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Lemon Orzo Salad With Grilled Vegetables

Lemon orzo salad with grilled vegetables is a beautiful make-ahead, nutritious, under-30-minute side or main dish. Light, fresh, summery and totally customizable.

I’ve been making this orzo salad for years. It’s one of my go-to vegetarian recipes for BBQ’s and casual dinner parties. The flavors are delish.

lemon orzo salad with grilled veggies in white bowl.

It’s best to use the recipe as a guide, varying the vegetables and seasonings as you like. Just keep tasting and adjusting. You won’t be disappointed.

I like to use a grill basket to grill the vegetables, but if you don’t have one you can grill larger pieces of vegetables directly on the grill, then cut them into smaller pieces. Or use aluminum foil with holes punches through it as a makeshift grill basket.

If you don’t have or want to use a grill, roast the vegetables in the oven on a large baking sheet instead or sauté them in a skillet or a grill pan on the stove. 

The dressing is a simple vinaigrette with a secret ingredient – a squeeze of BBQ sauce (optional but recommended).

What to expect

  1. A tasty, colorful vegetable orzo salad – two sides in one.
  2. A nutritious vegetarian side dish packed with vegetables. To boost nutrition even more and lower the carbs, use more veggies and less orzo.
  3. Make ahead and adaptable to what you have on hand.
  4. Great for picnics, summer cookouts and potlucks.

Ingredients – tailored to your taste

diced vegetables, orzo, lemon, catalina dressing, herbs, vinaigrette in measuring cup.

Orzo: Orzo is a tiny type of pasta that looks like a large grain of rice. You can use regular or whole wheat orzo if you prefer.

  • Orzo substitution: I think orzo is best for this dish, but if you can’t find any, buy another small pasta like baby penne, farfalle or mini bow ties. You can also substitute quinoa if you like.

Vegetables: Use whatever fresh vegetables you prefer. My favorites are eggplant, red bell peppers, zucchini, onions and mushrooms.

  • Other grilled veggies: Asparagus tips, brussels sprouts and green beans grill well. You can also grill corn and slice off the kernels into the salad for crunch.

Herbs and seasonings: Fresh herbs are best for this recipe. Fresh basil, thyme oregano, chives, and dried Italian seasoning are all good choices.

  • Variations: if you don’t have any, use about 1/3 of the amount of dried herbs. If you like heat, add red pepper flakes or sriracha. When grilling the veggies, I add a bit of Catalina dressing for extra flavor, but olive oil is fine too.

Add-ins (optional):

  • Try adding grilled chicken, tofu or meat to the dish to make it a full meal.
  • Add fresh diced ripe mango or peach cubes – so good!
  • Add diced fresh tomatoes
  • For an Italian or Mediterranean profile, try adding sundried tomatoes, kalamata olives and feta cheese or creamy goat cheese.

Step-by-step instructions

diced veggies in grill basket on grill.
Toss diced vegetables with Catalina or French dressing (or oil) and grill them in a grill basket.
cooked orzo draining in sieve.
While veggies are grilling, cook the orzo, drain and set aside.
cooked orzo, grilled veggies, herbs, lemon zest in bowl with vinaigrette pouring from measuring cup.
Add the cooked orzo and the rest of the ingredients to a large bowl. Pour on most (not all) vinaigrette). Toss to combine.
lemon orzo salad with grilled veggies in white bowl.
Taste and adjust seasonings. And serve warm or at room temperature.

Flavor Tip

I find 4 things really boost the flavors in this lemon orzo salad:

  1. lemon zest
  2. fresh herbs
  3. a tablespoon or two of BBQ sauce (or Catalina or French dressing)
  4. grilling (charring) the veggies

Shortcut

Buy grilled or roasted vegetables at the deli counter. Then just cut them into smaller pieces.

Make Ahead

The entire orzo pasta salad recipe can be made a day or two ahead and kept in an airtight container (or covered) in the fridge for up to 3-4 days. Bring it to room temperature or warm it for a couple of minutes in the microwave before serving.

It tastes great warm or at room temperature. Or straight out of the container in the fridge the next day 🙂

Recipe FAQs

What should I look for when buying a grill basket?

Choose a sturdy heavier grill basket that will stand up to high heat and not buckle. I prefer a nonstick finish for easier cleanup, but many stainless steel grill baskets will go in the dishwasher.

Is orzo gluten free?

No, orzo is not gluten-free as it is made from wheat flour, which has gluten. However, there are some gluten-free versions made from alternative grains like rice or corn that you can find in some specialty stores.

