This lemon orzo pasta salad comes together in 30 minutes and is a total crowd pleaser! The salad is easy to make ahead and perfect for spring brunches or special occasions. It’s also completely vegan and packed with fresh, wholesome vegetables.
This lemon orzo pasta salad has it all: bright, lemony flavor, a bounty of tender spring vegetables, and plenty of herbs.
I celebrate two easters: western Easter and Orthodox Easter, which falls a few weeks later. I grew up with both traditions, but Greek Easter is what has stayed with me over time.
Nowadays, I might make a batch of carrot cake for Easter Sunday, but that’s about it. Greek Easter, on the other hand, is usually a feast. At the least, there’s tsoureki bread, avgolemono soup, and now, this lemon orzo pasta salad. It’s packed with Mediterranean ingredients and flavors—artichokes, dill, lemon, and asparagus—so feels like a nod to my Greek roots.
Of course, the salad would be lovely for either easter holiday. And it’s a nice option for any spring gathering or special occasion. It’s an easy crowd-pleaser, flavorful and pretty to look at. It’s light enough to serve as a side dish but also satisfying enough to pair with some accompaniments as a main course. And the lemon orzo pasta salad can be eaten warm or cold, depending on your mood.
Orzo pasta salad is just what it sounds like: a pasta salad made with orzo. Orzo eats a little like rice or barley or another whole grain, because it’s so small. But it really is a pasta, and it’s probably my favorite of the small pasta shapes.
Orzo is lovely to cook with because it cooks really quickly. That’s one of my favorite things about using orzo in recipes! In comparison to rice, wheat berries, barley, or farro, it can be ready within ten or twelve minutes of boiling.
For this recipe, I actually boil the orzo in salted water for 8 minutes, which is most of the cooking time. Then, I add asparagus to the cooking water. The asparagus cooks for another two minutes, and then the pasta and vegetables are drained together. It’s a small detail, but it makes preparing the recipe all the more streamlined.
Orzo isn’t technically gluten-free. However, just as there are now many different gluten-free pasta varieties, there are also some gluten-free orzos.
If you need to make the orzo pasta salad recipe gluten-free, you can use one of those gluten-free orzo varieties. In addition, you can substitute a gluten-free grain in place of orzo. I’ve made this recipe with long-grain white rice and with cooked quinoa. They’re different than the original, but both are really good!
The steps for this recipe are straightforward. First, you’ll boil your orzo and blanch the asparagus pieces.
As the orzo boils, you’ll take a few moments to whisk together the lemony vinaigrette for the salad: lemon, lemon zest, shallots, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper.
Finally, you’ll transfer the cooked orzo and asparagus to a large mixing bowl. You’ll add some other vegetables and salad ingredients, including artichokes and chickpeas, as well as the dressing. Finally, you’ll fold in lots of fresh herbs, as well as some cashew parmesan, if you feel like adding extra flavor.
That’s it. Making the orzo pasta salad is mostly a matter of chopping and mixing. This makes it an especially good recipe for low-key summer dinners or low-key weekend meal prep.
Yes, it’s easy to make the lemon orzo pasta salad ahead of time. In fact, I think that meal prep potential is one of the best things about the recipe.
When I make the salad ahead of time, I typically make the recipe as written and store it in the fridge for up to four days. It makes great, pre-made lunches. It’s also a nice dinner component, along with a vegan protein (like grilled or baked tofu) and any other side dishes you like.
If you’re serving the lemon orzo pasta salad to friends, and you’d like it to be as fresh as possible, I recommend preparing all of it ahead of time except for the chopped herbs. When your friends arrive, you can fold the chopped herbs into the prepared salad and serve.
There’s plenty of possibility to adapt the ingredients in this recipe based on what you have at home. Here are some of the main salad components. All of them, as you’ll see, could be swapped or substituted based on your preferences.
My favorite smaller pasta shape. I always have a box of orzo in my pantry, since it’s quick cooking and I love it so much.
In place of orzo, you can use cooked long-grain rice or quinoa (both gluten-free), or pearl couscous, barley, or farro (not gluten-free). You can also use another small pasta shape, such as ditalini.
Artichoke hearts lend acidity and brightness to the salad, as well as good nutrition (artichokes are a great source of Vitamin C and prebiotic fiber). I usually use canned, quartered artichoke hearts, but you can also use artichoke hearts that have been marinated with herbs and olive oil.
If you don’t have artichoke hearts, you can substitute a cup of another favorite vegetable.
These are some of my favorite spring vegetables to add to the lemon orzo pasta salad. However, you can use some of your other favorite green vegetables in their place. I’ve tried replacing the asparagus with chopped broccoli florets and chopped zucchini. Both options work well!
As a half-Greek person, I can’t get enough of dill! But I know that it’s an acquired taste. If you don’t care for dill, you can use a mixture of basil and parsley for the herbs here, or parsley and chives. You can also use parsley on its own, without adding an additional herb.
No matter what, I do recommend fresh herbs for the salad. Tis the season!
The cashew parmesan in the recipe is optional. However, it adds some really nice extra saltiness and savoriness to the salad dish!
My cashew parmesan is an easy, homemade vegan parmesan that’s a staple in my home. It takes minutes to make, so I have an easy time keeping it in my fridge or freezer. I add it to nearly all of my pasta dishes, including this one.
If you don’t have time to make something, you can use any store-bought vegan parmesan that you like. In a pinch, you can use a few tablespoons of plain nutritional yeast instead of a vegan cheese.
I really recommend serving the lemon orzo pasta salad with the dressing that’s included in the recipe. However, if you strictly avoid oil in your cooking, you can try preparing the recipe with a tahini-based dressing instead. My every day lemon tahini dressing would work well. I’d recommend a double batch of that dressing to cover this whole batch of pasta salad!
With healthful fats from olive oil, protein from chickpeas and wheat, and complex carbs from the orzo, the lemon orzo pasta salad qualifies nicely as a power plate. You can serve it on its own or with extra greens for a light, summery lunch.
You can also make the recipe more filling and nutrient dense by pairing it with tofu or tempeh (my lemon pepper tempeh would be a great accompaniment) or grilled seitan. It would be great with a vegan chick’n, like the Gardein scallopini. And I’ve served it with extra veggies, too, like a simple preparation of broccolini or additional grilled asparagus.
If you’re planning a menu for any spring holiday, or if you’re simply hoping to celebrate the season, here are some of my other favorite spring recipes. All are vegan and show off the beauty of spring produce!
I hope you’ll enjoy this fresh and flavorful dish!