 tablespoons at a time to the skillet.
- Cool orzo. After the orzo is cooked, immediately transfer it to the large serving bowl you’ll be using so it will stop cooking. Time permitting, transfer the serving bowl to the refrigerator to chill.
- Microwave lemons. Ever since I learned this tip years ago, I use it all the time! Microwave your lemons for 15 seconds and be amazed at how much easier they are to juice (and how much more juice you get)!
- Use fresh corn immediately. Fresh corn is the sweetest and juiciest used within the first 1-2 days. The sugars begin converting to starch soon after the corn is harvested. Make sure you store your corn in the refrigerator to stall this process.
- Purchase shucked corn. If you want to save some time, purchase already shucked corn – no dealing with all that pesky silk!
- Do I have to char my corn? I highly recommend charring your corn because you will not only get sweet and juicy but complex and smoky flavor and it soaks in more flavor from the dressing. That being said, if you are in a hurry, raw corn is also sweet, juicy and delicious.
- How do I cut corn off the cob? I find the easiest way to cut corn off the cob is to stand it upright on the cutting board and slice down the corn with the knife slightly angled in so you get all of the kernels. This way, you don’t run the risk of slicing your fingers off if slicing it lying horizontally. I have also seen the trick of standing corn on the cob on the center of a Bundt pan so the kernels drop right into the pan when sliced off, but I haven’t found this necessary.
- Customize ingredients. The orzo pasta salad ingredients and measurements are simply suggestions. You can use add/swap any ingredients for your favorite veggies. You can also add protein to make it a complete meal.
- Prep ahead: You can chop your orzo pasta salad ingredients ahead of time and store in air-tight containers in your refrigerator so all that’s left is to do is assemble and EAT! Detailed prep ahead instructions below.
ORZO PASTA SALAD VARIATIONS:
I personally love this orzo pasta salad exactly as written but feel free to add in anything your heart desires. Here are a few ideas:
- Swap orzo. Although orzo is particularly divine in this recipe, you may substitute it with any small pasta shape, quinoa or couscous.
- Add protein. Make this orzo pasta salad a meal-in-one by adding rotisserie chicken, lemon basil chicken, Greek chicken, lemon garlic shrimp, salmon, pork, steak or crispy bacon. You can also go more Italian and add chopped pepperoni, chopped summer sausage or salami.
- Roast bell peppers. Add a depth of sweet smokiness by roasting your bell peppers like in my Roasted Red Pepper Pasta. This will make the peppers softer so make sure not to skip the other crunchy elements in the orzo pasta salad.
- Add artichokes. Artichokes are tender, slightly sweet and nutty. Purchase artichoke hearts in water NOT marinated. The marinated ones often have an acrid taste.
- Add avocado. Chop and add just before serving or to individual servings if you expect leftovers. Use avocados that are ripe but on the firmer side so they don’t get mushy in the pasta salad.
- Add mozzarella. You can swap the feta for mozzarella or better yet, add the soft, buttery mozzarella in addition to the feta. I prefer to use fresh mozzarella balls, cut into bite size pieces. These can be found in the specialty cheese section of your grocery store. You can also use a fresh mozzarella log and cube it. If this mozzarella is too expensive or you don’t want to make a separate trip, you can substitute regular mozzarella and chop it into cubes.
- Pepperoncini. Add more of an Italian flair but their sweet tangy heat is explosively delicious. Pepperoncini can be found with the relishes and other pickled condiments. They are tangier and have a slightly more kick than banana peppers but if you already have banana peppers on hand then you can use those.
- Capers. Add salty, lemony punches of flavor. Capers should be easy to find by the olives at your grocery store. You can use the leftovers in my fabulous Chicken Piccata or Salmon Piccatta recipes.
PREP AHEAD ORZO PASTA SALAD
Although this Greek orzo pasta salad requires a few steps to make, you can prep almost everything in advance:
- Vegetables: can be chopped 24 hours in advance and stored in separate airtight containers in the refrigerator or added directly to the orzo pasta without the dressing.
- Orzo: can be made 48 hours in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Dressing: can be made 72 hours in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
CAN I MAKE ORZO PASTA SALAD AHEAD?
