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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! 

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
4.61 from 117 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 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time25 mins
Course: Lunch, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4 large servings, or 8 smaller snack servings
Author: Kate
Cost: $5

Ingredients

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

Instructions

  • 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.

Notes

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

Nutrition

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%)

 

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Phillysyn

Tuesday 13th of September 2022

This was delicious! I did double the dressing as we thought it was a little dry. I will definitely make this again

Katie

Monday 1st of August 2022

DELICIOUS salad! I made some for my parents and Mom also asked for the recipe. It's nice and light, and the orange citrus flavor really comes through. This is a keeper!

Kate

Monday 1st of August 2022

Thank you so much, Katie!!

Kim

Sunday 24th of July 2022

Has anyone ever tried this using broccoli slaw instead of the traditional coleslaw? Just wondering because that’s what I have on hand. Thanks!

Kate

Wednesday 27th of July 2022

I haven't tried it, but I think that would work well! I love broccoli slaw :)

Vera

Thursday 21st of July 2022

Delicious. Had some left over black rice tossed it in as well. Easy to make.

Kate

Saturday 23rd of July 2022

that's a good addition!

Cher

Saturday 16th of July 2022

I like the idea of orzo and coleslaw, but think it would be far better with a different dressing. I like the idea of something light, but the flavor just wasn't good in my opinion. Unfortunately I made the salad and my husband and I just couldn't eat it. Sorry, but if you could come up with a better dressing, I'm all for it!!

Kate

Monday 18th of July 2022

Thanks for the feedback, Cher. Do you have an idea of what you didn't like about the flavor? Perhaps just a classic Italian vinaigrette dressing would work better for you?

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