Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad

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.

A rimmed, round white plate has been filled with an orzo pasta salad that's packed with vegetables and herbs. It rests on a white surface.

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.

A close up photograph of orzo pasta salad, which has been dressed with olive oil and lemon and packed with fresh herbs.

What is orzo pasta salad?

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.

How to cook orzo for pasta salad

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.

Is orzo gluten free?

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!

How to prepare lemon orzo pasta salad

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.

Can the salad be made ahead?

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.

An overhead photograph of a round, white rimmed plate, which serves a plant-based salad piled with green vegetables.

Lemon orzo pasta salad ingredients

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.

Orzo

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.

Artichokes

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.

Asparagus & peas

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!

Dill & parsley

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!

Cashew parmesan

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.

Can I prepare the recipe without oil?

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!

Serving lemon orzo 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.

More vegan spring recipes

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!

A white, rimmed, round serving plate holds a verdant, seasonal plant-based dish. Green peas and chopped dill have been used as garnish.
A rimmed, round white plate has been filled with an orzo pasta salad that's packed with vegetables and herbs. It rests on a white surface.
4.46 from 11 votes

Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad

Author – Gena Hamshaw
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Yields: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb asparagus (ends trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces)
  • 1 cup green peas fresh or frozen and thawed
  • 8 ounces marinated, quartered artichoke hearts
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (1 14.5-ounce can, drained and rinsed)
  • 12 ounces orzo (1 1/2 cups dry)
  • 4-5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt (adjust to taste)
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (adjust to taste)
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh dill
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup cashew parmesan cheese (optional)

Instructions

  • Bring a large pot of salt water to boil. Add the orzo. Cook for about 8 minutes, or until the orzo is al dente and not quite ready. Add the asparagus pieces; cook for another 2 minutes. Add the peas and cook for 1 more minute. Drain the pasta and vegetables.
  • While the pasta water is coming to a boil, whisk together 4 tablespoons of the olive oil, the lemon juice and zest, shallots, garlic (if using), salt, and pepper.
  • When the pasta and vegetables are ready, transfer them to a large mixing bowl. Add the dressing and toss everything well to combine. Finally, fold in the chopped parsley and dill, along with the parmesan, if using. Taste the salad and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Add up to 1 extra tablespoon olive oil as needed. Serve.

Notes

*Gluten free orzo can be used in place of regular orzo.
The pasta will keep overnight in an airtight container in the fridge. If you plan to store it before sharing, prepare as directed but leave out the fresh parsley. Right before serving, fold the parsley in.
A single, round white plate with a rim rests on a white surface. The plate is being used to serve a plant-based salad with fresh, green, springtime produce.

I hope you’ll enjoy this fresh and flavorful dish!

xo

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    18 Comments
  1. With warmer weather coming I’m looking for more salad recipes and this looks fantastic! I have a jar of artichokes in my pantry and was wondering what to make with them. Also,I’ll follow what another commenter mentions, and use cannellini beans instead because I always have those handy.

  2. I love roasted asparagus, but I’m not sure how it would taste in this recipe. Do you think it would taste okay to roast the asparagus?

  3. This is one of my favorite vegan recipes!!! I don’t use dill, because some of my family can’t even look at it without feeling queasy, and I think it only needs 3 Tablespoons EVOO, other than that, I follow the recipe. Drain the artichokes, drain and rinse the chick peas. I eat it cold or hot.I cook the asparagus separately, so I can get the perfect crunch and blanch it so it stays brighter green. terrific with halved cherry tomatoes. Thank you for the recipe!

  4. 4 stars
    This is so good! I ate it warm and used cannellini beans b/c I didn’t have any chickpeas on hand. The flavor is great and the amount of dressing is perfect! Came together very quickly.

  5. Do you have the nutritional values on this recipe? I am diabetic and need to know the carbs, etc. I would love to make this as a side dish or throw some fish or chicken with it (I know that defeats the whole vegan experience) but … It would be great if you added the nutritional information on your recipes.

  6. I really like your writing (and the visual style of your page). The photography you include is also wonderful (never thought anyone could make artichokes look so good), and I feel so strongly about these compliments that this is the first time I’m ever posting them like this (and I’ve seen my share of vegan food blogs)! I like your somewhat unpredictable train of thought and enjoyed that quirky/informative anecdote. What’s best is how you kept it fresh & brief because most people fail there (and I probably would as well) but the readers usually really just want to get to the damn recipe already instead of hearing about the author’s toddler! Your recipes look fantastic and of course I LOVE that they are vegan. Can’t wait to try a few. KEEP IT UP!

  7. This salad looks lovely! It’s starting to warm up here in the UK and you can’t beat a nice salad like this on hot days. Enjoy your week too Gena!

  8. I’m the same way about Christmas/winter vs Easter, I just love the holiday season! On the other hand, I’m so happy it’s Springtime right now because I’m so excited about this salad!

  9. I will def be making this for next year’s Greek Easter (if not sooner!), it sounds so good! I just bought everything for stuffed grape leaves (vegan) so that’s all I can handle, lol. While it’s a simple recipe, they are SO time consuming!