This refreshing and colorful lemon orzo salad recipe is bursting with flavor. Orzo pasta salad is simply one of my favorite summer side dish recipes. The orzo soaks up the flavors of the lemon dressing making each bite delectable. This versatile side is loaded with fresh asparagus and fresh herbs; tossed with roasted peppers and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and toasted almonds. Are you drooling yet?
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This refreshing Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad is great as an accompaniment to any meal or amazing on its own as the main dish. It is a great option for a quick weeknight dinner or take it along for a picnic or potluck. It travels well and is a crowd-pleaser.
📖Why This Recipe Works
One of the best things about orzo is that it absorbs the flavors from the dressing. Making this recipe ahead of time only makes it better. While the salad rests in the fridge the flavors will mingle together and enhance each other.
Crunchy bright asparagus cut into bite-size pieces and roasted red peppers add color. Parmesan cheese adds just the right amount of saltiness to complement the tartness of the lemon dressing, while toasted almonds give the salad additional texture and a nice crunch.
A treat for the eyes and not just the tastebuds with bright, vibrant colors.
Orzo is a versatile rice-shaped pasta that is great to eat warm, cold, or at room temperature. It is available as regular (wheat-based) or gluten-free. See our review of gluten-free orzo pasta brands and gluten-free orzo substitutes.
- Asparagus - Asparagus adds some green to this salad not to mention some vitamins and minerals too. Blanching renders them just the right texture for this salad. I used purple asparagus which turns green when cooked. You can substitute blanched green beans.
- Roasted Red Peppers - Roasted red peppers are available jarred and usually found in the condiment section of the grocery store. They are super easy to make at home, just follow our instructions on how to roast peppers at home using fresh red bell pepper.
- Parmesan Cheese -Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano will also work. Feta can be used as a vegetarian option but watch the salt in the dressing so as not to overdo it.
- Fresh Basil -You could also try fresh oregano, parsley, or chives.
- Almonds - slivered almonds are best but chopped almonds or pine nuts will also work.
- Lemon Juice - Fresh lemon juice is best, but substitute bottled if you have run out of lemons.
- Shallots - shallots add a delicate and slightly sweet onion-like flavor.
- Olive Oil - extra virgin olive oil is the best option for this recipe.
- Sugar - A touch of granulated sugar takes the edge off the tartness of the lemons. A teaspoon of honey also works well.
- Salt & Freshly Ground Black Pepper
See the recipe card for exact quantities.
⏲️How to Make Lemon Orzo Salad
This recipe is relatively quick and easy. Perfect for the beginning at-home chef. This recipe is gluten-free if you substitute gluten-free orzo or rice.
Step 1- Cook the Orzo
In a saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to boil with a generous pinch of salt. Stir in orzo. Stir occasionally and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain orzo and rinse with cool water. Place in a large bowl. Drizzle a touch of olive oil over the orzo so it doesn’t stick together.
For extra flavor cook the orzo in chicken stock rather than water.
Step 2- Blanch the Asparagus
Blanching is the process of cooking something in boiling water for a few minutes and then plunging it to stop the cooking process. While the orzo water is boiling bring another pan of water to boil and make an ice bath by placing two cups of ice in a mixing bowl and filling it with water.
Add the asparagus pieces to the boiling water, cooking for 2 minutes. Drain and immediately place the asparagus into a bowl full of ice water to cool and stop the cooking process. Drain well and allow to dry then add to the bowl with the orzo.
Step 3- Mix
In a small food processor or blender, puree Lemon Vinaigrette the ingredients until smooth. Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed.
Add the lemon dressing, chopped roasted red peppers, parmesan, and basil to the orzo. Toss to combine.
Step 4- Garnish
Place almonds in a small saute pan and dry toast over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Watch the pan carefully so the almonds don’t burn. They should be a light brown color and have a nutty scent as they release their oils.
Sprinkle over the salad and garnish with extra lemon wedges and more fresh herbs.
🥗What to Serve with Orzo Pasta Salad
This lemon orzo recipe is the perfect companion for our baked mahi mahi, grilled BBQ chicken thighs, or our cast iron bavette steak with balsamic. If you want to pair another side dish with the orzo salad, try our parmesan roasted zucchini and summer squash or our cherry tomato salad with balsamic.
👩🏻🍳 Expert Tips
- Rinse the orzo right after cooking it to prevent sticking.
- Keep the water from the blanched asparagus and use it to cook the pasta.
- Roast a bunch of nuts at one time and keep them on hand in the fridge so they are ready to be sprinkled on soups, in stews, or on top of yogurt.
- Use a food processor, a mini is fine, to mince the shallots
- Sliced sun-dried tomatoes will work well in lieu of roasted red peppers.
- Quinoa instead of orzo increases the amount of protein, a great idea if you are making the salad the main meal.
- Or add grilled chicken or steak for a quick summer dinner.
- Olives will add some saltiness if you don’t want to use cheese and keep the recipe dairy-free.
- Use a ¼ cup of basil pesto to make a lemon pesto salad.
This easy lemon orzo salad recipe will keep for 3 to 4 days when stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
More Easy Side Dishes
💬Frequently Asked Questions
No, traditional orzo is not gluten-free. Orzo pasta is made with wheat, traditionally semolina flour made from durum wheat flour. There are several manufacturers like Jovial Foods and Delallo that make gluten-free orzo.
Orzo should not be frozen as the texture will be off when thawed out.
Small shaped pasta like couscous and grains like farro or barley are good substitutions, though all of these options contain gluten.
Gluten-free options would include rice, cauliflower rice, gluten-free orzo, or a small-shaped gluten-free pasta. Quinoa is also a gluten-free substitute for orzo.
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Lemon Orzo Salad
- 1 cup uncooked orzo regular or gluten-free
- 1 pound asparagus cut into 1 inch pieces
- ½ cup roasted red peppers, drained chopped
- ½ cup parmesan cheese shaved
- ¼ cup fresh basil chopped
- ¼ cup slivered almonds
- In a medium sauce pan, bring 4 cups of water to boil with a generous pinch of salt. Stir in orzo. Cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain orzo, rinse will cool water and drain. Place in a large bowl.1 cup uncooked orzo
- Blanch the asparagus pieces in boiling water for 2 minutes. Move the asparagus into a bowl full of ice water to cool. Drain and allow to dry and add to the bowl with the orzo.1 pound asparagus
- Add the roasted red peppers, parmesan, and basil to the orzo. Drizzle over the lemon dressing and gently toss to coat. Add additional salt and pepper as needed.½ cup roasted red peppers, drained, ½ cup parmesan cheese, ¼ cup fresh basil
- Add almonds to a small saute pan over medium heat. Dry toast for 3 to 5 minutes. Watch the pan carefully to ensure the almonds don't burn. Sprinkle on top of the salad before serving.¼ cup slivered almonds
- In a small food processor or blender puree the ingredients until smooth.3 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, ¼ cup olive oil, 2 tablespoon shallots
- Pine nuts can be substituted for slivered almonds.
- Feta cheese can be substituted for parmesan cheese to make this recipe vegetarian.