I first learned how to cook when I went to college, and there’s a few recipes from those days that I still make from time to time. One is my simple mushroom pasta, which I’ve since updated with the addition of pancetta because I’m adulting now (and have access to a grocery store that isn’t a Clemson, SC Bi-Lo). Another was a broccoli hash I would eat with scrambled eggs and roasted potatoes, which as I type this I realize was the OG broccoli “rice,” so Trader Joe’s really needs to start paying me for using my intellectual property. And then there’s this lemon-herb orzo salad.
I think the original recipe came from an old Cooking Light, but I’ve changed it up and switched it around and started cooking it form memory so many years ago I can hardly remember. But basically it’s cooked orzo tossed with a crap ton of fresh herbs, chickpeas, a selection of roasted and raw seasonal vegetables, lemon juice and olive oil. For me, the key is tons of fresh herbs - the combination of dill (my favorite!), scallions and mint is the best, but you can throw leftover bits of herbs in there too.
The BEST Spring Lemon-Herb Orzo Salad
I feel like a good recipe for pasta salad is one of those things that everyone should have! There’s so many times where it comes in handy from tailgating to potlucks to easy weekday lunches. This herbed summer corn pasta salad and gazpacho pasta salad are my go-tos for summer, and this spring-y lemon-herb orzo salad is my go-to for spring. With sweet roasted asparagus, crunchy and peppery radish, and tons of herbs, it’s the first thing I’m craving when it’s that time of year that my black car turns yellow with pollen.
I like to make this pasta salad with orzo, but you could use other shapes like bowties or ziti too. Feel free to use whole grain, but personally I don’t think the wheat-y flavor works as well in this dish with the delicate herbs and lemon-olive oil dressing. It’s a bit overpowering. White pasta is totally OK! Sure, it has a little less nutrition and fiber than whole grain, but not everything we eat has to have a multivitamins worth of nutrition. If you’re concerned about blood sugar, know that you’re still getting fat, protein and fiber that help with blood glucose from the rest of the dish. Also, fun fact, but cooked and cooled pasta (and potatoes, rice, etc) has higher quantities of resistant starch - something about cooking and cooling converts it - so it has less of an effect on blood glucose anyway.
Make Ahead Lunch
I often make this salad in advance and it holds up really well. Sometimes I’ll make a batch on the weekend and enjoy it throughout the week by itself, paired with leftovers, or over a bed of greens. Before serving, you might want to give it a quick spritz of lemon juice and another sprinkle of sea salt to brighten up the flavor, since some of the dressing gets absorbed in the fridge.
The BEST Spring Lemon-Herb Orzo Salad
1 1/2 cups uncooked orzo
1 bunch asparagus, woody stems snapped off
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus 1 teaspoon
8 radishes, chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
4 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup mint
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup defrosted peas or fresh peas blanched in boiling water for 1 minute
1 1/2 cups crumbled feta
Juice of 1 lemon
1 small garlic clove, minced
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook orzo 8-10 minutes until al dente. Drain, rinse with cool water and set aside.
Toss asparagus with 1 teaspoon olive oil, season with salt and pepper and spread evenly on a large baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes until tender and golden. Remove and set aside to cool.
Toss orzo with radishes, dill, scallions, mint, chickpeas, peas, and feta. Chop asparagus into 1 inch pieces and add to the orzo salad.
Whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and season with salt and pepper. Toss orzo salad with the dressing. Serve cold or at room temperature.