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Coleslaw Orzo Salad

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.

closeup or orzo and cabbage salad

Orzo salad

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

coleslaw orzo salad on a fork

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: Orzo Caprese Salad

uncooked orzo pasta in a bowl

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.

If you want to try a similar Asian-style dressing with crunchy ramen noodles instead of cooked orzo, give this Ramen Noodle Salad a try from Vegan Blueberry, my "sister site."

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:

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.

Related recipe: Summer Orzo Salad with Tomatoes

coleslaw cabbage salad in a bowl

Related recipe: Chickpea Salad with Feta and Chopped Veggies

Salad add-ins

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.

toppings for orzo salad

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:

Because it's light, don't be afraid to be generous with the portions! 

More salad ideas to try: Daikon Carrot Salad

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:

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 pinterest graphic

closeup or orzo and cabbage salad
Print Recipe
4.58 from 187 votes

Coleslaw Orzo Salad

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. Take a moment to read the notes below the recipe for tips on customizing the dressing to your liking!
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time25 minutes
Course: Lunch, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Diet: Vegetarian
Servings: 4 large servings, or 8 smaller snack servings
Author: Kate
Cost: $5


Orzo Slaw
  • 1 cup orzo - uncooked
  • water - for cooking orzo
  • salt - for cooking orzo
  • 3 cups coleslaw mix - (a little more than half of a 14-16 oz package)
  • cup slivered almonds
  • cup dried cranberries
  • 2 scallions - chopped
Orange Dressing

Special equipment


  • 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.
    ¼ cup orange juice, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, ¼ teaspoon salt, ⅛ teaspoon pepper, ¼ teaspoon garlic powder, ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • Add the coleslaw to the dressing and mix. Let sit while the orzo finishes cooking.
    3 cups coleslaw mix
  • Dice the scallions.
    2 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.
    ⅓ cup slivered almonds
  • Mix it all together: 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.
    ⅓ cup dried cranberries, 1 pinch red pepper flakes


This salad will keep well in the refrigerator for up to two days. 
A couple of people commented that this salad is a little bland (while many love it like this). Everyone's tastes are different, so if you make it and it tastes bland, try adding an extra splash of vinegar, a pinch of salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and/or red pepper flakes. You can essentially double all the dressing ingredients except for the orange juice to intensify the flavor.
Try these variations for this salad:
  • 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


Calories: 278kcal (14%) | Carbohydrates: 44g (15%) | Protein: 8g (16%) | Fat: 9g (14%) | Saturated Fat: 1g (5%) | Sodium: 159mg (7%) | Potassium: 284mg (8%) | Fiber: 4g (16%) | Sugar: 12g (13%) | Vitamin A: 142IU (3%) | Vitamin C: 28mg (34%) | Calcium: 57mg (6%) | Iron: 1mg (6%)

The nutritional information displayed is an estimate and not to be used as dietary or nutritional advice. Consult a nutritionist or dietician for nutritional info based on the exact ingredients you use.


Comments or questions about the recipe?
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Friday 1st of September 2023

is there another juice you reamend using in place of the orange juice? I'm allergic to oranges.


Wednesday 6th of September 2023

Are you allergic to all citrus? If lemons are OK, I would do a lemon vinaigrette, such as in this recipe: If you're allergic to lemons too, I would use a small amount of apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar to make a vinaigrette (don't substitute it 1:1 for orange juice, it would be too much!). Play around with the amount of vinegar and sweetener to get the right balance.

Gee Gee

Monday 14th of August 2023

I can't wait to try this - it looks so good. I was wondering if anyone has tried it with lemon juice instead of orange juice. I was surprised that there were no comments about this swap. It may be too tart, but perhaps if I left out the lime juice and added a bit more sweetener?


Wednesday 16th of August 2023

I think you can start with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and see how that tastes, add more sweetener if needed, maybe reduce the rice vinegar a bit since that's also a strong acidic flavor. The downside to using lemon juice would be that you have less dressing overall (less volume of liquid) so you might need to double whatever ratios you come up with with the lemon juice and the rest of the ingredients. Let me know if you give it a try!


Tuesday 18th of July 2023

I added 1 teaspoon of pure Sesame Oil for added flavor. YUMM I’ve made this multiple times now and I’m always asked to give the recipe.


Tuesday 13th of June 2023

I served this and was disappointed. I thought you would taste more orange, but it tasted just like an Asian cole slaw that I have made. I added chicken, used sliced almonds, dried cranberries and followed recipe. I recommend not putting the dressing on till just about a couple hours before serving. I followed recipe and did it over night….. it got to soggy for our taste. I was expecting it to still be crunch and firm. However, loved the ingredients and will have it again just tweaking it for our taste and keep it crunchy.


Thursday 18th of May 2023

Goes well with salmon. Based on previous reviews I also doubled dressing. Yummy!

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