Mediterranean Orzo Salad

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Need a healthy and colorful side dish that makes enough to feed a crowd or have plenty of leftovers for the week? This easy Mediterranean orzo salad does the trick and its served with a tangy red wine vinaigrette that brightens the dish and keeps it light.

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

Orzo: it may look like grains of rice but it’s actually pasta. Because the noodles are so small, they instantly soak up flavor and become tender when mixed with other ingredients. For Mediterranean flavors, I use a combination of sweet, juicy tomatoes and crunchy vegetables like cucumber and bell pepper.

Briny olives and marinated artichokes add missing elements: tangy and salty. Fresh herbs and feta cheese complete this perfect side dish. However, homemade dressing is a must. I make an emulsified vinaigrette using red wine vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil to complement the ingredients and make a bold flavor impact.

Orzo pasta cooking in a pot of water

What is orzo?

Orzo, which is Italian for barley, is a type of short pasta. However, it has the appearance of uncooked long-grain rice. It’s typically made from white flour or semolina but healthier whole wheat versions are available. A quarter cup (2 ounces) of dry orzo delivers around 200 calories, 7 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, and 41 grams of carbohydrates [source].

The tiny orzo noodles have a very neutral flavor and cook in under 10 minutes. They are commonly used in pasta salads or soups. It would be a tasty swap in a hearty minestrone. And the small size provides a lighter pasta experience.

whisking ingredients in a bowl to make a red wine vinaigrette

Cook, then rinse the pasta

It’s best to cook this pasta slightly softer than al dente. Doing so keeps it tender and holds its shape without becoming mushy. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process by quickly cooling down the temperature. Rinsing will also wash away any excess starch that sticks to the surface which can soak up moisture and lead to a mushy texture.

Large bowl of unmixed vegetables and pasta

Add colorful and flavorful mix-ins

Additional ingredients should complement and not overwhelm the size of the orzo noodles. I look for a variety of colors, textures, and flavors.

  • Sliced cherry tomatoes add a burst of sweetness.
  • Thinly sliced English cucumbers have tender skin and provide a refreshing crunch.
  • Chopped red onions and bell pepper add a slightly sulfurous and earthy bite.
  • I also use roasted red bell pepper strips for a smoky taste.
  • Marinated artichokes and kalamata olives provide depth from their savory pickled juices.
  • Fresh herbs like parsley and basil add enticing herbaceous notes.
  • Tangy and creamy crumbled feta cheese add a little fat and richness.

Make a tangy dressing

To brighten the flavor of the pasta salad, I make a quick vinaigrette. Red wine vinegar and freshly squeezed lemon juice create an acidic, bold base. Minced garlic, dried oregano, salt, and pepper season the dressing. I also add Dijon mustard for pungency.

To round out the sharp notes, slowly drizzle in extra-virgin olive oil, and don’t stop whisking! This takes a little coordination, but it’s important to break up the fat into small droplets. Otherwise, the dressing will not properly thicken and separate. I make plenty of dressing because I like to have enough to toss and to serve on the side.

Add protein for a heartier dish

Close up of a wooden spoon mixing together a pasta salad

Mustard makes for a better-emulsified dressing

Mustard not only adds flavor, but it also contains complex polysaccharides that aid in emulsification. It’s not a permanent fix, but it keeps the dressing creamy (uniformly suspended) for longer. This trick is ideal when enjoying the dressing the same day. Whisk in mustard with the vinegar to disperse the natural emulsifying agents so it’s more effective when adding the oil.

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Mediterranean Orzo Salad

A healthy and easy Mediterranean orzo salad served with a tangy red wine vinaigrette that brightens the dish and keeps it light.
Pin Print Review
4.86 from 7 votes
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time40 mins
Servings 12 servings
Course Salad
Cuisine Mediterranean

Ingredients

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

  • 4 quarts water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, for seasoning pasta water
  • 1 pound orzo
  • 1 cup English cucumbers, sliced ⅛-inch thick and then quartered
  • 1 cup green bell pepper, ¼-inch dice
  • 1 cup baby tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 cup marinated artichokes, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup red onion, ⅛-inch dice
  • ½ cup kalamata olives, sliced
  • ½ cup roasted bell peppers, jarred, chopped into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced basil, plus more for garnish
  • ¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled, plus more for garnish

Red Wine Vinaigrette (makes 1 ½ cup)

  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 4 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions 

  • In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt. Stir until dissolved. Add the orzo to the boiling water, stirring occasionally to prevent the noodles from sticking together. Reduce heat if the water starts to foam. Cook the pasta according to package directions, about 10 minutes or until slightly softer than al dente.
  • Drain the pasta in a colander and rinse with cold water for about 1 minute, stirring until cooled down. Drain well and transfer to a large bowl.
  • Add cucumbers, green bell pepper, tomatoes, artichokes, red onion, kalamata olives, roasted bell peppers, parsley, basil, and feta cheese to the large bowl. Set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together red wine vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, lemon zest, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and oregano.
  • Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, constantly whisking until an emulsified and lightly thickened dressing forms. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Pour half of the dressing over the orzo salad. Toss to combine. Taste and add more dressing as desired. Serve the remainder on the side.
  • Garnish the salad with crumbled feta cheese, parsley, basil, salt, and pepper.

Equipment

Notes

  • Recipe Yield: 12 cups of orzo salad
  • Serving Size: 1 cup 
  • Storing: The salad can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. Toss with more dressing before serving. 

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Nutrition Facts
Mediterranean Orzo Salad
Amount Per Serving
Calories 348 Calories from Fat 198
% Daily Value*
Fat 22g34%
Saturated Fat 3g15%
Cholesterol 3mg1%
Sodium 338mg14%
Potassium 169mg5%
Carbohydrates 32g11%
Fiber 2g8%
Sugar 3g3%
Protein 6g12%
Vitamin A 348IU7%
Vitamin C 22mg27%
Calcium 39mg4%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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2 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. JJ says

    Love anything ORZO!
    Can you give me an idea in volume what one serving would be, to understand calorie/nutrients? I see this is 12 servings, and a pound of cooked orzo, with other ingredients. I just don’t know the volume of the finished salad to know how big a serving would be…3/4 C? 1 C?
    Would love to know!!

    BTW…LOVE your YouTube website!

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