What to serve with orzo pasta salad

Here are some of my favorite main dishes to pair with this lemon orzo pasta salad: cedar plank chicken, grilled flank steak, sous vide tri-tip or dhicken burgers with mango-avocado salsa or spicy honey-lime chicken.

The orzo salad is also great as part of a buffet with other salads such as broccoli-cauliflower salad with avocado dressing and roasted vegetable salad with quinoa.

Or how about a summer meal on its own with a cold soup like gazpacho or sweet corn soup with herbs and buttermilk.

lemon orzo salad with grilled veggies in white bowl.

More orzo recipes

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lemon orzo salad with grilled veggies in white bowl.
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Lemon Orzo Salad With Grilled Vegetables

Lemon orzo salad with grilled vegetables is a beautiful make-ahead, nutritious, under-30-minute side dish. Light, fresh, summery and totally customizable.
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time30 minutes
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Diet: Vegan, Vegetarian
Servings: 6

Equipment

  • Grill basket if you have one, Note 2

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cup dry orzo pasta (or other small pasta)

For grilling vegetables, Note 1

  • 2 peppers, any color, diced,
  • 1 small eggplant, cubed
  • 1 sweet or red onion, diced about 2 cups
  • 2 tablespoons Catalina/French dressing (or just olive oil if preferred)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper, each, to sprinkle

Vinaigrette

  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon each, salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon bottled BBQ sauce (or more to taste) optional but recommended

Additional herbs and flavors

  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (e.g. chives, parsley oregeno, dill, basil or thyme) (or 4 teaspoons dried herbs)
  • zest of half a lemon (or more to taste)
  • kosher salt and black pepper to taste about 1/2 teaspoon each

Instructions

  • HEAT GRILL to medium-high heat (450F/232C).
  • GRILL VEGETABLES: Spray grill basket with oil (see Note 2 for alternatives to grill basket). Add vegetables. Toss with Catalina/French dressing (or olive oil), sprinkle on salt and pepper. Place basket on grill. Grill vegetables for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally until slightly charred and tender.
  • MAKE ORZO: While vegetables are grilling, cook orzo pasta according to package directions to al dente or level of firmness you like. Drain and set aside.
  • MAKE VINAIGRETTE DRESSING: Whisk the first 4 vinaigrette ingredients in a small measuring cup.
  • ASSEMBLE ORZO SALAD:  In a large mixing bowl or serving bowl, combine diced cooked vegetables, herbs, lemon zest and orzo with about 3/4 of the vinaigrette. Taste, then add more lemon juice or vinaigrette if needed, adjusting seasonings and/or BBQ sauce to your taste. If you can, make this dish a few hours or a day ahead to let the flavors blend. Serve at room temperature or warm it in the microwave for a couple of minutes before serving.

Recipe Notes

  1. Vegetable options: I use about 6-7 cups of diced vegetables. Use what you like. Good options are peppers, onions, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, snap peas.
  2. If you don’t have a grill basket , here are 4 alternatives: 
    1. Cut veggies into larger pieces, season and spray with oil. Grill on both sides until tender. Dice. 
    2. Use a makeshift grill basket with heavy aluminum foil poked with holes. Spray the foil to avoid sticking. 
    3. Roast vegetables on a large baking sheet in a 425F/218C oven for 20-25 minutes. 
    4. Saute veggies in a bit of oil in a skillet until tender.  
  3. Variations for orzo pasta salad
      • Try adding grilled chicken, tofu or meat to the dish to make it a full meal.
      • Add fresh diced ripe mango or peach cubes – so good!
      • For an Italian or Mediterranean profile, try adding sundried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, olives and/or feta cheese or goat cheese.
      • For some heat, add red pepper flakes or sriracha. 
    •  
    •  
  4. Make Ahead: The entire orzo pasta salad recipe can be made a day or two ahead and kept in an airtight container (or covered) in the fridge for up to 3-4 days. Bring it to room temperature or warm it for a couple of minutes in the microwave before serving. It tastes great warm or at room temperature. 
 
Nutrition values are estimates. 

Nutrition

Calories: 281kcal | Carbohydrates: 40g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 0.04g | Sodium: 500mg | Potassium: 394mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 1478IU | Vitamin C: 59mg | Calcium: 28mg | Iron: 1mg
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  1. This recipe and your website look awesome! Congrats on the launch. I’m looking forward to seeing yummy new recipes and restaurant reviews. I just took a peak at your chicken pot pie… I tried one last week but my crust failed a little. Hopefully a retake next week. Then we can exchange recipes.