Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad

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A great addition to your summer menu, this Lemon Orzo Pasta salad is gourmet but simple to make. Featuring orzo, three types of lemon, spiced chickpeas, chewy sundried tomatoes, buttery pine nuts, and a basil gremolata, it has all the best of summer flavors and textures.
Prep Time: 25 mins
Cook Time: 20 mins
Total Time: 45 mins
5 from 62 votes

I’ve been really into light and fresh pasta and grain salads this summer, and this Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad just might be my favorite one yet.

First, it uses orzo, which is a very underrated but very tasty pasta. Two, it features lemons in three different ways: lemon juice, lemon zest, and preserved lemons (optional but delicious and recommended). Three, it practically screams summer! with its fresh lemon and basil flavors. Finally, it’s packed with incredible gourmet flavors and wonderful textures but is quite simple to make.

It’s the kind of pasta salad that will get you excited, impress your summer guests, and keep you coming back for another bowl!

lemon orzo pasta salad with chickpeas in saute pan on green surface

Why you’ll love this Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad

Gourmet flavors but easy. There’s nothing complicated in this recipe but the flavor pairings are exquisite! Delightfully lemony from three types of lemon, herbaceous from a generous amount of a basil gremolata, a buttery crunch from pine nuts, an intense sweet-tart chewiness from sundried tomatoes, silky baby spinach, and warm nutty spiced chickpeas.

Perfect for summer entertaining. The best kinds of dishes to serve your guests are those that are impressive but secretly easy to make. This orzo pasta salad fits the bill – it feels and tastes fancy but is surprisingly easy to make.

Versatile. Serve this orzo warm or at room temperature and/or serve leftovers cold for a more traditional “pasta salad.”

Light but satisfying. Thanks to chickpeas and pine nuts, this dish feels a bit heartier than your standard pasta salad but is still light enough for summer dining. Great for lunch, a light dinner, or as a side dish.

If you’re interested in light but satisfying summer salads that are anything but boring, be sure to check out these recipes too!

  • Grilled Corn Salad: 10 ingredients and less than 30 minutes, it’s packed with summer corn flavor and a little heat.
  • Roasted Beet and Fennel Salad: the tastiest way to enjoy beets and fennel, this gourmet salad also features crispy walnut bread crumbs, lots of fresh herbs, and an easy citrus vinaigrette.
  • Herbed Potato Salad: Just as creamy as classic potato salad but so much better for you and more flavorful!
  • Instant Pot Couscous and Lentil Salad: A dump-and-go Instant Pot recipe featuring French green lentils, pearl couscous, and a zingy vinaigrette with lots of fresh herbs.
lemon orzo pasta salad on a tray on a dark green surface

How to make Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad

Gather your ingredients.

lemon orzo pasta salad - labeled ingredients in bowls

Rinse, drain and thoroughly dry the chickpeas. Heat a tiny bit of oil in a large frying pan and pan-fry the chickpeas. Cook undisturbed for a few minutes before tossing, and continue cooking until blistered in some spots.

Add the oregano, thyme, onion powder, paprika, and salt.

Toss the chickpeas in the spices and cook for 2-4 minutes until nicely golden brown and aromatic.

tossing pan-fried chickpeas in a saute pan

Chop the basil and mix together with lemon zest, 1 clove of grated garlic, and flaky salt.

chopped basil with lemon zest, garlic and salt

Warm the extra virgin olive oil in the large frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the sliced garlic and cook for 4 to 6 minutes until just starting to turn golden.

Add the chopped preserved lemon (if using) and Aleppo pepper (or crushed red pepper). Cook for 1 minute, swirling the pan often.

Add about 1/4 cup of the hot pasta water from the cooked orzo to the pan and whisk to combine. Add in the hot cooked orzo, lemon juice, and sundried tomatoes, tossing to combine. Add more pasta water as needed to bring the sauce together.

Add in the chopped baby spinach and toss until wilted.

Add the spiced chickpeas and toss again.

Finally, add in the basil-lemon zest topping and toasted pine nuts and gently toss. Season to taste with salt or pepper as needed.

lemon orzo pasta salad in saute pan with fresh basil and pine nuts on top

Tips for making this orzo pasta salad

If using homemade preserved lemons, you’ll need a few weeks of advance planning (because preserved lemons take about 3 weeks to ferment). I have a detailed post on how to make preserved lemons and how to use them :) In this recipe, they add a bold lemon flavor and a background note of umami that takes this pasta salad over the top.

