This flavorful vegetarian pesto orzo salad features balsamic-marinated cherry tomatoes, salty feta, and arugula. It comes together in under 30 minutes plus chill time and is perfect for lunch or as a side salad.
It's no secret that pesto and tomatoes go well together, but add in orzo and a few other fresh ingredients and the result is even more delicious!
This pesto orzo salad is pretty similar to my one pot pesto orzo, but this recipe is served chilled instead of hot. It's perfect for lunch or for a light dinner.
The best part is that you can use homemade pesto or storebought pesto!
- Quick & easy: This orzo salad only requires about 10 minutes of active time. I recommend chilling the orzo for at least half an hour but ideally an hour, and the balsamic-marinated cherry tomatoes are better the longer they are marinated.
- Versatile: While I think this salad is best served chilled, it is also delicious warmed up. Feel free to use white beans in place of chickpeas, or stick to spinach or kale instead of arugula. There are a lot of ways to make this recipe your own!
- Veggie-packed: Summer-fresh cherry tomatoes pair with arugula for a veggie-forward meal. You can easily add in diced cucumber or sauteed zucchini for even more vegetables.
- Orzo: This is a very short pasta grain that looks like a cross between rice and pasta. Of course, you can use any kind of pasta here, but then it wouldn't be an orzo salad!
- Chickpeas: You will need one can of chickpeas, which is about 1 and ½ cups of cooked chickpeas. White beans are another good option.
- Pesto: This recipe would definitely be amazing with my avocado pesto or homemade basil pesto but I usually use store-bought pesto because it makes the recipe truly quick and easy to make. One 6-7 ounce jar will do.
- Cherry tomatoes: Slice the tomatoes in half and drizzle with balsamic vinegar for a pop of acid and flavor. Grape tomatoes also work.
- Feta adds a punch of saltiness. Make this recipe vegan by using vegan feta and vegan pesto.
- Arugula: Just two handfuls of arugula leaves add a gently peppery flavor to the salad.
- Almonds add a pop of crisp texture. Choose sliced almonds, not whole almonds. You do not need to slice the almonds yourself, as you should be able to find bags of sliced almonds in the baking or snack aisle.
Step by step instructions
Like I said, this is a pretty straightforward recipe to make. Most of the time required to make this orzo salad is spent chilling the orzo and cherry tomatoes.
Start by cooking the orzo in well-salted boiling water. Drain it and transfer to a large bowl. Toss with half of the pesto. This allows the orzo to both absorb some of the flavor from the pesto and keep the individual pieces of orzo from sticking to each other.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but ideally 1 hour.
Meanwhile, slice the cherry tomatoes in half. Drizzle with about 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of kosher salt. Toss to combine, then cover and refrigerate while the orzo chills.
After the orzo is chilled, transfer it to a large mixing bowl. Add in the chickpeas, feta, almonds, and arugula. Drain the balsamic vinegar from the cherry tomatoes, or use a slotted spoon to transfer them into the salad.
Use a serving spoon or salad servers to toss the salad together. Enjoy!
Tips and variations
- Meal prep option: You can easily make this salad into a meal prep-friendly salad in a jar just by layering the pesto orzo with the other ingredients in a jar.
- Veggies: If you'd like to add more vegetables into the salad, raw veggies like red bell pepper, cucumber, or broccoli would go well.
- Vegan option: Replace feta with vegan feta, such as Follow Your Heart brand. Most storebought pesto contains Parmesan, so either choose a vegan brand of pesto or make your own homemade vegan pesto like the one that I have in my vegan pesto lasagna.
- Gluten-free option: While I have not seen it at my local grocery store, Delallo does make a gluten-free orzo that can be used to make this recipe gluten-free.
Make in advance: You can assemble the salad up to 24 hours in advance, but I do recommend waiting to add the arugula in until just before serving because it does wilt a little bit after tossing with the pesto. I would only do this if serving to a crowd, otherwise I don't find it a problem if I'm making the recipe just for myself.
Leftovers: Keep leftovers refrigerated in a closed container for 3 to 4 days. Serve chilled.
Freezing: I have not tried freezing this salad but I don't recommend it, as the arugula and cherry tomatoes will likely lose their structure and affect the overall salad texture.
More summer salad ideas
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Pesto Orzo Salad with Chickpeas
- 1 cup dry orzo
- 6 ounces basil pesto see note #1
- 8 ounces cherry tomatoes grape tomatoes also work
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt more to taste
- 3 handfuls arugula
- 15 ounce can chickpeas drained and rinsed
- ½ cup sliced almonds see note #2
- ½ cup crumbled feta
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 medium lemon zested and sliced for serving
- fresh basil for garnish
- Cook the orzo in a pot of well-salted boiling water until al dente. Drain and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Toss with half of the pesto. Cover and transfer to the fridge to chill for 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, slice the cherry tomatoes in half. Transfer to a medium bowl. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with salt. Toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate until the orzo is chilled, about an hour.
- Remove the orzo and tomatoes from the fridge. Stir in the remaining pesto. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the tomatoes to the orzo.
- Stir in the arugula, chickpeas, almonds, feta, and zest from one lemon. Serve garnished with fresh basil, lemon wedges, and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
- Pesto: Jars vary in size but anywhere around 6-7 ounces works. You can also use homemade pesto.
- Sliced almonds are sold already sliced, you do not need to buy whole almonds and slice them yourself.
- Leftovers: Keep leftovers refrigerated in a closed container for 3-4 days. If prepping in advance to serve at a gathering, I recommend adding the arugula in just before serving because it wilts a little as it refrigerates.