This easy lemon orzo pasta salad recipe is a perfect side dish for summer picnics, potlucks, and barbecues! Vegan, Vegetarian.
This simple orzo pasta salad recipe is about to be your new summertime BFF. All you need: fifteen minutes of active time and a handful of ingredients! Serve it immediately or chill and serve it cold if you need to make it a day ahead.
What you’ll need
- Orzo pasta – This bite-sized pasta (sometimes called risoni) is perfect for pasta salad! It cooks quickly and is easy to eat. You can use any pasta shape you like, though!
- Lemon – We’re making a quick vinaigrette with the juice of one lemon (plus the lemon zest!) and a bit of olive oil.
- Fresh basil
- Fresh tomatoes – Dice up a large tomato or use a big handful of cherry tomatoes here!
- A few basics: Good olive oil, salt, and pepper
How to make this orzo pasta salad
First, cook the pasta
Cook your orzo in very salty water until it’s just barely al dente. Save a bit of pasta water, then drain it and set aside.
Make the dressing
Put the zest and juice of one lemon into a large bowl. Whisk in olive oil, salt, pepper, and reserved pasta water.
Assemble the salad
Add the cooked, drained orzo to your fresh lemon juice mixture. Stir it up and then let it cool for at least 10-15 minutes.
When orzo has cooled, stir in the basil and tomatoes. Add salt and pepper as needed, then serve (or pop it in the fridge until you’re ready for it).
Riffs and substitutions
This lemon orzo salad is a great blank-canvas recipe: it’s SO forgiving and easy to customize with whatever vegetables you have on hand. Some of our favorite swaps:
- Add a bit of a bite with sliced red onion or shallots (bonus points if you stir in some pickled or marinated red onions!) This pasta salad is also great with a handful of pitted kalamata olives.
- Use any pasta you like here! It’s good with ditalini, Israeli couscous, or any other small pasta shape. You can also use grains like barley or farro if you prefer to skip the pasta aisle at the grocery store!
- Amp up the veggies with some diced green or red bell pepper, chickpeas, cucumbers, or grilled zucchini. You can also toss in a few handfuls of fresh arugula or spinach just before serving for a heartier salad.
- Toss in some cheese! Crumbled feta cheese, mozzarella pearls, and shaved parmesan are all good mixed into this pasta salad.
- Stir in some protein. Chicken (grab a rotisserie chicken or use grilled or shredded chicken) is good here, or you can use diced salami or sausage for an Italian spin.
- Use grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes in place of the diced tomato if you like. You can also swap fresh dill or parsley for the basil here!
VIDEO: How to make lemon orzo pasta salad
An easy orzo pasta salad recipe with summer produce and a quick lemon dressing.
- 1 cup uncooked orzo pasta
- 1 large lemon
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 heaping cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
- 2 large tomatoes, diced
COOK THE ORZO PASTA:
- Cook orzo in very salty water until just barely al dente.
- Reserve ½ cup of pasta water.
- Drain orzo and set aside.
MAKE THE DRESSING:
- While the orzo cooks, use a microplane to zest your lemon. Place zest into a large mixing bowl.
- Cut zested lemon in half and squeeze lemon juice into your mixing bowl. Be careful not to let any lemon seeds fall into the bowl!
- Add olive oil, salt, and pepper to bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
ASSEMBLE THE ORZO SALAD:
- Add reserved ½ cup pasta water to your lemon juice mixture and whisk to combine. The sauce will look watery, but don’t worry – the orzo will soak the liquid up as it cools!
- Add cooked, drained orzo to lemon juice mixture and stir to combine.
- Let orzo cool for 10-15 minutes.
- Add basil and tomatoes to orzo. Stir to combine. Taste and add salt or pepper as necessary.
- Serve immediately or transfer to an airtight container and chill until ready to serve. Top with an extra sprig of basil for garnish if you like.
Additions and Substitutions. Add extra fresh herbs (we love parsley, chives, or cilantro!), grilled chicken, chopped mozzarella or mozzarella pearls, feta, goat cheese, or parmesan to this pasta salad. It’s also great with diced bell pepper, cucumber, or grilled zucchini and yellow squash. Use any kind of dried pasta you like in place of the orzo. Use halved cherry or grape tomatoes instead of diced tomatoes if you prefer. No lemons? Use ¼ cup of bottled lemon juice instead.
Make-Ahead Tips and How to Serve: This orzo pasta salad will last 3-4 days in the fridge. If it looks dry, stir in a splash of olive oil to loosen it back up. For best results, wait to mix in the tomatoes and basil until just before you’re ready to serve. It’ll taste just fine after being refrigerated, but you get the biggest punch of flavor when the tomatoes and basil are ultra-fresh!
Keep this dish vegan by making sure your orzo is egg-free!
Keywords: Summer, potluck, vegan