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Orzo Pasta Salad

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!
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Mediterranean
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 6 -8 servings

Ingredients

ORZO

  • 16 oz. uncooked orzo pasta
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 4 1/4 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp EACH salt, pepper
  • 1/2 red onion chopped

SALAD

  • 2 ears grilled corn, cut off the cob (grilling optional but recommended – see notes)
  • 1 English cucumber sliced and quartered
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved
  • 1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans {chickpeas} drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives halved
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil chopped
  • 1/2 cup feta

DRESSING

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 TBS EACH fresh dill parsley, oregano OR 1 tsp EACH dried
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp EACH garlic powder, salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Instructions

  • Make dressing by adding all of the ingredients to either a small bowl and whisking or a jar and shaking. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  • In a large nonstick skillet, melt butter with olive oil over medium-low heat. Once melted, increase heat to medium-high and add orzo and red onions and sauté for 3-5 minutes, until red onion are soft.
  • 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. If you have leftover liquid, drain orzo. Transfer to a large bowl to cool in the refrigerator while you finish chopping your veggies.
  • Add all of the salad ingredients to the orzo followed by the dressing. Toss to coat.
  • Taste and season with additional lemon juice or salt and pepper to taste.

Notes

HOW TO CHAR CORN (Grill or Skillet)

  • GRILL CORN: Lightly brush each ear of corn with olive oil. Grease and heat grill to high heat (450 degrees). Once hot, add corn and close the lid. Cook 2-3 minutes on each side, rotating the corn until all of the sides are lightly charred, about 10-12 minutes, closing the lid in between rotations. Set the corn aside and allow to cool enough to handle. Cut the kernels off of the cob and transfer to salad bowl.
  • SKILLET CORN: Cut the kernels off of the cob. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large cast iron skillet over high heat. Add the corn and cook, stirring occasionally, until corn starts to char approximately 5-7 minutes. Transfer kernels to salad bowl.

TIPS AND TRICKS 

  • 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.  See the post for lots of recipe variations. 
  • 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.
  • Serve room temperature.  I prefer this orzo pasta salad served only slightly chilled or at room temperature - but it's up to you! 

Storage 

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.

PREP AHEAD 

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.

MAKE 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.