Rainbow Orzo Salad

Make this fresh, fun orzo salad recipe for your next picnic! With lots of fresh herbs, juicy mango, and crisp veggies, it's summer food at its finest.

Orzo Salad in a bowl

A few weeks ago we spent some time in Chicago visiting my family. In between some pretty indulgent meals (we finally got to the Girl & the Goat!), I did most of the cooking. At each meal, my mom and my sister would ask: “So is this recipe on the site?”

And, um, well, no. They never are… mostly because I find it liberating to cook in someone else’s kitchen with no camera in sight. There are no notes to be taken, and certainly no recipes to follow. I love digging through the fridge to see what’s there and what ingredients could potentially go together. This colorful orzo salad was especially refreshing for the heat wave that happened to be going on. Crunchy cucumbers, red onions, fresh herbs, and sweet mango… summer was made for big juicy salads like this.

So mom, here’s the recipe! Or, a least, a similar version of it…

Orzo salad recipe ingredients

Orzo Salad Recipe Ingredients

I used these key ingredients to make this dish a fun, fresh summer salad:

  • Whole wheat orzo is the base of this salad. If you can’t find whole wheat orzo, regular orzo will work in its place.
  • Chickpeas add protein and hearty texture.
  • Mango makes for sweet, juicy bites.
  • Diced cucumber and red pepper add fresh, crunchy texture.
  • Red onion and garlic fill out the flavor and add extra crunch.
  • Fresh herbs and arugula bring unique summery flavors and add lots and lots of green.
  • Pine nuts finish it with a toasty crunch.
  • Tahini makes the creamy, dairy-free base of the dressing, while lemon juice & sherry vinegar brighten it up. I also add cumin and sweet paprika for a little spice.

Orzo pasta salad ingredients

Orzo Salad Recipe Variations

Like most salads, this one is flexible. The recipe listed is vegan, but I topped it with crumbled feta when I made it for my family. If you have other summer veggies on hand, try adding them. Halved cherry tomatoes or thinly sliced radishes would be great additions. Spinach or soft baby greens could sub in for the arugula, and toasted sliced almonds would be just as good as pine nuts. For a fun twist, roast your chickpeas to add extra crunch. Have fun using what you have on hand to make a salad you love!

Rainbow Orzo Salad on a plate

Orzo Pasta Salad Serving Suggestions

This is a great accompaniment to whatever you’re grilling! It’s the perfect cookout side to serve with veggie burgers, black bean burgers, jackfruit sandwiches, or portobello veggie dogs.

It’s also plenty filling on it’s own – chickpeas and hearty whole wheat orzo make it a complete meal. It would be especially great for picnics and make-ahead lunches. (It’s one of those that actually tastes better the second day).

Red pepper orzo salad recipe on a plate

If you love this orzo salad recipe…

Try making this summery slaw or this pasta salad next! If you have leftover orzo, use it in these stuffed peppers.


Rainbow Orzo Salad
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
This orzo salad is one of my go-to dishes to bring to a picnic. It's even better on the second day, and it's a wonderful combination of the best fresh veggies and herbs summer has to offer.
Author:
Recipe type: Salad, side dish, main dish
Serves: 4 as a side
Ingredients
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 ripe mango, cubed
  • 1 small cucumber, chopped (1½ cups)
  • ½ small red onion, diced (1/3 cup)
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • ½ chopped fresh herbs (mint, basil, and/or cilantro)
  • ½ cup uncooked orzo
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • 1 packed cup arugula
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
for the dressing:
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sherry or white wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt, more to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, combine the red pepper, mango, cucumber, red onion, garlic, chickpeas, herbs, salt, and several grinds of fresh black pepper.
  2. Cook the orzo according to the package directions or until al dente. Drain, gently rinse, toss with a little olive oil oil and set aside to cool to room temp before adding to the salad.
  3. Make the dressing. In a small bowl, stir together the tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, cumin, sweet paprika, salt and pepper. Add a few tablespoons of water until it's a drizzle-able consistency.
  4. Add the orzo, dressing, and arugula to the salad and toss to coat. Season to taste and top with toasted pine nuts.
Notes
Serve a slightly bigger group by doubling the amount of orzo (and make extra dressing). This salad is also delicious with crumbled feta cheese on top.

Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 2 days. It's a great make-ahead salad for lunch the next day.

 

plate: Anthropologie Old Havana Dinner Plate

44 comments

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Rate this recipe (after making it):  

  1. Meghan from ladyordinary.wordpress.com
    07.15.2014

    Such a colorful mix of food – And goodness that plate is gorgeous!

  2. I love orzo in my salads! Great job on this one especially. Your photos are like gold.

  3. I SO agree! Sometimes when I’m cooking I just want to cook, not write things down or worry about finding the right light for pictures 🙂

  4. This salad is gorgeous and light, I love your use of the whole wheat orzo!

  5. Some of my favorite ingredients, all in one dish! I just had orzo for lunch today. The next time I buy it, I will definitely be making this salad! 🙂

  6. This salad is so bright and pretty! I’ve never been to Chicago, but it’s definitely on my list of places to visit and eat!! lol

    • jeanine
      07.15.2014

      Pineapple should sub in nicely – I’d say maybe a use a little less since it’s sweeter – 1/2 cup or so.

  7. It is nice to get a break from cooking for the blog isn’t it?! I had a similar experience during our family reunion last week. And love that you’ve given a Mediterranean spin to mango, as it’s usually paired with Mexican flavors.

