Salads are great, but pasta salads? The greatest! This Mediterranean-inspired orzo pasta salad is the ultimate fresh and satisfying side dish. It’s herby, bright, colorful, filled with veggies, and ready in just 30 minutes!
It’s plant-based, optionally gluten-free, and quickly becoming our new favorite salad for BBQs, picnics, or served with grilled protein for a satisfying summer meal. Let us show you how it’s done!
What is Orzo?
Orzo (also called risoni) is a type of pasta with a shape resembling a large grain of rice. It’s traditionally made from wheat flour, but it can be made from other types of grains and gluten-free versions are now available.
Orzo is said to have originated in Italy, but our search for its origin story didn’t reveal much else. It’s also a popular ingredient in Greek cuisine.
How to Make Orzo Pasta Salad
We start by cooking the orzo in a pot of salted water. Salting the water gives the orzo more flavor and is one of our favorite tricks for elevating pasta dishes. After cooking, we drain and rinse the orzo to cool it down, then toss it with a little olive oil to prevent it from sticking together.
Then we transition to the flavorful, lemony dressing. Olive oil is the thick and rich base, lemon juice and zest add big lemon flavor, and the savory notes come from garlic powder, dried Italian herbs, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast. While maple syrup adds sweetness, a little reserved pasta water creates the right consistency to evenly coat the orzo.
Next come the vibrant, crunchy veggies and fresh parsley, plus marinated artichoke hearts and kalamata olives to add swoon-worthy saltiness to every bite!
Lastly, stir in freshly chopped basil just before serving so it retains its vibrant green color.
We hope you LOVE this orzo salad! It’s:
& SO delicious!
We love this salad as a make-ahead lunch, for bringing to picnics and BBQs, or for dinner with grilled protein. It would pair beautifully with our Crispy Baked Tofu with Italian Herbs or Easy Marinated Grilled Chicken (30 Minutes!).
Note: If using a rice-based gluten-free orzo, it’s best to make the salad just before serving because it will harden once it goes in the refrigerator.
More Summery Side Dishes
- Minty Watermelon Cucumber Salad
- Grilled Corn with Sriracha Aioli
- Grain-Free Tabbouleh Salad (6 Ingredients!)
- Simple French-Style Potato Salad
If you try this recipe, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it, and don’t forget to tag a photo @minimalistbaker on Instagram. Cheers, friends!
Mediterranean-Inspired Orzo Pasta Salad
- 8 oz. dry orzo (for gluten-free* we like DeLallo // 8 oz. or 227 g dry yields ~3 cups or 480 g cooked // or sub equivalent amount of farro, bulgar, or barley)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion (1/2 medium onion yields ~1/2 cup or 70 g)
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 3/4 cup finely chopped yellow bell pepper (1 medium pepper yields ~3/4 cup or 115 g // or sub red or orange)
- 3/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts, roughly chopped (we used Native Forest)
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley, large stems removed
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil, large stems removed
- 2 Tbsp olive oil (plus more for tossing pasta)
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice (1 medium lemon yields ~2 Tbsp or 30 ml)
- 2 tsp lemon zest (1 medium lemon yields ~2 tsp zest)
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 Tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp dried Italian herb seasoning (or sub dried basil + oregano)
- 1/2 tsp each sea salt and black pepper
- 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
- 2 Tbsp pasta water
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the orzo and cook according to the package instructions. Reserve 1/4 cup (60 ml) of pasta water, drain the pasta, rinse with cold water, and toss with a little olive oil. Set aside to cool.
- While the water boils/pasta cooks, prep the pasta salad ingredients and make the dressing.
- Add the olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic powder, maple syrup, Italian herbs, salt, pepper, nutritional yeast, and pasta water (once it’s ready) to a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Add the finely chopped red onion and mix again.
- Add the tomatoes, bell pepper, olives, artichoke hearts, parsley, and cooked orzo to the mixing bowl. Toss well to combine.
- Mix in the basil just before serving. Taste and adjust as needed, adding more salt for overall flavor, lemon juice for brightness, or herbs for freshness. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Not freezer friendly.
*Nutrition information is a rough estimate calculated with DeLallo gluten-free orzo.