This Lemon Orzo Salad is made with fresh produce like tomatoes, zucchini and basil, and the lemons make it light and refreshing. It's healthy and a perfect make-ahead lunch recipe or side dish, so what are you waiting for? Dig in!
I love a good pasta salad, and this lemon orzo salad is right up there with my Mediterranean pasta salad in terms of favorites. It's a recipe I created back in 2017 and one that I continue to make to this day. If you're a fan of lemony pasta, I promise you'll love this recipe!
It's made with zucchini, tomato, herbs, and feta cheese and is such an easy dish to prep for summertime get-togethers (along with my grilled chicken thighs and my no bake chocolate pie).
Why this salad is the best
- It's an easy and delicious way to utilize summer produce like tomatoes, zucchini and fresh basil, or honestly whatever fresh herbs you have on hand (think: parsley, chives..).
- It's delicious hot OR cold (yes really), so choose your preference and eat up!
- You can enjoy it fresh or as leftovers the next day and it's just as tasty
- Orzo - Even though it resembles long grain rice, orzo is a part of the pasta family, and I find it to be a nice change of pace from my usual pasta. With that said, you should be able to easily find it in the Italian food aisle at the grocery store.
- Vegetables - This recipe calls for tomatoes, zucchini, and basil, but if you're looking for one or more substitutions, you could try: peas, spinach and/or asparagus. Another note: though I used grape tomatoes (they're my favorite!), ANY kind of tomatoes will work.
- Herbs - Fresh herbs are best, and while I opted to use basil, fresh parsley or even chopped chives would be delicious!
- Olive oil - Make sure you use a high-quality extra-virgin olive oil. The olive oil plus lemon juice are what gives this pasta salad it's flavor!
- Lemon juice - I want to tell you to use freshly squeezed, but I used pre-squeezed lemon juice because it's easier 🙂 If you go this route, make sure to use lemon juice with "lemons" being the only ingredient!
- Feta cheese - I love adding feta cheese to salads (like my favorite chickpea salad), but two notes: 1) it's optional, and 2) you can sub goat cheese if you can't find feta, or even use vegan feta to keep this salad plant-based.
Step 1: Cook the orzo until it's al dente. What does this mean? It means you want to cook it so that it has a bite to it. I like to think of it as cooking the orzo so that it's not too soft, which should only take 5 minutes or so.
Step 2: Prep the lemon vinaigrette. While the orzo cooks, whisk the lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, water, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl, then set it aside.
Step 3: Slice the veggies. I cut the tomatoes in half and the zucchini into fourths so that they're smaller in size, which is ideal for this salad.
Step 4: Add the pasta to the bowl with the lemon juice. Once it's done cooking, drain it as you normally would (reserve ¼ cup pasta water first), then transfer it to the big bowl of lemon juice and let it sit for 10 minutes. This will allow the pasta to soak up the lemon/olive oil/water, which will prevent the pasta from getting too dry, and add a ton of flavor to it as well.
Step 5: Combine everything and eat up! The final step is to add the tomatoes, zucchini, basil, and feta cheese to the bowl, then to stir everything together.
Tips and tricks
- Ingredient substitutions: If you want to use different vegetables, try peas, artichokes or spinach. If you want to use different cheese, try goat cheese or use vegan feta.
- Want to add protein? Try adding grilled chicken or even some chickpeas
- I recommend reserving ¼ cup of the pasta water before draining the pasta in case the cooked orzo becomes too dry (it should't!)
- Storage: Store this pasta in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.
- Make it ahead: This recipe can easily be made ahead of time. Simply cook the pasta and have it sit in the bowl with lemon juice, then add the vegetables and store it in the refrigerator. Before serving, add the cheese.
Should orzo be served hot or cold?
Either one! If I'm making this lemon orzo salad for just myself and my husband, we'll usually eat it hot. However, if I'm making it for a crowd, I'll serve it cold. Both ways are delicious!
How long will this last in the refrigerator?
This pasta will last one week when stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. The good news is that, unlike other pasta recipes, this one won't dry up in the refrigerator. It'll be good as new for a solid week, which is perfect for enjoying leftovers.
