A Lemony Orzo Salad
This recipe makes a huge bowl of pasta! This salad can be served hot, cold or at room temperature making it a great dish for parties, potlucks, and picnics, or really – just anytime you want it. There’s no meat, mayo, egg or anything to go bad if it sits out for a few hours.
When I make it for the two of us, we usually get two meals and a couple of lunches. Yes – we can make a meal out of it, it’s so good! Bobby eats the leftovers cold. I prefer them warm or at room temperature so I’ll microwave mine for about a minute. Sometimes we’ll add a little more protein to the salad by sauteing a few Creole seasoned shrimp in some butter and serving on top of the pasta.
This particular recipe calls for preserved lemons, but if you don’t have any [shame on you – just kidding] – you can make a quickie preserved lemon with lemon zest, juice, and salt while you’re cooking up the recipe. Check out the Kitchen Notes on how to do this.
Lemon Orzo Salad Recipe
Recipe Author: MJ of MJ’s Kitchen
Servings: I have no idea!
Prep and Cook Time: 30 to 45 minutes
3 Tbsp. olive oil (I use a little garlic infused olive oil)
12 to 16 ounces of uncooked orzo
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium sweet bell pepper, chopped
1 cup chopped artichoke hearts (optional)*
4 large cloves garlic, chopped (Yes, I love garlic!)
1/2 cup kalamata olive or green olives with pimento, sliced
½ of a preserved lemon, chopped *
1 Tbsp. Preserved lemon juice
1/2 cup Feta cheese, crumbled or ½ cup Romano, grated
3 Tbsp. Pine nuts ((Piñon nuts), toasted *
¼ cup loosely packed fresh basil and/or mint, chopped
Salt and cracked pepper to taste
*See Kitchen Notes
All of the ingredients end up in a large bowl, so go ahead and get out a large serving bowl.
- Cook the orzo until al dente. Once cooked, reserve about 1/2 cup of the water, drain the rest, and pour into the large serving bowl.
- While the orzo is cooking, sauté the onion and bell pepper in the oil over medium-low heat for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook for another 3 minutes. Turn down the heat if the garlic starts to brown.
- Remove from the heat and pour into the bowl with the pasta. Use a rubber spatula to get as much oil from the skillet as possible. Stir to coat the pasta with the oil and to incorporate the vegetables.
- Toast the pine nuts to a light brown over medium heat in a dry skillet, shaking frequently.
- Add the preserved lemon and lemon juice, olives, and nuts. Toss everything together.
- Let the salad cool off for about 10 minutes (you don’t want the cheese to melt). Add the cheese, fresh herbs, and a generous amount of cracked pepper. Incorporate into the salad.
- Taste. Add salt if needed.
- If the pasta seems dry, add some of the reserved pasta water or a little more olive oil, but be careful not to make it too oily.
- Eat it now, eat it later, take it to a party and share with friends.
Quickie Preserved Lemons
You can buy preserved lemons or make them. I make a pint each fall and it lasts all year. However, if I run out before my new batch is ready (which does happen), I make a quickie preserved lemon. It’s not the same as the real thing, but it works in a pinch. Just put the following together the night before.
The Piñon nuts
Yes – Piñon nuts (pine nuts), are quite expensive, but I LOVE THEM so I buy them in large bags from a warehouse store. There is also the fact that some people get a strange reaction from them or just don’t just like them. Therefore, I have tested this pasta for alternatives. The best alternative is pumpkin seed. Chopped almonds also work. Whichever you use, be sure to toast them. Walnuts absolutely did NOT work, and pecans (my favorite of all nuts) are just O.K.
The fresh herbs
Well, you can’t beat fresh basil with pasta, but there are other fresh herbs that work well. I grow my own herbs so I mix and match a lot. Fresh basil, mint, parsley, and thyme all work well. You could use them solo or as a blend. Whatever you have or whatever you like.
Onion and Bell Peppers
If you are making this for a large group, I would recommend using a large onion and large bell pepper just to make a bigger batch. You get plenty of cooked orzo from a 12 ounce bag, so a little extra on the veggies certainly won’t hurt this salad.
Recently I had a request for a salad with A LOT of vegetables. For the occasion, this was the perfect salad, but needed more veggies. So I added a cup of copped artichoke hearts and 1/2 pound of sauteed mushrooms, and eliminated the feta. The feedback was very positive. You could also add lightly cooked broccoli, asparagus, corn, or wilted greens such as spinach or Swiss chard.
Making a meal out of it
As I mentioned earlier, we can make a meal out of this pasta salad. Sometimes we’ll just eat it by itself, but other times, we’ll add a little extra protein. Here are some suggestions for adding more protein (for 2):
Shrimp: Season ½ pound of raw, peeled and deveined shrimp with ½ tsp. Creole seasoning (or any spicy seasoning blend). Sauté in 1 Tbsp. butter for 3 minutes. Pour over two servings of pasta.
Chicken: If you have some leftover chicken, just chop it up and toss into the salad. If you don’t, then slice up an uncooked chicken breast, and prepare it the same way I prepare the shrimp.
Leftover Grilled Steak: Sliced the steak. Heat some olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat, and QUICKLY reheat the steak in the hot oil. Place the steak beside or on top of the salad and top with the oil.
Vegetarian (Egg omelet): Whisk 3 eggs with ¼ cup milk, a little salt and pepper, and some fresh basil (or tarragon or thyme). Add ½ Tbsp. butter to a medium size skillet over medium-low heat. When the foam subsides, add the eggs and cook over medium-low heat until almost set. When the omelet has set enough to flip, flip it and let it finish cooking. Cut the omelet into strips and gentle stir into salad or just lay on top.
O.K. – I’ll stop here, because there’s 101 other variations for this recipe and I could go on and on. Hope you give this salad a try. If you do, please let me know how it turns out.
This Lemony Orzo Pasta Salad has been linked to the following blog hops. Be sure to click on the links for more delicious recipes.
Fat Tuesday Blog Hop, Traditional Tuesdays, The Gallery of Favorites, Katherine Martinelli’s Pasta Hop, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Summer Salad Sundays, Showcase Your Talent Thursday, Mom’s Test Meal Monday, Made With Love Monday .