Mediterranean Orzo Salad with Creamy Lemon Dressing is a bright pasta salad made with pantry and fridge staples. If you’re looking for a healthy way to jump start spring, you’ve found it!
If you haven’t gotten a chance to escape to anywhere warm this winter, I feel your pain. But I’ve got a way you can grab a little bit of Mediterranean sunshine, even if the weather isn’t cooperating. Make a big bowl of this simple pasta salad; you probably won’t even need to make a trip to the store. I threw it together with what I already had on hand. And it gets even better as it sits in the fridge, so that warm sunny feeling lasts and lasts.
what is orzo?
Orzo looks like rice, but it’s actually a small, rice shaped pasta. It’s a type of Italian ‘pastina‘ or tiny pasta, that are used primarily in soups.
A good quality orzo stays nice and firm with a chewy texture after cooking, which is surprising, considering its size. It has a lovely silky texture that makes it an interesting alternative to rice.
I sometimes use orzo in pasta salads because it’s more delicate than chunkier pasta shapes, and feels less heavy and filling.
ingredients for orzo salad
This salad has a Mediteranean Greek/Italian theme, but that’s based on what I had in my kitchen. Omit or add where you need or want to.
- orzo ~ rice shaped little pasta that makes a unique texture for this pasta salad
- artichoke hearts ~ I chop them finely with my alligator chopper
- pimento ~ I always keep a jar on hand
- jalapeño ~ not necessarily Mediterranean but I had one and I love the little kick it gives this salad
- red onion ~ an absolute must in pasta salads, it adds a much needed bite
- black olives
- chickpeas ~ I prefer chickpeas to other canned beans in pasta salad because they’re firm, not mushy
- yellow bell pepper
- feta cheese
- sun dried tomatoes
a creamy lemon dressing ties this pasta salad all together
You could almost say it’s all about the dressing, that’s how important this finishing touch is to a pasta salad. The pasta drinks it in, and it becomes an integral part of the salad’s personality. There’s no vinegar, so no harsh flavor, just the bright acidity of fresh lemon juice in a one to one relationship with olive oil. The honey and mustard in the dressing allow it to emulsify into a creamy consistency which is particularly nice with the orzo.
chef’s tips for orzo salad
- As with all pasta salads I like to slightly under cook the pasta so it will stay nice and firm even as it absorbs the dressing as it sits in the refrigerator. Oh, and don’t forget to salt that cooking water, it’s a wonderful chance to season the pasta itself and your salad will be the better for it.
- Because the orzo is so tiny I like to chop the add-ins nice and finely, too. My alligator chopper is the best tool for this, it does everything so quickly and evenly. I use the small grid for some things and the larger grid for others. I love this tool so much I wrote a whole post about it!
- Make a meal out of this salad by adding hard cooked eggs and some good quality tuna packed in olive oil. We did that and it was amazing.
- Remember that salads in general are very forgiving, and, unlike baking recipes, are meant to be adjusted. I added specific amounts in the recipe but that’s only a rough guideline. You really shouldn’t need to measure your ingredients, just eyeball them and go with what you love.
pasta salads for the win
- Spaghetti Salad
- Israeli Pasta Salad
- Asiago Pasta Salad
- Mediterranean Pasta Salad with Tuna
- Meat Lovers Pasta Salad
- Thai Spaghetti Salad
Mediterranean Orzo Salad with Creamy Lemon Dressing
- alligator chopper (optional)
- 1/2 lb orzo pasta, cooked in pleanty of salted water until al dente, and briefly rinsed in cold water.
- 1/3 cup canned artichoke hearts, drained and diced
- 1/4 cup pimento, finely diced (or the contents of a small jar)
- 1/3 cup diced red onion
- 1/4 cup finely diced jalapeño pepper
- 1/4 cup black olives, chopped
- 1/2 cup canned chickpeas
- 1/3 cup diced yellow bell pepper
- 1/3 cup marinated sun dried tomatoes, chopped or thinly sliced
- 1/3 cup peperoncini peppers, diced
- 1/2 cup diced feta cheese
creamy lemon dressing
- 1/4 cup olive oil (I use this wonderful lemon olive oil)
- 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tsp creamy dijon mustard
- salt and black pepper to taste
- Put all the cooked pasta in a large bowl. It's ok if it's still warm.
- Add the rest of the salad ingredients to the bowl.
- To make the dressing, put the ingredients in a small bowl or cup and use an immersion blender to blend into a creamy consistency. A wide mouth canning jar works perfectly for this. Taste and adjust if needed. Note: an immersion blender works best when you blend in a jar just a bit larger than the head of the blender.
- Toss the salad with enough dressing to moisten everything, but not drench it.
- Refrigerate the salad until chilled. When ready to serve, toss with more dressing and season with salt and pepper if needed.
notes and variations
- My alligator chopper does a quick job of perfectly dicing my ingredients into small, same sized pieces, which makes my salad not only pretty, but easy to eat.