Can you freeze orzo?
Personally, I wouldn't. The texture will be off, and it just won't taste as fresh, and the best part of this salad is that it's FRESH. So, do yourself a favor and enjoy it the day of or the following day.
Other recipes you might enjoy:
If you made and loved this recipe, be sure to leave a comment and star rating below!
Lemon Orzo Salad
- 1 ½ cups orzo
- ⅓ cup lemon juice
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- ½ cup water
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup grape tomatoes sliced
- ¾ cup zucchini sliced
- ¼ cup basil chopped
- ¼ cup feta cheese
- Cook pasta as you normally would in a pot of salted water, until it's al dente. Reserve ¼ cup of the pasta water (you probably won't need it, but reserve it just in case), then drain the orzo and set aside.
- While the pasta is cooking, combine lemon juice, olive oil, lemon zest, ½ cup water (not the salted water), salt, and pepper in a bowl and set aside. Then, slice the tomatoes, zucchini and basil and set aside.
- Transfer the cooked orzo to the bowl with the lemon juice and let it set for 10 minutes. In that time, the pasta will soak up the lemon juice, olive oil and water, which is good because we don't want it to be dry. If for some reason it is, pour in the reserved pasta water.
- Then, add in the tomatoes, zucchini, basil, and feta cheese and stir to combine. Enjoy as-is, or add extra feta and/or black pepper on top!
UPDATE NOTE: This recipe was originally published in 2017. It was updated in April 2022 with new photos.
Can’t wait to try this. It’s sitting in my fridge ready to eat. It looks quite wet. Is that normal? I’m assuming it’ll continue to absorb the liquid
Yes, it should absorb the liquid! Not ALL of it, but most of it.
I've already made it twice. Zucchini is abundant in my garden right now, and the bit of texture from not cooking it is perfect. I didn't add a ton of basil the first time, because my basil hadn't taken off yet, so I added some fresh chopped spinach and arugula from the garden, and we loved it. So fresh! Might try it with quinoa instead of orzo, as my daughter is trying to cut her gluten intake.
I'm so happy you're loving this salad!
Glenna Humphries says
Great side with salmon! I did add more veggies and a little hot sauce (of course I add this to most everything, lol) and it was a hit with my dinner guests. I’m also going to try it next time with shredded cheddar instead of feta — just a preference. Overall, a really good recipe because there are so many options.
I'm happy to hear you enjoy this recipe!
Sounds so good.
The orzo 11/2 cups uncooked or cooked?
Cheryl Regalado says
In the orzo salad can you use pesto basil sauce
Something this easy shouldn't taste this good, pure sorcery!
Linda Swoveland says
I can't wait to try this recipe! I love a good pasta salad!😋
I'll make only one change to this recipe. Rather than zucchini I'm going to use mini cucumbers.
My mouth is watering already!
Quick question about this recipe: does the zucchini get left raw?
Yes! But if that weirds you out, you can totally cook it before adding it in 🙂
Zubia khan says
I love easy recipes, especially when they turn out to be something my whole family loves!. This one also looks tasty and i hope me and my whole family will definitely love this. I'll try this for sure and of course lemon orzo salad is a favorite salad of mine
Lindsay | With Salt and Pepper says
I love me some orzo pasta!! Loving all the flavors in here and how bright and colorful it is 🙂
Thanks so much Lindsay!
Sarah @ Making Thyme for Health says
Haha! I've totally been there- searching endlessly for something I saw. The struggle is real. But 45 mins isn't that bad and I'm sure it's a beautiful baking pan, lol!
I love anything with lemon and orzo so this looks amazing to me. Field Roast makes a great meatless Italian sausage that I bet would work perfectly in this!
Haha! It IS a beautiful pan 🙂 And yessss that would be so good too!
Kelly @ Kelly Runs For Food says
I love meals like this because they make for great leftover lunches the next day! I'm terrible about packing lunches lately, so it's on my list of things to work on. This looks so good!
They really do make the best leftovers 🙂
This looks amazing! I LOVE everything in this! Definitely making this soon 🙂
Thanks Amanda, let me know if you do!