    • jeanine
      07.15.2014

      ha yep, but then I got home and rushed to make it again while I still remembered what went in it 🙂

  8. Marian
    07.15.2014

    This salad sounds really good, I think I could replace the mango, with what ever fresh fruit I have at the time of making. I love using fruit from my trees, along with avocado’s, worth trying…

  9. I know the feeling, my friend. All too well. Those days when I get to cook something and I’m not running back and forth between the good light and the stove with a camera hanging off my neck are rare but oh so cherished 😉

    PS. Excellent dish. Super awesome for Summer – I love mango and it’s one of the few really imported ingredients I allow into my kitchen…… that and the bf of course. He’s an import from England (but I won’t hold that against him).

  10. tom from morethanpepper.com
    07.15.2014

    three d delicious!

  11. I love orzo and whole wheat pasta is an awesome way to make a dish just a little healthier. I put mango in my salads too omg it’s the best. This looks so yummy!

  12. This looks so fresh! Love the whole wheat orzo…I’ll have to look for that. My mom and family always ask the same things…are you going to blog this dish you just made? Um no, because that would mean that the light needs to be perfect, I would need to spend 20 minutes photographing it and then it would be COLD!

  13. I just love fruit in my salads! Thank you for the tip about it tasting better the second day. I usually make a bigger batch and then it’s there for lunch and sides for an evening meal.

    • jeanine
      07.16.2014

      I ate it for lunch 2 days in a row after I made it – the cucumbers and peppers really keep things nice and crunchy!

  14. I’ve never loved orzo but this salad could convince me otherwise!

  15. Melissa Z
    07.16.2014

    Just made this with some leftover quinoa to replace the orzo. So delicious! What a wonderful combination of ingredients and flavors.

  16. I have such a love / hate relationship with chickpeas. Sometimes I love them and othertimes I can’t stand the idea of them. I think I’ll give this one a chance but I’ll add the feta cheese. We haven’t gone full-on vegan.

    • jeanine
      07.18.2014

      I love chickpeas pretty much all the time – if you’re not sure about them, maybe add half and try it before adding the rest (or maybe go for a higher orzo-to-chickpea ratio). Just a thought!

  17. Jenny from mpegswissmeeting.ch
    07.18.2014

    Wow, this salad looks delicious! I love mango but I never thought about making a salad of it. Thanks for the great recipe, I’ll definitely give it a try!

    • jeanine
      07.18.2014

      Let me know if you give it a try!

  18. Hi, I don’t suppose you’d mind telling me what site you use to make your recipe cards would you please? I love the look of your site, it’s so fresh and inviting. I’m starting to write the odd recipe on my blog and would love to have a printable recipe like this.

    Thank you 🙂

    • jeanine
      07.21.2014

      Hi Kelly, it’s a ziplist plugin (it’s free), although we customized the design to fit better with the style of our site.

      • Thank you so much. I’ve spent so long searching online for answers but I couldn’t find anything.

  19. Jenna from msladyology.com
    07.22.2014

    What a refreshing summer salad. Made it last night and look forward to sharing it this evening with family and friends while listening to music in the park.

    • jeanine
      07.22.2014

      sounds lovely – so glad you liked it!

      • Jenna from msladyology.com
        07.22.2014

        I already posted the recipe to my instagram account and will be adding it to my blog on Friday. Delish. Thank you!

  20. Mom
    07.28.2014

    Thanks, Jeanine. I can’t wait to make this. Come back soon!

  21. Rachel
    08.05.2014

    What would a good GF sub be for the orzo? Would quinoa hold up?

    • jeanine
      08.06.2014

      you could use quinoa or any small-shaped brown rice pasta

  22. Stacy
    08.17.2014

    Wwill definitely make this again! Thanks. Was the paprika sweet “smoked” or just plain sweet? I bought mine at central market bulk and I thought it was a bit too overpowering, but maybe I should try a different kind next time. Thank you.

    • jeanine
      08.17.2014

      Sweet paprika and smoked paprika are different (smoked has a much stronger flavor, sweet is not actually sweet in flavor but it’s much more mild than smoked paprika). I love both, but I used sweet here so it wouldn’t overpower everything. Next time, if you’re using smoked paprika – just try adding less – you can always add more to taste… (sorry for the confusion!!)

  23. Stacy
    08.17.2014

    Thank you! The recipe was clear, I just was confused. The stuff at cm was called “sweet smoked.” Will find just sweet next time… Thanks again for your response. I love your recipes so so much!

  24. Colleen
    09.28.2014

    So I’ve been reading your blog and making many of your fresh, healthy, and amazingly flavorful recipes for a while now. I just finished a big batch of this salad and I had to finally leave a comment – it is SO good (and beautiful to look at as well)! The dressing is what just knocks it out of the park. I added a dash of cayenne but that is all I changed. I wasn’t even hungry when I was putting it together for lunches in the week ahead but wasn’t able to stop myself from gobbling up a bowl. Thank you for the recipes you share – they’re always a hit, never too complicated, and consistently delicious. Keep it up 🙂

  25. Julie from Lol
    05.18.2015

    So very interesting. You were right this salad taste ok the first day, but knocked my socks off the second day!

  26. Alison
    06.14.2015

    This was super delicious! Definitely going to make again and bring to a summer party! Thanks for sharing.

A food blog with fresh, zesty recipes.
Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.