Orzo Pasta Salad

Meet the ultimate summer side dish: Orzo Pasta Salad. This bright, fresh and lemony pasta salad works as an easy dish to bring to a potluck or serve at a cookout, but you could also enjoy it as a whole meal because it includes chicken. 

A bowl of lemon orzo pasta with chicken and veggies from above on a marble surface

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Orzo Pasta Salad Recipe 

Potlucks, picnics, cookouts and backyard barbecues are, without a doubt, the best parts of summer. 

But when it’s hot outside, cooking many dishes doesn’t sound so appealing. No one wants warm food at a cookout — other than a juicy burger.

This Orzo Pasta Salad answers this call.

Yes, you’ve got to cook the pasta and some of the veggies that go into this dish, but it takes minimal time and is so wonderfully delicious.

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    After that, you can mix together the ingredients and have a light side dish ready to go. As an added bonus: it has chicken, so you can enjoy it as an easy lunch OR dinner.

    No matter how you serve this Greek orzo salad, it provides plenty of flavor.

    Why I love this recipe:

    This pasta salad recipe is super simple and easy to make.

    You’re going to love it because… 

    • The finished dish is so pretty and tastes fresh, like summertime.
    • It’s so versatile. This is an awesome side salad, but it’s also a meal salad since it has chicken in it. 
    • The vinaigrette is super lemony. (Fair warning for the folks who don’t love lemon, but for those of us who do? YES YES YES.) 

    This would be the perfect side dish for a backyard BBQ, a potluck or a picnic. But it would just as easily work as light meal for a ladies’ lunch or brunch.

    More salad side dish recipes to try: Beef Taco Pasta Salad | No-Mayo Potato Salad | Cucumber Caprese Salad | Strawberry Melon Salad

    What is orzo? 

    Also called risoni, orzo is a cut of pasta that is shaped like long footballs or grains of rice. The name translates to “barley” in Italian because it resembles a grain. 

    Orzo is typically made from semolina flour or white flour, but it can be made of whole grains, as well.

    You can usually find it in a box in the pasta aisle at grocery stores. 

    A bowl of ingredients, including charred tomatoes, chicken, wilted spinach, red onion and feta cheese in a bowl on marble

    What you need to make this recipe:

    The Speckled Palate participates in affiliate programs. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a commission from qualifying purchases. Please refer to my disclosure page for more information about these affiliate programs.

    Let’s talk ingredients!

    In addition to the tools above, you’re going to need some ingredients to make this recipe, too! Chances are, you might already have some of them in your fridge or pantry. Scroll down to the recipe card for the full measurements and instructions.

    Here’s what you’ll need:

    • Orzo pasta — find this in the pasta aisle at your grocery. It looks like little grains of rice, but it’s made of flour. You can substitute any short pasta shape, like orrichiette, ditallini (little circles) or stelline (star pasta). You could even use farro, couscous or quinoa instead, if desired.
    • Extra virgin olive oil — any light-tasting cooking oil, like avocado oil, will work well. 
    • Red onion — you’ll be dicing this, so get a medium-sized onion. You can also use white onion or yellow onion, but red onion brings more color to this salad.
    • Grape tomatoes — cherry tomatoes or diced fresh tomatoes also work well here. 
    • Spinach — fresh spinach like baby spinach is what you are looking for. 
    • Feta cheese — goat cheese, mozzarella balls or cotija cheese would be fine substitutes, but will technically change this from a Greek-inspired dish to something else.
    • Green onion —also known as scallions. You could substitute fresh chives too. 
    • Shredded rotisserie chicken — any chicken will work, too. I used chicken breasts in this recipe, but you could easily use thighs, etc. Grilled chicken would make for a delicious twist. You can cube it or shred it. Either way, make sure the chicken is in bite-size pieces.
    • Parsley — fresh is best. Any fresh herbs will work here, too, if you don’t have parsley in your garden or fridge. Try adding fresh basil or rosemary for a delicious twist. 

    And for the lemon vinaigrette, you will need: 

    • Extra virgin olive oil — use your favorite cooking oil here, but olive oil tastes so fresh.
    • Lemon — you’ll use a whole lemon to get freshly squeezed juice and lemon zest. 
    • Kosher salt — sea salt or any coarse salt also works. 
    • Black pepper — freshly cracked is so flavorful, but use what you have. 

    Customizations and substitutions

    Vegetarian orzo salad: You can leave out the chicken for a vegetarian option. It would also feel more like a “traditional” side dish for a gathering, too. 

    Vegan orzo salad: Skip the cheese (or use a vegan cheese similar to feta) and the chicken. 

    Jazz it up: Feel free to add other Greek or Italian ingredients, like kalamata olives or fresh herbs, like oregano and basil. 

    An Italian version of this pasta salad recipe: Use basil instead of parsley and mozzarella pearls instead of feta. 

    Lemon vinaigrette pours on top of ingredients in a white bowl to make orzo pasta salad

    How to make Orzo Pasta Salad

    Let’s get into this easy pasta salad. 

    First, cook orzo to packaging instructions. (Ours cooked for 9 minutes.) Drain pasta in a colander and place in a large bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil so it doesn’t stick together, and set it aside. 

    Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. 

    Add the red onion to the skillet and cook until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from the skillet and place in the bowl with the orzo.

