This Mediterranean Orzo Salad is refreshing, light, and flavorful. The bright flavor of the lemon vinaigrette really makes this salad shine. Great served on its own or with your favorite choice of protein.
Why this recipe works
This salad combines all the best Greek flavors. Fresh crunchy vegetables, soft light pasta, salty feta cheese, savory umami olives, and bright lemon vinaigrette.
Orzo pasta is the best option for a light summer salad. It's easy to work with and it holds its shape well which makes it perfect for a pasta salad. It soaks up the dressing and all the amazing flavors!
It's a great no lettuce salad, ideal for those days when you want a healthy meal, but don't want to spend time chewing a bunch of kale.
Orzo, also called Risoni is a type of short-cut pasta. It's usually made with white flour or whole grain flour.
Although orzo looks similar to rice, it's not rice, it's just made into a shape of a large grain of rice. It's 100% wheat and I haven't been able to find a gluten-free version yet. If you're on a gluten-free diet, I recommend using basmati rice or quinoa instead.
Orzo cooks fairly quickly (14-16 minutes) which makes it a great choice for quick meals.
What's the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet originated in countries around the Mediterranean Sea so there are a lot of variations to it. Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia, Algeria, and Lybia all have their own versions of the Mediterraneal cuisine.
In general, it's very plant-based, not meat-based. It uses a lot of simple, fresh ingredients, just like this Mediterranean Orzo Salad. There is no refined sugar (white sugar), refined grains (white bread), or refined oils (canola oil). The Mediterranean diet also stays away from processed meat and red meat.
The basics of the Mediterranean diet:
- Lots of vegetables, fruits, herbs, legumes, whole grains, and healthy fats.
- A moderate amount of fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.
- Very little processed sugars, grains, or oils.
If I had to pick a favorite cuisine or diet, this one would definitely be it. There are a lot of variations and it's much healthier and lighter than the American diet. I'll have all the salads, roasted veggies, fish, and cheese, please!
Orzo cooking tips
- Orzo cooks like any other small pasta.
- Add it to a pot of boiling water with a good pinch of sea salt. You don't need to add any oil to the cooking water. If you cook the orzo properly and rinse it, it doesn't stick together.
- Orzo cooks for 14-16 minutes. I find 15 minutes perfect for a salad like this.
- When it's done, drain and rinse the pasta with cold water, and add it to the rest of your salad ingredients.
Orzo Salad variations
There are many different ways you could make this salad your own. I like to change it up based on what ingredients i currently have or what I'm craving.
- If you can't have gluten, use rice or quinoa in this recipe instead!
- Add roasted or grilled vegetables like zucchini, bell peppers, or eggplant.
- Try a different variety of olives: Mission, Nicoise, or Liguria olives are great options!
- Top it with some protein. Salmon, tuna, shrimp, chicken all go great with this salad. Try it with Keftedes (Greek meatballs), I've found a vegan version at Whole Foods and I've been obsessed!
- Add beans for some vegan protein. Chickpeas, butter beans, or black-eyed peas are all great options.
Tips for storing orzo pasta salad
- Store this salad in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 3-4 days.
- You can store the salad and the vinaigrette separately or dress the salad before storing it.
- There is no lettuce or herbs so it's not a big deal if you store the salad with the vinaigrette. The tomatoes might release some juices and it will enhance all the flavors if it sits for more than a day - the lemon, olives, and red onion especially. This is not a bad thing but I like it the best the first two days.
- Orzo doesn't stick together when it sits in the fridge for a couple of days, it will keep its shape so you don't have to worry about a mushy salad.
More healthy salad recipes:
- Greek Potato Salad with Feta
- Za'atar Roasted Eggplant Lentil Salad
- Charred Corn and Zucchini Salad with Pecorino
- Quinoa Salad with Pomegranate Seeds and Lemon Dressing
- Radicchio Clementine Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette
This Mediterranean Orzo Salad is refreshing, light, and flavorful. The lemon vinaigrette really makes this salad shine. Great served on its own or with a choice of protein.
- 1 cup (170g) dry orzo
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in halves
- 1 cucumber, diced (makes about 2 cups)
- 1 small red onion, finely chopped
- ½ cup pitted kalamata olives, halved or chopped into thirds
- ¾ cup (100g) feta cheese
- Optional add-ins: fresh herbs (dill, chives, parsley), sprouts, roasted vegetables (zucchini, bell peppers, eggplant), protein (salmon, tuna, shrimp, beans, or other vegan protein)
- ½ lemon, juiced (2 tbsp)
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ tsp sea salt or more to taste
- Black pepper to taste
- Cook the orzo according to package instructions (14-16 mins), drain, rinse and set aside.
- Into a large bowl add the halved cherry tomatoes, diced cucumber, chopped red onion, chopped kalamata olives, and crumbled feta cheese, and fresh herbs if desired. Toss to combine.
- Add the cooked orzo and set aside.
- Make the lemon vinaigrette. In a small jar combine the lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Cover with a lid and shake to combine.
- Pour the dressing over the salad, toss gently again to combine everything.
- Serve immediately or store in the fridge until ready to eat.
This salad keeps well in the fridge even after you add the dressing because there are no greens. Avoid the fresh herbs if you're planning to store this salad for a few days. Add to an airtight container and keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.
The nutritional information is just an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information is not guaranteed.
Keywords: greek, orzo, feta, olives