Obviously, if you already have some preserved lemons in your fridge, you’re ready to go. You can buy preserved lemons at well-stocked grocery stores (you can try Whole Foods, Ralph’s, and even Walmart), Middle Eastern grocery stores, specialty stores like Sur La Table, or online (affiliate link).

While I love the preserved lemons in this recipe, you can also omit them. See more in the “Substitutes” section below.

When frying the garlic in olive oil, add the garlic once the oil is warm (don’t wait until it’s hot). And be sure to use medium-low heat and stir frequently. You want the garlic just to turn lightly golden before adding the preserved lemon and chili flakes. You do not want the garlic to brown (it can taste bitter).

Be sure to to add the cooked orzo to the sauce while still hot. Dressing the orzo in the lemon-olive oil sauce while still warm helps it to absorb every nugget of flavor!

To toast pine nuts perfectly, heat a dry frying pan over medium heat. Allow the pan to heat up for a few minutes to get hot. Then add the pine nuts and shake the pan frequently until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes.

For the most flavorful results, use sundried tomatoes packed in oil, not dry-packed tomatoes (the latter are not nearly as flavorful and are dryer/tougher).

closeup of lemon orzo pasta salad on a tray with a spoon

Substitutes / Variations

Not a fan of baby spinach? You can substitute thinly shredded kale or chopped baby kale. It will take a little longer to wilt than spinach and won’t have that same silky texture though. I don’t recommend a bitter green like arugula (I tried it, it powered the dish).

While I think basil is fabulous in this orzo pasta salad, it would also be very tasty with half basil and half parsley, or a little bit of fresh dill thrown in.

Want to add more veggies? Here are some ideas, but don’t go too heavy on the raw veggies because they won’t have enough dressing to get coated.

  • Blanched broccoli florets, asparagus, or green beans (keep the florets and/or pieces small since orzo is small)
  • Grilled or roasted zucchini, summer squash, or eggplant
  • Roasted red bell peppers (homemade or jarred).
  • Shredded carrots
  • Finely diced red/yellow/orange bell peppers or cucumbers
  • Thinly shaved red onions

Other variations try try:

closeup of lemon orzo pasta salad on white tray on dark green backdrop

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I make this orzo pasta salad without preserved lemon?

Omit the preserved lemon in step 6 (when frying the garlic). For extra lemon flavor, I recommend adding an additional 1/2 tablespoon of lemon zest when you add the orzo in step 7 or when you add the basil topping in step 8.

Can I make this recipe gluten-free?

If you have access to gluten-free orzo (affiliate link), you can use that! Or, you can try a short-grain gluten-free pasta, such as elbow, orechiette or ditalini, if you can find that.

Can I make this recipe nut-free?

While I am a huge fan of the pine nuts in this recipe, if you’re allergic to nuts, omit them and try toasted sunflower seeds or pepitas instead.

How long does this pasta salad stay good in the fridge?

It should stay good for 3 to 5 days. I prefer to eat it at room temperature (I think the flavors carry better), but it’s also great cold.

If you try this summery Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad and love it, please be sure to rate and review it below!

Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad

5 from 62 votes
A great addition to your summer menu, this Lemon Orzo Pasta salad is gourmet but simple to make. Featuring orzo, three types of lemon, spiced chickpeas, chewy sundried tomatoes, buttery pine nuts, and a basil gremolata, it has all the best of summer flavors and textures.
Prep Time: 25 mins
Cook Time: 20 mins
Total Time: 45 mins
Cuisine: Italian-Inspired, Mediterranean
Diet Vegan
Keyword: orzo, pasta salad, soy-free
Serving size: 4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces (340g) orzo
  • 1 ¼ cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves (20g), chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, 5 cloves thinly sliced and 1 clove grated or crushed through a press
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest*
  • Flaky or coarse sea salt
  • ¼ cup (56 mL) extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped preserved lemon peel (optional; see note below)*
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes)**
  • Kosher salt or sea salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 8 oil-packed sundried tomatoes (48g), chopped
  • 3 cups (60-70g) baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • ¼ cup (32g) pine nuts, toasted***