    Then add the grape tomatoes to the skillet. Turn up the heat to medium-high and cook until the skins of the tomatoes are blistered, about 5-8 minutes. Remove from the skillet and place in the bowl with the orzo and red onion.

    Finally, add the spinach to the skillet and cook until wilted, 1-2 minutes. Remove from the skillet and place in the bowl with the other ingredients.

    Measure the feta, green onion, shredded chicken and parsley into the bowl with the warm orzo pasta. Toss to combine.

    Then, make the simple dressing. Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper in a mason jar or a small bowl. Mix until combined.

    Pour the dressing directly on top of the orzo pasta salad and toss to combine.

    Serve the Greek Orzo Pasta Salad immediately or refrigerate it for later.

    Garnish with plenty of fresh herbs, like additional parsley, before serving. 

    How to store

    You can store this pasta salad in a food-safe, airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. 

    I don’t recommend reheating it — it’s best served right after making it when the orzo is a little warm or cold from the fridge. 

    Close up side view of a white bowl of orzo pasta salad with chicken, garnished with green onions and fresh parsley

    Erin’s Easy Entertaining Tips

    This easy pasta salad recipe would make for easy entertaining because pasta salads are easy to put together for sharing!

    Here’s what I would do if I were making this to share…

    • Make a double batch and serve it in a big serving bowl for a party. 
    • Use a serving spoon for guests so they can serve themselves. 
    • For vegetarians and vegans, set some of the pasta salad mixture aside before adding the cheese and chicken. 
    • Serve it as a light lunch! This would make the ultimate easy-to-enjoy salad for a bridal or baby shower situation. It would also be fun for friends who lunch together.
    Overhead of a bowl of Greek Orzo Pasta Salad on marble, surrounded by tomatoes, chopped parsley, lemon and red onion

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Is orzo pasta Greek or Italian?

    While orzo pasta originates in Italy, it is also common in other Mediterranean cuisines. 

    How long does orzo salad last in fridge?

    Orzo pasta salad with chicken should be stored in the fridge and eaten within three to five days. 

    Quick tips and tricks to making the best Chicken Orzo Salad

    • Follow the directions on your pasta box. Aim for an al dente cook of the pasta so it’s not overly soft and soggy in your pasta salad. 
    • Make this pasta salad ahead of time and store it in the fridge until your party. Add the dressing just before serving. 
    • Use fresh lemon juice in the dressing for the zippiest lemon flavor. 

    More Greek recipes (and Greek-inspired recipes):

    Close up side view of a white bowl of orzo pasta salad with chicken, garnished with green onions and fresh parsley
    Yield: 6 servings

    Orzo Pasta Salad

    Prep Time: 20 minutes
    Cook Time: 15 minutes
    Total Time: 35 minutes

    Meet the ultimate summer side dish: Orzo Pasta Salad. This bright, fresh and lemony pasta salad works as an easy dish to bring to a potluck or serve at a cookout, but you could also enjoy it as a whole meal because it includes chicken. 

    Ingredients

    Pasta Salad

    • 16 oz. orzo pasta
    • 1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • ½ red onion, medium-sized, diced (about 1 ½ cups when diced)
    • ½ cup grape tomatoes
    • 2 ½ cups spinach
    • ¼ cup feta cheese
    • 1 green onion, diced
    • 8 oz. shredded rotisserie chicken
    • Fresh parsley, for garnish

    Lemon Vinaigrette

    • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
    • Zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
    • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
    • ¼ teaspoon black pepper

    Instructions

    1. Cook the orzo to packaging instructions. (Ours cooked for 9 minutes.) Drain in a colander and place in a bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil.
    2. Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
    3. Add the red onion to the skillet and cook until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from the skillet and place in the bowl with the orzo.
    4. Add the grape tomatoes to the skillet. Turn up the heat to medium-high and cook until the skins of the tomatoes are blistered, about 5-8 minutes. Remove from the skillet and place in the bowl with the orzo and red onion.
    5. Add the spinach to the skillet and cook until wilted, 1-2 minutes. Remove from the skillet and place in the bowl with the other ingredients.
    6. Measure the feta, green onion, shredded chicken and parsley to the bowl. Toss to combine.
    7. Make the dressing. Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper in a mason jar. Shake vigorously to combine.
    8. Pour the dressing directly on top of the orzo pasta salad, and toss.
    9. Serve immediately and garnish with additional parsley and chopped green onion.

    Notes

    How to store: You can store this pasta salad in a food-safe, airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

    I do not recommend reheating it — it’s best served right after making it when the orzo is a little warm OR cold, straight from the fridge.

    Please note that the serving size will change if you're serving this as a meal, as opposed to a side dish.

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    Nutrition Information:

    Yield:

    6

    Serving Size:

    1

    Amount Per Serving: Calories: 406Total Fat: 19gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 52mgSodium: 370mgCarbohydrates: 41gFiber: 4gSugar: 3gProtein: 19g

    Nutrition facts are an estimate and not guaranteed to be accurate.

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    About the Author:

    Erin Parker is a Southern gal living in Texas with her husband and two daughters. She started The Speckled Palate to share what she was cooking as a newlywed… and over the years, it’s evolved to capture her love for hosting. Specifically, the EASIEST, lowest key entertaining because everyone deserves to see their people and connect over good food. Learn more about her

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