This vegan orzo salad is lemony, fresh, full of nutritious veggies, and especially nice for spring and summer gatherings. Made with broccoli, cucumber, tomatoes, and a creamy dressing made with olive brine. It's great for potlucks and as a side dish, or add cooked chickpeas to turn it into a light meal. Oil-free.
This recipe was originally published in June 2020 and has been updated for content.
Veggie-Filled Vegan Orzo Salad
First, let's talk about this lemony, garlicky, olive brine dressing. It just might get its own post soon because somehow these 4 simple ingredients combine to become something magical.
In fact, the first time I blended it up, when I removed the lid from the blender I literally froze in my tracks. It somehow smelled like bacon!
Weird, right? I can't explain it, but something interesting happens with that red wine vinegar-based olive brine. Now, if you're not a fan of kalamata olives you'll probably want to use a different dressing for your vegan orzo salad, which you can definitely do.
If you need some dressing inspiration, check out these 10 oil-free salad dressing recipes.
In addition to the creamy olive dressing, the broccoli rice really makes this orzo salad different, fun, and nutritious.
What is broccoli rice?
You've heard of cauliflower rice, but have you tried broccoli rice? Tap the link to see a full recipe for deliciously light, seasoned broccoli rice that you'll want to eat by the bowlful!
It's really easy to make, colorful, nutritious, and so easy to blend into a wide variety of dishes, like this vegan orzo salad.
You can use a food processor to pulse florets into "rice" or just finely chop them by hand. Then, briefly sauté the broccoli in a pan (in this case, it's easiest to use the pasta pot while the cooked orzo drains in a colander).
The broccoli rice will turn a gorgeous, bright green, lose some of its natural sulfuric aroma, and still retain its crunch.
Then, for use in this orzo salad, we'll let the broccoli rice cool while we make the dressing.
Aside from this recipe, if you want to serve broccoli rice as a side dish by itself, it will need more seasoning.
A bit of lemon zest and juice plus crushed red pepper flakes are perfect, or maybe even add sautéed onion and your favorite dried or fresh herbs like parsley, dill, chives, or basil.
In addition to the riced broccoli, you'll need the following:
- dry orzo
- cucumber - English cucumber is nice because of its thinner skin, which you don't need to peel.
- tomatoes - I used grape tomatoes; other small tomatoes or chopped large tomatoes are great, too.
- olives - look for pitted kalamata olives; the brine from the jar is used in the dressing.
- colorful bell pepper
- vegan feta - either store-bought or my homemade feta
- salt and pepper
And for the creamy olive dressing you'll need:
- kalamata olive brine - from the jar of olives.
- lemon juice - fresh for the best flavor
- garlic - preferably fresh or garlic powder
- raw pumpkin seeds or cashews - this is the creamy element of the dressing
How To Do It
Preparing this orzo salad is super easy and essentially breaks down into 4 steps:
- Cook the orzo in salted water according to package directions. Then drain and rinse with cool water.
- While the pasta is cooking, prepare the broccoli rice. Pulse florets in a food processor until "riced." While the pasta is draining in a colander, use the empty pasta pot to briefly heat the broccoli rice. Season with salt. Set aside to cool.
- Blend the dressing.
- Finally, assemble the salad by stirring together the orzo, broccoli, vegetables and dressing.
In one of my test batches I included red pepper and chickpeas, which turned this orzo salad into a tasty, light, one-bowl meal.
In the final batch you see in the photos I decided to skip the red pepper only because I really wanted to taste the dressing. Any veggies, herbs, or beans that you feel will complement the lemon-olive flavor of the dressing will work just fine here!
And of course, you can also take the idea of orzo + broccoli rice but switch up the flavors altogether with different dressing, spices, and additions.
For a nut-free recipe, go with for pumpkin seeds in the dressing. Otherwise, raw cashews get the job done nicely.
And if you don't need the dressing to be oil-free, a good quality extra virgin olive oil pairs well with the lemon juice and olive brine, too.
Whole-wheat orzo is a delicious option for this recipe, but sadly I couldn't find any at the store (the pasta section is still pretty picked over these days).
For a gluten-free pasta salad replace the orzo with your favorite small gluten-free pasta.
Serving and Storage
Because of the natural water content of cucumbers, this dish is best consumed within 1 to 2 days. If serving for a party or potluck, it's best to assemble orzo salad the same day.
Vegan orzo salad is amazing with a bit of vegan feta crumbled on top and extra black pepper.
As you would with any other pasta salad, store vegan orzo salad in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
I hope you enjoy this healthy Vegan Orzo Salad! If you give it a try I would love for you to drop a comment below to let us know about any tweaks you make or tasty pairings you discover.
More Vegan Potluck Recipes:
- Italian Green Bean Salad
- Mediterranean Cucumber Salad
- Pimento Macaroni Salad
- Vegan Pimento Cheese
- Vegan Tuna Salad
- Summer Cantaloupe Salad
- Vegan Crockpot Lasagna
- The BEST Vegan Mac and Cheese
Vegan Orzo Salad With Lemon-Olive Dressing
- 1 cup uncooked dry orzo or other small pasta, GF if needed - This is a little less than half of a standard 16 oz. package.
- 10 ounces broccoli, cut into small florets
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ½ cup kalamata olive brine - See Notes.
- ⅓ cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 large lemons)
- 1 clove garlic or ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ⅓ cup raw pumpkin seeds or ½ cup raw cashews - If you include oil in your diet, feel free to sub extra virgin olive oil.
- 1 medium English/hot house cucumber, chopped
- 6 ounces grape tomatoes (about 1.5 cups), halved
- ½ to ⅔ cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
- 1 small red, yellow, or orange pepper, chopped, optional
- freshly cracked black pepper
- fresh basil or parsley, optional
- vegan feta cheese, optional
- Cook orzo in salted water according to package directions, just until al dente. Do not overcook. Drain in a colander, toss and rinse with cold water until cool.
- Place broccoli florets in a food processor, and pulse until uniformly broken down into small, rice-size pieces. If any larger pieces remain, dump everything into a bowl, and put the large pieces back in the food processor. Pulse again.
- Pre-heat the now empty pasta pot over medium heat. Add broccoli rice to pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, until bright green, 3 to 4 minutes. The broccoli will become fragrant and smell slightly nutty or sesame-like. Season with sea salt. Remove from heat and let cool.
- To make the dressing, in a blender combine ½ cup olive brine, ⅓ cup lemon juice, garlic, and pumpkin seeds (or cashews). Blend on high until smooth.
- In the pasta pot or a very large mixing bowl, combine the orzo, broccoli rice, and about ⅔ of the dressing. Stir to combine. Fold in the cucumber, tomatoes, olives, and red pepper, if using. Taste, and add plenty of freshly cracked black pepper, if desired, as well as more dressing. Garnish with thinly sliced basil or chopped parsley and vegan feta, if using.
If making the lemon-olive brine dressing included in the recipe, for similar results look for jarred olives with the same ingredients: kalamata olives, water, red wine vinegar, sea salt. Storage: Store orzo pasta salad in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Because of the high water content of cucumber, it's best to consume the salad within 1 to 2 days.
Estimated Nutrition (per serving)
Nutrition information is an estimate and will vary depending on the exact amounts and specific products and ingredients used. We calculate this information using the online calculator cronometer.com.