Spiced Chickpeas

  • 1 (15-ounce/425g) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder

Instructions

  • Make the Spiced Chickpeas. Transfer the chickpeas to a clean dish towel or a layer of paper towels and gently pat dry as much as you can without smushing them.
  • Heat a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat with the 2 teaspoons oil and spread the oil out with a paper towel to evenly distribute it. Once hot, add the chickpeas and spread out in a single layer. Cook undisturbed for 2 to 3 minutes to allow some browning. Toss and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, or until chickpeas are golden brown and blistered in spots.
  • Add the salt, oregano, paprika, thyme, and onion powder to the chickpeas, and toss well to coat the chickpeas. Cook for 2 to 4 minutes to allow flavors to blend, then take off the heat and wipe out the pan.
  • Meanwhile, cook the orzo. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the orzo and salt generously. Cook the orzo until just al dente (don’t cook until soft; it will continue cooking in the sauce). Drain the orzo in a colander fitted over a bowl, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.
  • Make the basil gremolata. In a small bowl, combine the chopped basil, the 1 clove of grated garlic, 1 tablespoon of lemon zest, and several pinches of flaky salt. Set aside.
  • Heat the ¼ cup olive oil in the same frying pan used for the chickpeas over medium-low heat. Once the oil is warm (but not too hot), add the 5 cloves of sliced garlic and cook, swirling the pan or stirring frequently and separating the slices, for 4 to 6 minutes, until the garlic just turns golden (don't wait until it browns). Add the preserved lemon peel and Aleppo pepper or chili flakes and cook for another 1 minute, swirling the pan often. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
  • Add half of the pasta water to the frying pan and whisk to combine. Add in the hot cooked orzo, lemon juice, and sundried tomatoes, tossing to combine (with tongs or a sturdy silicone spatula). Add the remaining pasta water, as needed to bring the sauce together.
  • Add in the spinach and toss gently until wilted. Add in the spiced chickpeas and toss again. Take off the heat. Add the basil gremolata and toasted pine nuts and toss gently. Taste for seasonings, adding lemon juice or salt as needed.

Notes

* If you don’t have access to preserved lemons or didn’t make them, omit the preserved lemon peel. For extra lemon flavor, I recommend adding an additional 1/2 tablespoon of lemon zest when you add the orzo in step 7 or when you add the basil topping in step 8.
** Aleppo pepper is less spicy than crushed red pepper flakes, so if using the latter, use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon, depending on your spice tolerance. 
*** To toast pine nuts, heat a small or medium frying pan over medium heat for a few minutes. Once hot, add the pine nuts and toast golden brown, shaking the pan frequently to prevent burning but not too often so the nuts get some color, about 3 to 4 minutes.

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102 comments on Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad

  1. Ali

    5 stars
    This recipe was AMAZING! I’d been looking forward to trying it and finally having a reason to use the preserved lemons my husband had made, only to find out midway through this recipe that he’d thrown them out. Given that it was still delicious with added lemon zest, I can’t wait to try it with the proper ingredients! Nice job!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for sharing, Ali! We are excited for you to try the pasta salad with preserved lemons next time!

  2. Courtney

    5 stars
    This dish is absolutely delicious! I doubled the sun-dried tomatoes and will probably double the spinach next time. But it’s excellent without any modifications at all. I can’t wait to make it again.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thank you for the awesome review, Courtney! Thrilled to hear you enjoy the pasta salad.

  3. Moni

    5 stars
    Orzo lemon salad was delicious. I did not deviate from recipe this time but next time will experiment w more chickpeas or maybe broc instead if spinach. Textures and flavors of components really go together well. I am really pleased that the effort to locate the ingredients and time resulted in one of my favorite meals ever. IMo, surpasses red lentil curry which I also love. Thank you

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome, Moni. Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

  4. Ann-Sophie

    This salad is so tasty. I prepared it yesterday and it is just sooo good. The recipe is so amazing. Well done! And i love how detailed the blog posts are. Its really helpful if there are comments about replacements or even ideas to change it up a little.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      That’s so great to hear, Ann-Sophie and thank you for the kind words! Next time, would you mind leaving a rating alongside your review? Star ratings are big help to readers who are thinking of making the recipe. Thanks!

  5. Kim Running

    5 stars
    Made this as directed except omitted the preserved lemon as I didn’t have any. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to having the leftovers for lunch tomorrow! Thanks!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome, Kim. Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

  6. Shala

    5 stars
    This recipe is amazing, I’ve been making it at least once a week, it’s that good!
    The flavours work so well together and it’s easy to swap out ingredients if you don’t have them, like the preserved lemon. I added zucchini to it once, which worked really well too.
    Thank you for another flavourful recipe!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thank you for sharing your experience, Shala! Thanks for trying this pasta salad :)

  7. GR Broom

    5 stars
    Another fabulous recipe.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thank you so much! :)

