Lemon orzo salad is filled with vibrant Mediterranean flavors like sun-dried tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, Italian parsley, and vegan feta. This show-stopping dish will quickly become the star of summer potlucks or weekend lunches with the family.
What is lemon orzo salad?
Lemon orzo salad is a light, refreshing, and flavorful recipe that highlights the beauty of Mediterranean cuisine. Simple ingredients like orzo, summer vegetables, and dairy-free feta are tossed with lemon vinaigrette, creating an elegant dish that’s suitable for lunch, dinner, or snack.
This salad provides everything you would expect from a Mediterranean recipe — perfectly balanced flavors that don’t overwhelm the palate. Once you try a bite, I assure you it will become a staple in your household.
What is orzo?
Also known as risoni, orzo is a type of small-cut pasta that resembles large grains of rice. Popular in countries like Greece and Italy, this tiny pasta is found in many recipes such as soups, salads, casseroles, or pilaf.
Is lemon orzo salad vegan?
Since lemon orzo salad has many variations, it can easily be customized to suit most dietary preferences. A lot of recipes call for feta or goat cheese, but it’s extremely simple to swap out dairy-based cheese for a vegan version.
Ingredients & Substitutions
- Orzo pasta: You should be able to find orzo at most grocery stores — careful not to mistake it for arborio. The two are similar, but orzo is what you want for this salad. If you are sensitive to gluten, there are gluten-free varieties available.
- Persian cucumbers: I love Persian cucumbers because of their ultra-crisp and crunchy texture. If you don’t have access, just use English cucumbers.
- Yellow bell peppers: I’m adding yellow bell peppers to this recipe, but you can use red or orange peppers as well. Or, test out a combination of the three!
- Sun-dried tomatoes: The tart, tangy flavor of sun-dried tomatoes makes this salad feel extra summery. Use either dry-packaged tomatoes or tomatoes in oil.
- Italian parsley: Also known as flat-leaf parsley, fresh Italian parsley adds just the right amount of herbaceous flavors. I strongly recommend using fresh herbs only, but you can use dried parsley in a pinch.
- Vegan feta cheese: For the perfect pop of savoriness, I love adding crumbled vegan feta. I went with the brand Violife Feta, but any dairy-free variety will work.
- Olive oil: For the base of the vinaigrette. Whenever possible, opt for the best-quality olive oil you can find.
- Lemon: Use both the juice and zest of a fresh lemon in the vinaigrette. Don’t let anything go to waste!
- Red wine vinegar: Combined with lemon, apple cider vinegar adds just the right amount of tang without being overbearing. You can also use apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, or unseasoned rice vinegar for a similar taste.
- Seasonings: For more Mediterranean flavors, use oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper in the dressing.
- Step 1: In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, red wine vinegar, and seasonings together until well combined. Set the mixture aside while you prepare the orzo.
- Step 2: Cook the orzo pasta until al dente, which should only take about 5 minutes. Make sure to stir the pasta occasionally while it’s cooking to prevent sticking. Once it’s done, drain and rinse the orzo in cold water.
- Step 3: Transfer the cooked orzo to a large mixing bowl, then add the cucumbers, bell peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and parsley.
- Step 4: Drizzle the vinaigrette on top, and toss it together until well combined. Top with crumbled vegan feta cheese.
- Step 5: Serve this lemon orzo salad right away, or refrigerate it until ready.
What to serve with lemon orzo salad
The great thing about this lemon orzo salad is that it makes a delicious addition to any backyard potluck. Serve it with some more Mediterranean-inspired recipes like these:
Here are a few simple tips to keep leftover lemon orzo pasta salad fresh for later:
- Fridge: Add this orzo salad to an airtight container and keep it in the fridge for up to 5-6 days.
- Freezer: I don’t recommend freezing this recipe as the texture will be greatly altered when it’s thawed.
- Prep ahead: If you’re planning a potluck or are headed to a gathering, this recipe can be made up to 2 days ahead of time. I just recommend keeping the vinaigrette on the side until the day of.
- Seasonings: Switch up the flavors of this recipe by using fresh basil, dill, mint, chives, cilantro, or Italian seasoning.
- Different mix-ins: Use fresh tomatoes, roasted red peppers, artichokes, shallots, asparagus, kalamata olives, zucchini, peas, arugula, or spinach.
- Add nuts: For a crunch factor, toasted almonds, pecans, or pine nuts are all delicious.
- Add protein: Bulk this salad up with some cooked chickpeas or tofu.
- Don’t overcook the orzo. Keep an eye on the orzo to prevent it from overcooking. The texture should be al dente, which means it still has a slight chew to it.
- Crumble feta while cold. If using Violife Feta cheese, it’s much easier to crumble the block when it’s chilled.
- Chill the salad. Letting this lemon orzo salad chill for 30-45 minutes before serving it will give the flavors time to meld together.
- Add feta and vinaigrette right before serving: For the best texture and flavor, I recommend adding the feta and tossing it in vinaigrette right before serving. If you chill it dressed, you may need to add in a little more olive oil again.
Orzo can be eaten both hot and cold. However, this lemon orzo pasta salad is meant to be served cold.
Orzo should be rinsed if it’s going to be served cold (like this recipe), or if it’s going to be baked. Rinsing removes the starchy coating, which prevents it from sticking together.
Since orzo is usually made from semolina flour, it is not gluten-free. This type of flour comes from durum wheat. There are also gluten-free varieties available that are typically made from lentils.
If you enjoyed this lemon orzo pasta salad, try your hand at making some other flavor-packed salads and sides like these:
- Oven-roasted vegetables
- Roasted beets and fennel salad
- Chickpea and apple kale salad
- Hasselback roasted potatoes
Easy Lemon Orzo Salad
- 2 cups orzo pasta uncooked
- 1 cup Persian cucumbers diced
- ½ cup orange or yellow bell pepper diced
- 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes finely diced
- 1 cup fresh Italian parsley finely chopped
- ½ cup Vegan feta cheese Optional, I used Violife Feta
Ingredients for the vinaigrette
- ¼ cup olive oil extra virgin
- 2 tablespoon lemon juice freshly squeezed
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 3 tablespoon red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 2 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon crushed black pepper
- In a small bowl, whisk all ingredients for the vinaigrette together until combined. Set aside.
- Cook the orzo pasta according to the package instructions until al dente. Stir occasionally while cooking. Remove from heat, and drain in cold water.
- Transfer the cooked orzo to a large mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients.
- Drizzle the vinaigrette on top and toss until it is all combined.
- Top with crumbled feta cheese.
- Serve right away, or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 days.