If ever a food was a party on a plate, this is it! Mediterranean Orzo Salad is bursting with fresh veggies and tender pasta to the point it looks like confetti. (So much so, you’re going to want to throw it – right in your mouth.) Dressed with fresh herbs and a tangy, summery Lemon Honey Vinaigrette, this is perfect for any event, be it backyard BBQ or Party of One.
In the same way that I am very pro-dips-and-appetizers-as-meals, I am also extremely pro-sides-as-snacks. But I would agree that not all sides are “snackable.” Well, I wouldn’t say never, but it’s doubtful I’d ever snack on, say, mashed potatoes and stuffing unless it’s 2am the morning after Thanksgiving.
Most everything else is fair game. Crispy Basil Fries? Snack. Air Fryer Asparagus? Snack. Broccoli Bacon Salad? Snack. And this orzo salad is most definitely a snack. A literal and figurative snack. I know this, because I just snacked on some. And as summer gets closer it’s going to become your new best fridge friend. I cannot hype this dish up enough.
First, so simple. Is there prep? Yes. But literally nothing you haven’t done a thousand times that you can’t now do with your eyes closed. (Disclaimer: That is a blatant metaphor. Do not chop things with your eyes closed.) Second, though I’ve dropped my favorite veggies into this recipe, you can practically use any of your choosing as add-ins. And speaking of veggies, next to just throwing them in a bowl, dousing them with ranch, and calling it a salad, this may be the single best recipe to keep in your back pocket when you have an abundant summer harvest since it easily doubles or triples.
As a snack, it will satisfy at least half-a-dozen cravings you could have at any moment. It’s fresh, it’s filling, and once it’s made, it’s just as fast as any pre-packed nosh you could grab. But as a summertime side, it’s everything. Better yet? It goes with everything. And it holds up beautifully in the fridge or on a picnic table. My best advice? Forget “hot girl summer” and lean into “orzo girl summer.”
What is Orzo?
Funnily enough, though it bears the spitting image of rice and literally translates to “barley” in Italian, orzo isn’t a grain – it’s actually pasta. In Italy, they call it risoni (“large rice”), and I have no idea how it made its way over here being called orzo, but regardless, if you’re confused, your confusion is valid.
How to Cook Orzo
Orzo cooks no differently than any other pasta – slightly faster than some, slightly slower than others – but because it’s small and flat, stirring is key to making sure it’s evenly cooked. Otherwise:
- Bring at least 3 cups salted water to a boil.
- Add 1 ½ cups of orzo and stir gently.
- Cook time according to package instructions for al dente pasta. Stir regularly, every 2-3 minutes.
- Since orzo pasta is small, drain through a mesh sieve or colander to avoid escape.
How to Make Orzo Salad
If you live near a grocery with a great selection of prepared foods, you may have seen a version of this Mediterranean Orzo Salad, but trust me when I say this is 10x better. Not only is it fast, fresh, and flavorful, it’s also totally versatile and holds up like a champ. And not to be shallow, but look how pretty it is! Keep this in rotation all summer and mix it up as needed.
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- Cook orzo according to package instructions for al dente, then strain. Rinse the cooked pasta with cool running water to stop the cooking process.
- While pasta cooks, finely dice your vegetables, chop your fresh herbs, and prep your corn (cook corn to preference if not using leftovers).
- Whisk ingredients for the vinaigrette.
- Combine the pasta, vegetables, and herbs in a large bowl and toss together with vinaigrette.
- You can serve immediately but, for better results, let everything marinate, covered in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up-to overnight.
Tips for Making This Recipe Perfectly
- Dice the veggies very, very finely. Think baby bites – you won’t get it as small as the orzo but, you want to aim for uniformity.
- Do not overcook the orzo – it needs to be al dente to hold up against the other ingredients.
- You can absolutely use whole wheat gluten-free orzo (try DeLallo – they have both), just cook to their specifications to al dente.
- Though you can gobble this up immediately, I highly recommend letting it marinate at least 2-3 hours after tossing all your ingredients together.
- Orzo Salad is the perfect picnic potluck dish – there’s no dairy, so it holds up to outside temps!
Make It Your Way
Make it Vegan: sweeten the dressing with an equal amount of maple syrup in place of honey, or substitute a heaping teaspoon of white sugar.
Make it Gluten Free: use gluten free orzo
Substitute Vegetables to Preference: raw vegetables will stand up longer, but this is a great salad to simply use up what you have on hand. Just make sure whatever you add has some “bite” left to it – the texture of this salad is key.
Leftover grilled corn? Use it. Leftover air fryer asparagus or zucchini? Finely chop it and use it! Don’t like cucumbers? Skip ’em. Try to aim for a variety of colors to keep the nutritional value diverse.
Did you make this Mediterranean Orzo Salad? I’d love to know how it turned out! Leave a comment and a rating below.
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- 1.5 c orzo pasta
- 1 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1 red pepper pepper, finely chopped
- 1 orange bell pepper, finely chopped
- ½ english cucumber, finely chopped
- ½ red onion, finely chopped
- 1.5 c fresh corn, raw or cooked, see notes
- ⅓ c fresh basil, chopped
- ⅓ c fresh parsley, chopped
- ¼ c pine nuts, toasted
- Ground pepper, to taste
Lemon Honey Vinaigrette
- ⅓ c extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ c lemon juice
- 2 tsp honey
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- Pinch kosher salt
- Heat a skillet over medium heat. Once it’s hot, add the pine nuts and dry toast, shaking occasionally, until the nuts are browned and fragrant, about 6-7 minutes. Remove and set aside
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil; season with 1 tsp kosher salt. Add the orzo, stir, and cook to al dente (check package directions for precise cook time). Stir every few minutes to prevent clumping. Drain the pasta, then run under cold water to stop the cooking process. Shake very well to release excess moisture.
- Finely chop the bell peppers, cucumber, and onion.
- Prep the corn – slice leftover kernels from grilled or steamed corn, or use frozen corn in a pinch; defrost under cool running water, then shake to release moisture.
- Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, honey, dijon mustard, and a pinch of sea salt in a bowl or lidded jar. Whisk or shake vigorously until emulsified.
- Combine the orzo, vegetables, herbs, and pine nuts in a large mixing bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad, then toss until well combined. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper to taste. Marinate 2 hours, or overnight. Serve cold or room temperature.