  8. Lisa

    5 stars
    Absolutely delicious! A wonderful combination of flavors and the basil gremolata adds a nice fresh bite. I omitted the preserved lemon and increased the lemon zest, as suggested, and that worked perfectly. I only wish I doubled the recipe overall so I had more to eat as leftovers-obviously I will do that next time!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome, Lisa. Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

  9. Ruth

    5 stars
    I made this salad for my partner and I the other night. This recipe was super simple to make and had so much flavour! I didn’t have preserved lemons so added more lemon zest, and I also squeezed a small amount of lemon juice over the finished pasta salad. My partner isn’t too keen on chickpeas but he did take leftovers for the lunch the next day lol so I’m gonna say it’s a winner.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome, Ruth! Glad we were able to convert a chickpea skeptic ;)

  10. Sandy

    5 stars
    Wonderful flavor for dinner last night and still wonderful cold for lunch today!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      That’s great to hear, Sandy! Thanks for the review!

  11. Tiffany

    5 stars
    This was incredibly delicious with the perfect balance of salt, brightness and different textures, yum! My husband and I loved it so much, so I shared the recipe with my in-laws in Italy. They absolutely loved it and rated this somewhere along 10/10+ with 4 thumbs up lol. Thank you for another great dish as usual! I will have to try to make it with lemon preserves one day soon.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      That is so awesome to hear, Tiffany! Thanks for sharing :)

  12. Deborah Wilson M.D.

    5 stars
    Absolutely delicious and it was good 4 days later.
    The chickpeas were a little soggy by then, but otherwise it was very good.
    Will join the list of go to meals for guests.
    Elegant and tasty with many different flavors and textures.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Glad you enjoyed the orzo pasta salad, Deborah!

  13. Veronica

    5 stars
    I made this recipe leaving out the preserved lemon and subbing dino kale for spinach and it was so delicious! I will definitely be making this again.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Veronica!

  14. Emily

    5 stars
    That was incredible.Tasted like restaurant quality!!!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      So glad to hear that, Emily!

  15. Grace Jimenez

    5 stars
    Absolutely delicious!! And colorful! Thank you for this recipe. :)

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Grace, So glad to hear you loved this recipe!

  16. Aaron

    5 stars
    That was amazing! Thank you for sharing!! 😊

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      So glad you loved it Aaron!

  17. Haley Berk

    5 stars
    OMG this was INCREDIBLE! I was going to make something boring and then I saw Nisha’s cook-along video for this recipe on youtube and decided to try it because I have literally NEVER tried a less than amazing recipe from Nisha. Like ever. This one blew us away! I ask my boyfriend to rate my meals each night on a scale from 1-10 so I can get a feel for what he really likes and most of the time he gives my meal between a 7 and a 9 (he does not give out 10s easily lol) he gave this one a 10 as soon as he tasted it!!!! Will definitely be making those preserved lemons and then make this again! Thank you so much Nisha!!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      That’s so great to hear, Haley! So happy you’re thrilled with this recipe :)

  18. Sravya

    5 stars
    Nisha, this dish is so so delicious!!! I love orzo and definitely don’t use it often enough.
    I made this dish to take to a BBQ tonight but I honestly don’t want to share it! It’s so so yummy!
    Can’t wait to make your preserved lemon recipe so I can make this recipe again with it- I imagine it’ll somehow make it even better!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      So glad you love the recipe, Sravya! You definitely need to try the dish with preserved lemons too, they’re a game changer!

  19. Dolores

    Love love LOVE!!! ❤️ 💕 💗 ❤️ your blogs and YouTube’s. Just watched this one. Looks yummy! I will try it. Just made your banana bread with walnut streusel. But I have an 8 qt instant pot so I put about an extra half cup of water on the bottom. I think this was a mistake. But it’s very good. What do you think? Thank you thank you for the wonderful recipes. Making ceviche tonight

    1. Michelle

      5 stars
      I made this recipe last night and HAD to leave a comment because we loved it so much! The layers of flavors and textures made this dish so perfect. It also felt decadent. We will certainly make this again soon. Thank you, Nisha!

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Thanks for the lovely feedback, Michelle!

  20. Martina

    5 stars
    This pasta salad is absolutely delicious! So rich and complex in flavours!
    I’m gonna serve it tonight as a side during a BBQ (currently making your veggie bbq skewers) and I’m sure everyone will love it… IF my boyfriend stops eating it from the bowl :)
    Thank you Nisha, you are the best vegan blogger out there!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the kind words, Martina! So happy to hear you enjoy the pasta salad :)

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