A crunchy, light twist on orzo salad – this Coleslaw Orzo Salad is made with a light and tasty citrusy dressing, toasted almonds for crunch, and dried cranberries for a touch of sweetness.
It’s that time of the year to break out the Summer grills! Typically at Summer outings, you’ll see dense foods in rotation like bbq ribs, potato salad, and creamy pasta salads.
I love pasta salads and all things heavy in carbs. While delicious, I needed to create a lightened-up version of pasta salad to balance out all that good heavy eating.
This Orzo Salad is a winner!
It is a combination of orzo pasta and coleslaw, which makes it much lighter in calories and more nutritious, thanks to super healthy cabbage.
Related recipe: The BEST Loaded Broccoli Salad
Related recipe: Broccoli Ranch Pasta Salad
What is orzo?
- At first glance, you might think this is rice, but it’s not. Orzo is a type of pasta typically used in Italian cooking. The most famous dish you will see orzo used in is risotto
- The name is an Italian name for barley because of how similar it looks to a grain
- Orzo is made out of semolina flour, so it’s not gluten-free. It’s enriched with B vitamins, so there are some health benefits. This here is the brand I use because it does not use mixed flours
- This “tiny pasta” is neutral tasting and chewy and add textures to soups and salads. Because it’s not as bulky as regular pasta, it’s great for lighter dishes
You can use white or tricolor orzo for this recipe.
Related recipe: Tuna Pasta Salad
Substitute for orzo
If you don’t have orzo on hand but still want to make a lighter pasta salad, try fussili or rotini pasta instead. I feel like that would have the best texture when mixed with coleslaw.
Essential tips for this orzo salad
- Only cook the orzo until al dente. You DO NOT want mushy pasta in your salad.
- Drain your orzo (once the pasta is done cooking) and rinse it thoroughly with cold water. This is again to avoid overcooking it and to help cool it down since this is a cold pasta salad dish.
- Make hours ahead and refrigerate. While you can serve it right away, making it in advance allows the dressing to soak into your coleslaw and orzo pasta.
Related recipe: Instant Pot Potato Salad
Orange dressing – the key to a light healthy pasta salad
This orzo salad has coleslaw to lighten it up, but what makes it light is I didn’t use any mayo. Instead, I used a delicious, simple orange dressing.
It’s a simple recipe consisting of:
- orange juice (squeeze your own if you have an orange – this is the little juicer I love for small batches of orange juice)
- rice vinegar (this is the brand I like and use)
- olive oil
- Dijon mustard
- honey (or use agave syrup to keep it vegan)
- dried spices, such as garlic and onion powder, and a bit of red pepper flakes
The red pepper flakes in this orange dressing give it a “kick.” (Only use a little unless you like it spicy).
I like rice vinegar for salad dressings because it is less acidic and less vinegary than other vinegars. I think it has a milder sweeter taste. If you don’t have rice vinegar, you can substitute with apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar. Or get it here.
Pour the dressing over the coleslaw and let the flavors mix in well while your orzo cooks.
Salads taste best when they have lots of flavors and textures. Sweet and sour, crunchy and soft. So I add toasted slivered or sliced almonds, dried cranberries, and fresh scallions to this salad.
You can also add raisins, feta cheese, toasted walnuts or pecans, or other fresh herbs, such as parsley or cilantro.
Bring to your pool parties, summer potlucks, BBQs, and picnics!
This orzo salad lasts for a couple of days, so you can make it the day before your event and have it ready for your outdoor summer festivities!
Ideas to serve this salad with:
- Grilled shrimp and vegetable kebabs
- Pork and veggie kebabs
- No-mayo potato salad
- Venison burgers
- Sweet potato and chickpea burgers
- Grilled chicken (try this amazing grilled chicken marinade!)
- Light veggie soups, like this carrot soup with parsley pistou
- Instant Pot BBQ pulled pork or Instant Pot BBQ pulled chicken
Because it’s light, don’t be afraid to be generous with the portions!
Make it a meal
Orzo salad also makes a great lunch or healthy dinner, especially if you add some chickpeas or some leftover chicken to it to add some protein.
Other great side dishes for entertaining:
- Grilled Calamari Salad
- Broccoli ranch pasta salad
- Couscous salad with shrimp and vegetables
- Brown rice salad with dried fruit and nuts
- Spanish-style calamari potato salad
Need some summer drinks to serve with this salad?
Did you enjoy this recipe? Let me know with a comment and a star rating below. And don’t forget to save it on Pinterest and share it with a friend who might love a lightened up orzo salad!
Coleslaw Orzo Salad
- Measuring spoons and cups
- Large skilet for toasting almonds (optional)
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon honey or agave nectar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard or yellow mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon salt or more to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper or more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes or more to taste
- Cook 1 cup of orzo according to the package instructions. Drain and rinse under cool water to cool the orzo completely.
- While the orzo is cooking, prepare the dressing: In a large bowl, combine all the dressing ingredients and mix. Taste and season with additional salt or pepper, if desired.
- Add the coleslaw to the dressing and mix. Let sit while the orzo finishes cooking.
- Dice the scallions. Toast the almonds in a large dry skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until they start to turn golden brown, stirring frequently.
- Add the cooked, drained orzo to the large bowl with the coleslaw and dressing. Add the diced scallions, toasted almonds, and dried cranberries. Stir, and season with additional salt and pepper, if desired. Garnish with additional scallions, toasted almonds, and dried cranberries. Serve chilled or room temperature.
- Use cooked brown rice instead of orzo
- Use whole wheat orzo or other pasta
- Try toasted cashews instead of almonds
- Use sesame oil instead of olive oil in the dressing
- Add a squeeze of lime juice to the dressing
- Use 2 teaspoons of honey instead of sugar in the dressing
- Use purple cabbage slaw for an extra boost of antioxidants
- Add cooked chicken, chickpeas, or tuna for a protein boost and to make this a more filling lunch or dinner salad