This orzo pasta salad with broccoli, bell pepper, red onion, and chickpeas is a great summer side dish. It’s tossed in a lemony mustard vinaigrette making it a fresh and light summer side dish for grilled steak, chicken, or seafood. Make it ahead to let all the flavors marry together and serve it cold or at room temperature.
I first shared this orzo pasta salad back in May of 2016 and since then it’s been one of my favorite summer side dishes and a favorite among readers, too. But, as is the case with some of the older recipes on this site, it was due for a little upgrade.
The recipe is the same except for a few tweaks that have evolved since the first time I shared it so last week I made a batch and snapped some new photos. Memorial Day and the official start of summer is just around the corner so the timing couldn’t have been better.
Orzo Pasta Salad
The original inspiration for this salad came from a recipe in the book, Lose Weight by Eating (which is my kind of diet, by the way). It was a Greek-style pasta salad with cucumber, tomatoes, olives and feta cheese and once I made it I couldn’t stop thinking about pasta salads, so soon after I made the one I’m sharing here. This orzo pasta salad is totally different from the inspiration but serves a similar purpose: it’s loaded with broccoli, bell pepper, and red onion and dressed in a simple mustard-lemon dressing that’s great for summer potlucks, BBQs, and other warm-weather get-togethers.
For the broccoli, I like to blanch the florets first before adding them to the salad. Blanching is just a fancy way of saying “boiling” for a few minutes, in this case, two minutes, and then “shocking” it in ice water to stop the cooking process. Blanching the broccoli partially cooks it so it’s a bit more tender. It also intensifies it’s color so when you add the broccoli to the salad it’s speckled with bright green bits of broccoli. I like to blanch the broccoli first and then use the same water to boil the orzo.
The salad also has sweet red bell pepper and red onion. Because the orzo pasta is small, I like to cut the veggies into small pieces so everything is of similar size. Once the broccoli is blanched and cooled, I like to finely chop it before adding it to the salad.
Orzo is a type of pasta that looks like rice. It’s small in shape and I like using it in salads like this one and also in soups like my Pesto Orzo Chicken Soup.
After you’ve blanched the broccoli, you can use the same water to boil the pasta. Orzo typically takes about 10 minutes so while it boils you can prepare the dressing.
The only thing I’ve adjusted since the first time I made this is the dressing. I’ve heard from some readers that they love the dressing as it was, but after a few readers commented that they increased the amount of mustard I found that I preferred with a bit more mustard, too. So for the dressing, you will need:
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 of cup olive oil
The dressing is a simple whisking operation. If you taste it on it’s own it’s pretty tangy, but once its combined with all of the salad ingredients it mellows a bit. If you’ve made this salad before and prefer the less-mustardy version I’ve included the original amounts in the recipe card notes.
Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)
The last ingredient are canned chickpeas which I drain and rinse before tossing in the salad. They make the salad a bit more substantial and are delicious with the dressing and veggies.
I recommend making this salad a day in advance to give the flavors a chance to fully develop and marry together. It’s a salad that’s great for a buffet table because it’s delicious cold or at room temperature and goes with all of your favorite summer main dishes like steak, burgers, and grilled chicken.
More Summer Salad Recipes
Steak Taco Salad | This fast and fresh steak taco salad for two has tender pan-seared sirloin, creamy diced avocado, black beans, pepper jack cheese and a super simple 3-ingredient salsa verde dressing.
BLT Pasta Salad |
This BLT pasta salad is always a favorite at summer get-togethers or game-day parties. The pasta tossed in a cool and creamy dressing with plenty of crispy bacon, fresh tomatoes, and chopped spinach. A GGG reader says, “I made this last night as a side for pulled pork sandwiches to feed a group of people ranging from my 86 year old dad who has not had much of an appetite lately down to 4 teenage boys. Everyone LOVED it and couldn’t stop raving.”
Tortellini Pasta Salad with Roasted Broccoli | This tortellini pasta salad with roasted bacon broccoli, fresh cherry tomatoes, and a lemon dressing is a delicious main dish or side dish for summer.
This orzo pasta salad is light and summery and a great side dish for BBQs and potlucks because it’s delicious served cold or at room temperature. It’s is full of fresh broccoli, red bell pepper, red onion, and chickpeas and is dressed with a lemony Dijon vinaigrette. I recommend making the salad at least a few hours in advance so the flavors can develop.
For the Dressing
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (see note)
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 cup olive oil
For the Salad
- 3 cups broccoli florets
- 1 cup orzo
- 1 red bell pepper, finely diced
- 1 cup finely chopped red onion
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1 (16-ounce can) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- Juice of 1/2 a lemon
- Make the Dressing: In a small bowl, combine the mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Add the olive oil and whisk until combined. Place ice cubes and water in a medium-sized bowl.
- Blanch the Broccoli: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the broccoli florets and boil them for 2 minutes. Using a large slotted spoon, scoop them out of the water and submerge them in the bowl with the ice and water to stop them cooking. Drain them and set them aside.
- Boil the Orzo: In the same pot that you used to boil the broccoli, boil the orzo. There’s no need to change the water, just be sure to bring it back to a rolling boil before adding the pasta. I like to season the water with a tablespoon of salt, but this is optional. Cook the orzo according to package directions. While the orzo is boiling, chop the cooled broccoli florets into small pieces.
- Assemble the Salad: Drain the orzo and transfer it to a large bowl. Add the broccoli, bell pepper, red onion, chopped parsley, chickpeas, and lemon juice. Pour the dressing over the top and toss until well combined. Serve the salad chilled or at room temperature.
- I first shared this recipe in 2016 and I have since updated the amount of mustard. If you liked the original version, reduce the amount of mustard to 1 teaspoon. This updated version has 1 tablespoon which gives the salad a bit more tanginess.
- Category: Salads
- Method: Stove Top
- Cuisine: American
- Serving Size: 1/6 of recipe
- Calories: 283
- Sugar: 6.6g
- Fat: 11.2g
- Carbohydrates: 38.6g
- Fiber: 7g
- Protein: 9.4g
Keywords: orzo pasta salad, broccoli pasta salad