Summer is grillin’ time in North America, and vegetarians shouldn’t be left out of the fun.
This grilled vegetable orzo salad, complete with that appealing taste of char grill, can be enjoyed as a satisfying vegetarian meal, or as an exciting side dish.Jump to Recipe
Part of the satisfaction you feel when enjoying this hearty pasta salad is attributable to the orzo pasta.
Orzo is a pasta that is similar in shape to rice. In Italy, it's known as a pastina, a category of tiny shapes commonly used for soups, pasta salads, and side dishes.
What I love about eating orzo pasta is that I can convince myself it is a whole grain (well, it’s made from durum wheat) and that it’s not a pasta at all.
Or maybe it’s that I’m eating just a little bit of pasta? Hmmm … how many orzo is the equivalent of one penne? Or it could simply be the pleasure of chewing the tiny morsels that I like.
Whatever it is, there is plenty to appeal texturally here.
This grilled vegetable orzo salad is literally chocked full of broccoli, zucchini, red bell pepper, scallions, and fresh herbs, with a savory vinaigrette containing shallots, walnuts, and dijon mustard.
Taken together with a liberal sprinkling of quality salt and freshly ground black pepper, you will find many occasions to enjoy this.
How do you cook orzo?
Since orzo doesn’t look like regular pasta, a lot of people wonder how to cook orzo? Is there a special way to do it?
The answer is really no. You cook orzo just like regular pasta, in a pot of boiling salted water. It takes about 8-10 minutes.
You’ve probably already learned that salting your pasta water gives the pasta good flavor. I like just a tablespoon. Some people recommend using more salt.
Only some of the salt gets absorbed into the pasta while its cooking, and that's generally the right amount, BUT do remember to rinse the pasta after draining it to remove the excess salt, or you'll be sorry.
The only trick with cooking orzo is to watch it carefully near the end so it doesn’t overcook. You want it to be a little chewy in the center. Overcook it and it will be gummy and unpleasant.
How do you grill vegetables?
My number one recommendation for grilling vegetables is to invest in an indoor grill pan.
A stovetop grill pan is a no-fuss solution that you can use any day of the week to create beautiful grill marks on your veggies.
It is also easy to control the temperature and avoid any flareups of fire and oil that can give your vegetables an unpleasant flavor. Not to mention that burnt oil is unhealthy for the body.
In general, I recommend grilling vegetables with no oil, or very little. You can always add oil later after the cooking’s done.
I also do my grilling at a lower heat (medium) so that the oil doesn’t burn. It just takes a little longer.
These two tips will also help to keep your grill pan mess-free and easy to clean.
The searing option
The next best thing if you don’t have a grill pan yet is searing.
Searing is high heat sautéing. To sear, you would get a skillet nice and hot, add a bit of oil, then drop in the veggies and arrange them in an even layer on the surface of the pan. Leave it undisturbed to cook until the first side gets darkened to your liking.
Next, turn each piece, one-by-one, with a fork, and wait a few minutes for the second side.
If things start to burn, add a bit of water to deglaze the pan and carry on until you are happy with the result.
Whichever method you choose, you aren’t going for super soft veggies. They should be just tender, with some firmness left in them.
Add-ins & substitutions
I mentioned earlier that you could enjoy grilled vegetable orzo salad as a meal, and this is absolutely true, but it would be a light meal.
Adding some form of concentrated protein would make it a full meal. I recommend black beans or feta cheese. Both are superb with the balsamic glaze I recommend on this salad.
Or you could finish with fresh lemon or lime juice. Citrus is always a winner in a pasta salad like vegetable orzo salad.
If you want to add more greens to this salad, you could add lettuce. I frequently make a green lettuce salad and add my orzo pasta on top of it to make it heartier.
More fresh herbs in the summertime would also be a welcome addition. Mint, parsley, oregano, rosemary, thyme, or dill would all work very well.
Another thing you could do here is going for something sweet for an add-in.
Grilled corn is an obvious choice. I could even go for grilled peaches or dried cranberries.
Finally, if you don’t have one of the main grilling veggies for this recipe, you can substitute with something else. Green beans, tomatoes, radishes, and cauliflower would all be great.
Did I get your imagination rolling?
You’ve got a versatile grilled vegetable salad recipe. Now it’s your turn to get creative!
Grilled Vegetable Orzo Salad
For the salad
- 3 cups cooked orzo, (1 cup dry)
- 3 cups broccoli
- 2 medium zucchini
- 1 red pepper
- 6 green onions
For the shallot and mustard vinaigrette
For the garnish
- ¼ cup fresh basil
- drizzle balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze
Prepare the ingredients
- Wash broccoli and separate into florets of equal size.
- Bring about 6 cups of water to a boil on high heat in a medium saucepan. Add a tablespoon of salt to the water and add broccoli florets. Simmer for 5 minutes until just tender. Remove broccoli with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool.
- Use the same water to cook the orzo according to the package instructions (about 8-10 minutes). Drain the orzo when it is still a little chewy (al dente). Rinse with cold water and set aside until needed.
- Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables for grilling. Slice the ends off the zucchini and then into ¾-inch rectangular slabs. Chop the green onions in half lengthwise so they are easier to manage in the pan. Slice the red pepper in half, remove the seeds, then chop into smaller strips.
- Grill the zucchini, red peppers, and green onions until well charred. Remove from the grill pan and allow to cool.
- Chop all the vegetables into small pieces and place in a mixing bowl. Add the cooked orzo.
Make the vinaigrette
- If you need to roast the walnuts, chop them roughly then add to a dry skillet on medium heat. Cook for 5 minutes or so, shaking frequently.
- Put all the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a mini food chopper or blender. Blend well. (You could also blend by hand using a fork or whisk.)
Finish the salad
- Combine all of the vinaigrette with the vegetables and orzo. Taste and adjust for salt, black pepper, balsamic, etc. Transfer to a serving bowl.
- Garnish with a drizzle of balsamic glaze and torn pieces of fresh basil.
Substitutions and add-ins
- Substitute any vegetable with green beans, tomatoes, radishes, cauliflower, etc.
- Add grilled corn or peaches for extra sweetness
- Add dried cranberries
- Add extra fresh herbs, such as mint, parsley, oregano, rosemary, thyme or dill
- Finish with fresh lemon or lime, or balsamic glaze
Turn this into a meal
- Add black beans, feta cheese, grilled chicken, etc.
- Serve on a bed of leafy greens