An easy, flavorful Mediterranean orzo pasta salad recipe with feta cheese, chickpeas and lots of lemon!
Whenever I need an easy dish to bring to a potluck or want a make-ahead lunch during the week, this little toasted orzo salad recipe is usually what I turn to.
Of course if you cooked pasta every night of the week everyone will be happy (especially me).
But at the same time, we’re all trying to add more healthy bang-for-the-buck to the plate. Enter toasted orzo salad!
This salad has a lot going on, with a nice balance of orzo with vegetables, fresh green herbs and creamy feta cheese in a cumin-spiced lemony dressing.
Orzo has a place in a healthy pantry
While it’s technically a type of pasta often used in soups and side dishes, I often treat orzo as if it were a hearty whole grain like farro or brown rice.
In fact, the word “orzo” is the Italian word for barley, a grain often used as a substitute for rice and pasta in parts of northern Italy.
In case you’re wondering, Italian orzo pasta is called risoni.
It makes sense that the rice-shaped pasta is so versatile and easy to like.
I find that toasting it first and mixing it with lots of vegetables makes it ten times more complex and interesting than plain pasta.
This recipe plays up the Greek flavor profile of orzo with ingredients from the Mediterranean pantry:
- Olive oil
- Feta cheese
When asparagus is out of season or not available, you can substitute 2 cups of another vegetable, like sweet peas, snap peas or small broccoli florets.
More healthy one-dish meals:
- Parmesan Polenta with Roasted Vegetables
- Creamy Chicken Cavatelli with Zucchini
- Classic Italian Minestrone Soup
Toasted Orzo Salad with Asparagus, Lemon and Chickpeas
- 3/4 cup (112.5 g) orzo pasta
- Juice and zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Black pepper from a peppermill
- 1/2 pound (225 g) asparagus, woody ends trimmed; slice into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 (425 g) 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
- ¼ cup chopped fresh dill or cilantro, or a combination
- 1/3 cup (50 g) feta cheese, crumbled
- 2 green onions, finely sliced
- 2 Persian cucumbers, chopped
- 2 cups baby arugula
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted *
- Place a dry 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the orzo and toast until golden brown and nutty-smelling, about 10 minutes, tossing the pan frequently. Remove from the heat and cool.
- In a large serving bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, zest, olive oil, cumin, salt, a good 10 grinds of pepper.
- Bring 3 quarts salted water to a boil and cook the orzo until al dente. Add the asparagus during the last 2 or 3 minutes of cooking. Drain in a colander, then immediately run under cold running water for about 30 seconds. Drain well and transfer to the serving bowl.
- Add the chickpeas, dill, feta, green onions, cucumber, arugula and pine nuts to the bowl and gently toss together. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt, lemon or olive oil if needed.
- This salad keeps well for a day or two. Serve at room temperature for the best flavor.
- To toast pine nuts, heat them in a small skillet for about 5 minutes over medium heat until they turn lightly golden. Keep an eye on them, because they can go from toasted to burned very quickly.