Mediterranean Orzo Salad

4.84 from 24 votes
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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.

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.
4.84 from 24 votes
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time40 minutes
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.

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. 

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 12 servings
Calories 348kcal (17%)Carbohydrates 32g (11%)Protein 6g (12%)Fat 22g (34%)Saturated Fat 3g (15%)Cholesterol 3mg (1%)Sodium 338mg (14%)Potassium 169mg (5%)Fiber 2g (8%)Sugar 3g (3%)Vitamin A 348IU (7%)Vitamin C 22mg (27%)Calcium 39mg (4%)Iron 1mg (6%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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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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10 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!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi JJ! I serving is 1 cup, and provides 12 servings. Thank you for checking out my youtube channel, that means a lot to me!

  2. Donna L Johnston says

    I’m fixing a luncheon for my quilt group; 16 women. What might you suggest to serve along with this wonderful salad?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      That sounds like fun! You can make so baked or grilled chicken, or go skewer style. Shrimp would be a kick and easy protein, or salmon.

  3. Mary Koss says

    I have been looking for a recipe like this using barley instead of pasta. What do you think? This looks really good to me.

  4. Richard L Smith says

    Made this the other night and it is a wonderful dish. Light and refreshing. I particularly like using orzo instead of larger pasta. Served it with some baked salmon.

  5. Kristin says

    I made this salad today since we are heading into a few very warm days and I wanted something refreshing for leftovers. The flavors of all the veggies, the spices and herbs and the delectable dressing were a hit. I also added the chicken to make it a full meal. My husband said he felt like he had a meal at Olive Garden! Next time I want to try it with salmon. I had lots of this wonderful dressing left over so I will use it on side salads for other meals. I may cut down on the orzo, since I love all the veggies so much and want the veggies to be more of a balance for orzo.

    I wonder for those who are trying to stay away from pasta, if rice would work as well as orzo. Any thoughts, Jessica?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I love that you added extra protein, and enjoy more veggies for the orzo. Yes, you can use cooled rice, quinoa, farro, or barley instead of the orzo.