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
- 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
- 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
Heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven/soup pot. Season chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 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).
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.
- 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.
- Cool: Allow soup to cool completely before freezing to preserve the integrity of the ingredients and prevent it from entering the “danger zone.”
- 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
- Freeze. Freeze for up to 3 months.
- Thaw/Reheat. When ready to use, thaw overnight in the refrigerator then reheat in the microwave, crockpot or stove according to aforementioned instructions.