There's so much to love about Lemon Orzo Salad! Pasta salad recipes are ideal for potlucks, quick and easy to make and packed with so much flavor. Skip the feta cheese to make it vegan and dairy-free.
Lemon orzo salad is the ultimate meal prep or potluck salad. The Mediterranean-inspired flavors are always a crowd favorite and it’s packed with healthy ingredients, including fresh vegetables and fiber-filled chickpeas.
You can’t beat pasta salad for easy summertime dinners and picnic-friendly lunches. We regularly make Shrimp Pasta Primavera Salad, Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad and Tuna Pasta Salad (without mayo) throughout the summer months. Minimal cooking time helps to keep the kitchen cool!
Serve this lemon orzo pasta salad as a main dish with a Strawberry Arugula Salad or watermelon slices. Or serve it as a side dish with grilled chicken kabobs, Lemon Butter Grilled Shrimp or Broiled Rosemary Honey Salmon.
💙 What’s to love about this vegetarian pasta salad:
▪️QUICK & EASY: Whip up this lemony orzo salad in less than 30 minutes! It’s ideal for a last-minute dinner recipe. Or make a batch for you next family picnic.
▪️FLAVOR! Fresh herbs, bright dressing, tangy feta cheese and seasonal veggies. Both kids and adults adore the taste of this salad.
▪️MAKE-AHEAD: This salad lasts for 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator. Great for meal prepping!
Tips for making this recipe
- Perfect Pasta: When boiling the orzo, be sure to salt the water generously. Cook the pasta until it's al dente—tender but not overly soft. Overcooking can lead to mushy pasta in your salad.
- Cool It Down: After cooking, cool the pasta by draining it and rinsing it under cold water. This not only prevents overcooking but also brings the pasta to the ideal temperature for pasta salad. It also prevents the pasta from sticking together. Be sure to drain the pasta well.
- Multi-task: While the pasta is cooking and cooling, chop the cucumber, halve the grape or cherry tomatoes, drain and rinse the chickpeas, quarter the olives, and chop the herbs. If you have block feta cheese, crumble it with your fingers.
- Extra Dressing: If you plan to make the salad ahead of time, consider making extra dressing. As the salad rests, the pasta may absorb some of the dressing. Having extra dressing on hand allows you to refresh the salad's flavors before serving.
- Fresh Herbs: To keep the herbs vibrant and fresh, add them to the salad just before serving. This prevents them from browning or losing their flavor.
INGREDIENTS FOR LEMON ORZO SALAD
These are the main ingredients needed for this recipe…
- ORZO PASTA: Orzo is a rice-shaped pasta. It can be found in most grocery stores. If you prefer a whole wheat version, look at in health food stores or online.
- TOMATOES: Both cherry and grape tomatoes work well in this recipe.
- CUCUMBER: I prefer English cucumbers, which do not require peeling. They can be found in most grocery stores.
- CHICKPEAS: If using canned chickpeas, drain and rinse before using.
- FETA: Feta cheese can be purchased crumbled or in blocks.
- OLIVES: Use pitted Kalamata olives and quarter them with a paring knife.
- HERBS: Fresh basil, fresh mint and flat-leaf parsley.
- DRESSING: The lemon vinaigrette is made of fresh lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, agave nectar (or honey – not vegan), dried oregano and salt.
See recipe card below for full ingredients list & recipe directions.
PASTA: Try another pasta shape, such as ditalini or elbow macaroni. Larger pasta shapes also work – try rotini, penne or farfalle. For a gluten-free option, use your favorite gluten-free orzo.
VEGETABLES: There are plenty of other vegetables that work in this pasta salad. Try roasted or raw red bell pepper, red onion, artichokes or grated zucchini.
CHEESE: Soft goat cheese (chevre) is a tasty substitute for feta cheese.
How to make lemon orzo pasta salad
There are three main steps in this recipe. 1) Cook the pasta, 2) Prep the veggies and 3) Make the dressing. Let’s talk details…
BOIL THE PASTA: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it generously. Add the pasta and cook it according to the package directions. The orzo should be al dente – tender, but not soft.
COOL THE PASTA: Drain the pasta into a colander and run it under cold water until the pasta is cold. This brings the pasta to the ideal temperature for pasta salad, plus stops the pasta from sticking together.
PREP THE MIX-INS: Chop the cucumber, cut the grape or cherry tomatoes in half, drain and rinse the chickpeas, quarter the olives and chop the herbs. If the feta cheese is in a block, crumble it with your fingers.
COMBINE: Combine the cooked orzo, vegetables, herbs, cheese and olives in a large bowl. Give it a good stir.
MAKE THE DRESSING: In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, agave nectar, oregano and salt.
DRESS THE SALAD: Pour the dressing into the pasta salad and toss to combine. If you’re making the salad ahead of time, make some extra dressing and reserve the extra to toss with the salad right before serving.
SERVE OR STORE: Serve it up immediately, or cover and store in the refrigerator for later.
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Meal Prep and Storage
Yes! Lemon orzo pasta salad is an ideal meal prep or make-ahead entertaining option. Follow the instructions for making the salad, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap or transfer the salad to an airtight container. Store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Two suggestions for making this pasta salad ahead of time: the dressing and the herbs.
As the salad rests, the pasta absorbs the dressing. I suggest making extra dressing (usually an extra half recipe will do). Toss the salad with some of the extra dressing, to taste, right before serving.
The fresh chopped herbs start to brown as they rest. I suggest slicing and stirring in the herbs right before serving the salad.
Frequently Asked Questions
To make this recipe vegan, simply leave out the feta cheese. Also, be sure to use agave nectar, rather than honey, in the dressing. Otherwise, the salad is completely plant-based.
Absolutely! The salad's protein comes from chickpeas. To make the salad heartier and more protein-packed, consider adding grilled chicken strips, cooked and diced shrimp, or even tofu cubes. Or double up on the chickpeas.
To prevent the salad from getting soggy, ensure that the orzo is well-drained and cooled before mixing it with the other ingredients.
To transport pasta salad, use an airtight container with a secure lid. You can also cover the top with plastic wrap before sealing the container to prevent any dressing leakage. Keep it chilled until you're ready to serve.
Lemon Orzo Salad Recipe
- 12 ounces dry orzo pasta
- 1 ½ cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes
- 1 cup chopped English cucumber
- 1 cup canned chickpeas drained & rinsed
- ¼ cup (1 ¼ ounces) crumbled feta cheese
- 6 pitted Kalamata olives quartered
- 5 large basil leaves thinly sliced
- 5 mint leaves thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water generously. Add the orzo and cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain into a colander and rinse well with cold water. Drain well, giving the colander a shake to get rid of extra water. Transfer to a serving bowl.
- Add the tomatoes, cucumber, chickpeas, feta cheese, olives, basil, mint and parsley. Stir to combine.
- Toss with the dressing. Serve immediately, or cover and store in the refrigerator.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, agave nectar, oregano and salt.
This post was originally published on June 21, 2022 and updated on September 20, 2023.
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