Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad is the perfect side dish to your summer cook out, or a great meal prep for healthy lunches! This colorful rainbow orzo salad is loaded with tomato, kalamata olives, bell pepper, artichokes, chickpeas, feta cheese and lots of greens! Full of fresh Mediterranean flavor, it feeds a crowd and is perfect when you can't decide "What should I bring?"
Summer's Perfect Side Dish
- This Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad is a Summer Grilling Favorite! - It goes with everything - grilled chicken, sausages, burgers, brats, hot dogs, kabobs or fish! It's great to bring to a cabin weekend, a backyard barbecue, or just a simple weeknight dinner side at home. Perfect for Memorial Day or the 4th of July when you're bringing a dish to share! Large enough to feed a crowd or meal prep for easy lunches.
- It's Healthy, Fresh and Beautifully Colorful! - Full of garden fresh veggies, this rainbow orzo salad is full of fresh summer flavor and packed with protein from the chickpeas. The dressing is a simple vinaigrette, so no need to worry about mayo sitting out. It's easy to throw together in just 25 minutes. You'll want to make this recipe again and again!
- If You've Got Summer Veggies, try my Cherry Tomato Bruschetta and my Creamy Tomato Basil Fettuccine!
Ingredients & Substitutions
- Pine Nuts - This lemon orzo pasta salad with pine nuts adds a little something special! While pine nuts are an expensive ingredient, just a small amount, toasted to bring out their flavor, really makes this delicious! They are optional, but highly recommended!
- Orzo Pasta - Orzo is a rice shaped pasta, perfect for pasta salads! Orzo is a favorite but this Mediterranean pasta salad could also be made with another short pasta shape such as ditalini, small shells, elbow macaroni, or farfalle.
- Chickpeas - Also called garbanzo beans, orzo with chickpeas adds protein and heartiness to this pasta salad. This makes it a well balanced, full of veggies, great option to meal prep for lunch.
- Tomato - When summer tomatoes are in season, you are definitely going to get the best flavor! Any type or color of small cherry tomato are fine. However, there are a lot of elements to this orzo lemon salad so really it can be made any time of year.
- Kalamata Olives - Any olives are fine but kalamata really are the favorite! They add that salty briny punch of flavor.
- Artichokes - I use artichokes from a can or a jar and cut them in quarters if they are whole. Artichokes really make it a Mediterranean orzo side dish!
- Bell Pepper - I use about a half of a red bell pepper thinly sliced. Yellow or orange bell pepper or a few mini peppers would also be good. Jarred roasted red peppers would also be a nice variation or a few thin slices of red onion.
- Feta Cheese - Salty feta cheese gives this pasta salad its Mediterranean flare! You could also substitute goat cheese or shaved Parmesan. Omit the cheese for a vegan orzo salad.
- Fresh Herbs - This pasta salad is bursting with fresh flavor from lots of garden fresh herbs. Any combination of basil, scallions, parsley, or chives.
- Arugula - A big handful of greens like arugula or spinach adds wonderful color, extra nutrition and nice texture to the salad.
- Lemon Dressing - This lemony orzo salad is made with a very simple vinaigrette, just fresh lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper to season the salad. Bottled lemon juice is fine too, although fresh lemon wedges are great to garnish the platter. Wait to toss the salad with dressing until just before serving.
Step 1 - Start this recipe with the pine nuts to save yourself an extra pot to clean! In the pot you are going to boil the pasta, first toast the pine nuts over medium heat. This just takes a couple minutes so watch them and don't let them burn! Remove them to a bowl, then use the same pot to set water to boil for the orzo. Cook orzo for 7 minutes in boiling salted water and drain.
Step 2 - While the pasta cooks, you can chop and prep your veggies. Add all ingredients to a large bowl. The dressing for this salad is simply fresh lemon juice and olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper. Whisk it together in a little dish with a fork or shake it in a jar with a lid.
Step 3 - This salad can be served warm or cold. If serving warm, add the drained hot orzo to the bowl of ingredients and toss well along with the dressing. To serving cold, you could run the orzo under cold water before draining, or just toss it hot and cool it in the fridge. If making ahead, wait to add the dressing until just before serving.
Storage - Leftover orzo salad with lemon can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Leftovers can be eaten cold and are great for a healthy lunch. You may want to add a bit more lemon juice and olive oil since the dressing will soak in and the pasta can dry out a bit in the fridge.
Make Ahead Instructions - This orzo lemon pasta salad can be made anytime during the day and kept in the fridge to bring to a party. Even a day in advance is ok. If making ahead, keep the dressing on the side in a jar with a lid. Shake it and toss well with the pasta salad just before serving. If you dress the salad too early the pasta will soak up the dressing and be dry.
Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad is so versatile and can easily be altered to fit your taste! Cherry tomatoes exploding in the garden, add extra! Don't like olives, leave them out! Any ingredient can be omitted and extras can be substituted. Some delicious variations could include cucumber, jarred peppers or giardiniera, capers, or sliced meats like prosciutto or pepperoni.
Yes! This recipe can easily be made a vegan orzo salad by omitting the feta cheese. All other ingredients are vegan.
Yes! To make this a Gluten-Free Pasta Salad, substitute your favorite gluten-free pasta. Gluten-free orzo or any short shape pasta will work! The same salad could also be made using quinoa instead of pasta.
More Favorite Side Dishes!
Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad
- ¼ cup pine nuts toasted
- 1½ cups orzo pasta
- 1 15 oz can chickpeas drained and rinsed
- 1 cup baby tomato left whole or sliced in half
- ½ cup kalamata olives
- ½ cup artichokes quartered (canned or jar)
- ½ bell pepper, sliced (or a few slices of red onion, or both)
- ½ cup feta cheese
- ¼ cup fresh chopped herbs such as basil, scallions, parsley, or chives
- 1 handful arugula or spinach
- 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice (half a lemon squeezed) plus lemon wedges to garnish
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 8 grinds fresh black pepper
- In the pot you plan to boil the orzo, first toast the dry pine nuts over medium heat while watching and stirring a few minutes until golden brown. Reserve in a small bowl, then use the same pot to set water to boil for the orzo. Cook orzo in boiling salted water, about 7 minutes.
- In a large bowl, add all other ingredients, including the orzo when it's cooked and drained. Orzo can be run under cold water or left hot. The pasta salad can be served warm or cold.
- Shake dressing together in a small jar with a lid, pour over the pasta salad and mix well. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with toasted pine nuts and lemon wedges.
- Storage - Store leftover orzo pasta salad in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. You may want to add a bit more lemon juice and olive oil before eating.
- Make Ahead Instructions - Pasta salad can be made ahead any time during the day if bringing to a party and kept covered in the fridge. Make the dressing in a jar and mix it into the pasta salad just before serving. If you add it to the salad right away, it will soak into the orzo and be dry by the time you eat it.