This creamy vegan orzo salad features broccoli rice and fresh summer veggies plus an irresistible oil-free dressing made with olive brine and lemon. Serve as a side dish, or add chickpeas for a light meal. Makes a great vegan potluck dish!
First, can we talk about this lemony, garlicky, olive brine dressing? It just might get its own post soon, y'all, because somehow these 4 simple ingredients become something entirely different. In fact, the first time I blended it up, when I removed the lid from the blender I froze in my tracks. No kidding, 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 on your vegan orzo salad, which is great, too!
This orzo salad is totally versatile. Pair it with any sort of fresh vinaigrette or Italian dressing you enjoy. Tahini-based dressings would also be great.
Cauliflower rice is awesome, but have you tried broccoli rice yet? It's really easy to make, colorful, nutritious, and so tasty!
You can use a food processor to pulse florets into "rice" or just finely chop them by hand. Then, we 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 creamy, oil-free 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 would be perfect, or maybe even add sautéed onion and your favorite dried or fresh herbs like parsley, dill, chives, or basil.
Options and Substitutions
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 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, opt for pumpkin seeds in the dressing. Otherwise, raw cashews get the job done well. And if you don't need the dressing to be oil-free, a good quality extra virgin olive oil pairs nicely 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).
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 make it the same day.
Just as you would with any other pasta salad, store vegan orzo salad in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
I hope you enjoy this Creamy Orzo Salad with Broccoli Rice! 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 potluck-friendly vegan recipes:
Creamy Orzo Salad With Broccoli Rice
- 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 Or Vegan Queso Blanco for an oil-free option.
- 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.