This orzo pasta salad can be made almost 100% in advance. To make ahead, gently toss all the ingredients together with only HALF of the dressing, cover and refrigerate. When you are ready to serve, toss with desired amount of remaining dressing. If you use all of the dressing initially your pasta may soak up all the dressing and will taste dry.
How long does orzo salad last in the fridge? How to store?
Cover leftover orzo pasta salad with plastic wrap or transfer it to an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. It might sound funny, but I like to microwave my leftovers for 15 seconds or so because I think it tastes better at room temperature. The longer the pasta salad is refrigerated, the drier it can become. If your leftovers taste too dry, then drizzle with additional olive oil to taste. You may also want to perk up the salad with a fresh squeeze of lemon juice.
What should I serve with Orzo pasta salad?
This orzo pasta salad goes with everything – just be aware it might steal the show! It pairs well with:
- Mediterranean inspired dishes. This Greek orzo pasta salad pairs particularly well with Greek/Mediterranean favorites such as: Chicken Souvlaki, Beef Souvlaki Chicken Gyros, Greek Chicken, Greek Pizza and Chicken Shawarmra. You can also serve it alongside other Greek sides such as Greek Salad and Greek Pasta Salad.
- Bright proteins. This orzo pasta salad is fantastic with lemon infused proteins such as Baked Salmon in Lemon Butter (one of my favs!), Garlic Butter Pork Tenderloin, Lemon Pepper Chicken, Pesto Chicken, Caprese Chicken, Shrimp Scampi and Spice Rubbed Steaks, Roasted Lemon Garlic Butter Shrimp, Salmon and Asparagus in Piccata Sauce.
- Sandwiches & Burgers. Every cheesy or meaty sandwich/burger needs a fresh side. This orzo pasta salad recipe is delicious with BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwiches Philly Cheesecake Sandwiches, French Dip Sandwiches, Italian Beef Sandwiches, BBQ Chicken Sandwiches, Best Burgers and BBQ Bacon Burgers.
- Potluck main dishes. Every potluck or BBQ needs sides equally as delicious as the main course. This orzo pasta salad pairs well with: Cilantro Lime Chicken, Apricot Steak, Grilled Pork Tenderloin, Honey Mustard Chicken, Crockpot BBQ Chicken or Oven/Grill Barbecue Chicken, BBQ Ribs and BBQ Beef Brisket.
- Potluck sides. This orzo pasta salad is also a tasty addition to other potluck favorites such as: Million Dollar Baked Mac and Cheese, Potato Salad, Baked Beans, Corn Casserole, Elote (Mexican Street Corn), Grilled Corn on the Cob, Strawberry Avocado Broccoli Salad, and Italian Tortellini Salad.
- Fruit: Finish of your summer spread with sweet, refreshing fruit such as Grilled Pineapple, Creamy Grape Salad, Summer Fruit Salad, Perfect Fruit Salad, Tropical Fruit Salad or Berry Salad in Honey Mascarpone.
HELPFUL TOOLS TO MAKE GREEK ORZO PASTA SALAD
- Lemon and Lime Squeezer/Press: I use fresh lemon/lime juice all the time and this press makes prep so much easier! It’s is made with ultra-strong high quality 18/8 STAINLESS steel (not cheap aluminum) to last a lifetime without rusting or breaking. It also will deliver every last drop of juice from your citrus without ANY seeds! This more economical version also has great reviews (but isn’t made of stainless steel).
- Nonstick Skillet: This skillet is my favorite pan in the WORLD! I have both the 10 and 12-in and use them for practically everything. I’ve had this pan for forever and they’re still as good as new. I love giving this nonstick skillet for wedding gifts because it sets you up for cooking success! It is on the pricier side but it’s practically the only pan you’ll ever need! If you’re looking for a more economical nonstick skillet, this one also has good reviews – but I can’t guarantee it will last as long!
- Quality Knives: a chef’s knife will be your most used kitchen tool by far! Quality knives make prep time much quicker for this Mango Salad and are important for safety as well. If you’re concerned about moola, please remember that your best chef knives, depending on how hard you use them and how well you take care of them, can easily last 25 years or more. I love my Wusthof but there are hundreds of less expensive knives with great reviews such as this one.
- Cutting Board: I use my big solid cutting board daily so it’s worth the investment. This extra-large cutting board allows you to prep all your veggies on one surface and the bamboo is easier on knives than plastic.
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