Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2009 and updated with new text in 2017.
If I’m being honest with myself, when asked to contribute a dish to a potluck dinner or backyard cookout, I always want to make a dessert. If given the choice, I’ll take on some kind of crazy, multi-flavored, often multi-layered confection from my big list of recipes I’ve yet to try… and then pawn it off on all my friends so I won’t be stuck with the whole thing in my house for a week. See? I’m sharing the wealth!
But, as much as some of us try (namely, a few toddlers I know), we cannot live on dessert alone. And when it comes to potluck contributions that lean toward the slightly healthy, savory side of the equation, this Mediterranean orzo salad has been my secret weapon for decades. When I need to round out my outdoor party menu with “just one more side dish” or if I’m asked to “just bring a salad or something on the side,” this is the dish that immediately comes to mind.
I’m a sucker for anything with a strong, lemony vinaigrette, and this pasta salad comes through on that front. It’s refreshingly bracing—and refreshingly mayo-free, so you’ll have no qualms about leaving it on the tailgate buffet or picnic table without setting a timer. (No, I’ve never actually done that, but why risk it in the first place?)
Paired with other powerful flavors—artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, and feta—to complement the mild beans-and-pasta combination, it’s a balanced mix of vegetarian-friendly ingredients that tweak the classic antipasto pasta salad juuuust enough.
As it’s been bouncing around my recipe repertoire for so many years, this orzo salad has gone through a number of variations and adaptations. Add in fresh minced herbs like oregano and parsley if you have them around. Substitute chickpeas for the cannellini beans, fresh runner beans for the green beans, or even grill the beans if you want a little bit of smokiness in the salad.
Make it your own, make it often, and make your next request for “just an easy side dish” a no-brainer.
Mediterranean Orzo Salad
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
Makes 8 servings
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 1/4 cup Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 1 medium lemon, zested and juiced
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- freshly ground black pepper
- kosher salt to taste + 1 tablespoon kosher salt, divided
- 1/2 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into halves or thirds
- 1/2 pound (8 ounces) orzo
- 1 15-ounce can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed, or 1/2 cup dried cannellini beans, cooked
- 1 14-ounce jar of water-packed artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
- 1 4-ounce jar oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
Bring a large (6-quart) pot of water to boil.
While the water heats, whisk the garlic and shallot with the vinegar, lemon juice and zest, and mustard in a medium bowl.
Whisk in the olive oil in a slow, steady stream to make a thick dressing.
Taste and add black pepper and salt as desired. Set aside.
When the water comes to a boil, add the green beans. Cook for 3-4 minutes until just tender, then strain out and transfer to a bowl of ice water; drain and reserve.
Add 1 tablespoon kosher salt to the boiling water. Let it dissolve, then add the orzo.
Cook according to package instructions until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water as well.
Toss the orzo with the green beans, cannellini beans, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, and half the dressing.
Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day in advance of serving.
Up to 1 hour before serving, stir in the remaining dressing and the feta cheese. Taste and add more salt and/or pepper as desired.