This creamy southwestern orzo salad is the perfect blend of spicy, creamy, and crispy. The bold flavors make this salad not only a crowdpleaser at gatherings, but also a great lunch!
Why you’ll love it: This salad serves a big crowd and it keeps well.
How long it takes: 20 minutes
Equipment you’ll need: pasta pan, small bowl, strainer, measuring utensil.
I’ve already made this salad quite a few times and I just developed the recipe about a month ago. That’s always a good sign. It’s somewhat similar to my Mexican Street Corn Pasta Salad and that’s always a hit.
My neighbor recently had her second baby (a handsome sweet boy who is giving me major baby fever!)so I made a big bowl of this salad and brought about half of it to her and her family because orzo is one of her favorite foods. It was the perfect opportunity to test the salad one more time before posting the recipe. They loved it so I’m happy to let you know that this recipe is a definitely a winner.
My neighbor Julie is pretty much part of the Rachel Cooks team. She’s my queen of marketing – she tells everyone about my site. I’m so grateful for that! I told her I felt like a celebrity at her daughter’s party because everyone knew who I was and multiple people were telling me which recipes they have made from Rachel Cooks.
About this Orzo Salad
This salad is super easy to make. It’s a basic pasta salad with a buttermilk based dressing. I’ll run you through the basics here with a few extra tips.
As always, you’ll find the printable recipe card with complete directions and nutrition information at the end of this post.
What You’ll Need
- Orzo: This quick cooking small pasta is often confused with rice. I like it for salads because it mixes well with other ingredients and is easy to serve.
- Corn: Fresh corn is always best because it’s much crisper and just tastes so good. There’s no need to cook it first. If fresh corn isn’t available, use canned (be sure to drain it first) or frozen corn, thawed.
- Red Bell Peppers: Peppers add so much flavor, crunch, and color. Use any color you like.
- Black Beans: Canned beans should be rinsed and drained well. Black beans are small and also add nice color contrast. Substitute pinto beans if that’s what you have in your pantry.
- Green Onions (Scallions): I like green onions because they give plenty of onion flavor without overpowering the salad. If you prefer, used chopped red or white onions.
- Cheddar Cheese: Use a nice sharp cheese and cut it into quite small cubes. Shredded is okay, too, but I like the burst of flavor the little cubes give. If you prefer, substitute Monterey Jack, pepper Jack, or Mexican cotija cheese.
- Dressing: The easy dressing is a mixture of Buttermilk, Mayonnaise, a packet of Ranch Dressing Mix, and Taco Seasoning.
- Fresh Cilantro: I made this ingredient optional because some folks just can’t stand cilantro. If you’re not in the cilantro-hater camp, please add it!
How to Make This Salad
Get a big pan of salted water boiling and start cooking the orzo.
While your orzo cooks, mix up the simple dressing. It’s so easy, only four ingredients, thanks to a packet of dried ranch dressing mix! The southwestern flavors come from taco seasoning. I always have some of my homemade taco seasoning on hand so that’s what I use.
Now get your knife and cutting board out, it’s time to cut some veggies. I use fresh corn because I love the crispness of it. Here’s how to do it: Place a small bowl upside down inside your larger salad bowl. Grasping the tip of the ear of corn, hold the corn upright, the stem end of the ear of corn firmly placed on top of the inverted smaller bowl. This gives you kind of a platform to make cutting the corn off the cob a little easier.
Then, with a sharp knife, cut down towards the bottom of the bowl, slicing the kernels off the cob. They’ll fall down into the big bowl, just where you want them! Remove the smaller bowl when you’re done and you’re ready to add the rest of your ingredients to the big bowl!
Add the chopped red pepper, green onions, black beans, and cheese to the corn and mix well. By now your orzo is finished cooking. Drain it, rinse it with cold water to stop the cooking process, and drain again. Make sure you drain it really well so you don’t get too much water in your salad.
Stir in the dressing and cilantro, if you’re using it, and you’re ready to serve your salad. Try it as a meatless main dish, a hearty lunch, or a delicious side dish. Bring it to your next potluck picnic — it’s guaranteed to be a hit!
Like most pasta, orzo has a lot of carbs. I like to use whole wheat orzo which contains more fiber and protein but it isn’t always available in grocery stores. Look online (Dellalo is a brand name) or at Trader Joe’s.
It depends how you’re going to use it. If it’s in a salad, definitely rinse it. Rinsing stops the cooking process, removes excess starch, and cools the pasta before adding it to the rest of the salad ingredients. If you are eating the orzo hot with a sauce, don’t rinse it. The starch will help the sauce cling to the pasta.
One serving is 1/4 cup (about 2 ounces) dry orzo. Once it’s cooked, dry orzo will double in size. This southwestern orzo pasta salad makes 10 very generous servings. As a side dish, it’s probably more like 12-14 servings.
This salad keeps really well in the fridge for up to five days, perfect for easy entertaining or lunches all week long! Pack it into individual serving sized containers, ready to grab and go.
More Recipes With Orzo
Orzo pasta is so versatile and tasty! Here’s a few more recipes with orzo that I think you’ll like:
- Bruschetta Orzo Salad (with video) — one of my most popular salads!
- Spring Orzo Salad with Arugula, Asparagus, and Pine Nuts
- Orzo Salad with Yogurt Dill Dressing
- Spinach Orzo Salad with Chickpeas and Chicken Meatballs
- Orzo Salad with Chicken and Vegetables
- Orzo Salad with Watermelon, Chicken and Feta
- Greek Orzo Salad with Roasted Shrimp
- Lemon Butter Orzo with Parsley from The Comfort of Cooking
- Cheesy Broccoli and Pepper Baked Orzo from Oh My Veggies
- 16 ounce package orzo
- 1 1/2 cups corn (fresh, frozen, or canned)
- 1 can (15 ounce) black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 red bell pepper, diced small
- 1/2 cup green onions, thinly sliced (about 3 green onions or scallions)
- 8 ounces sharp white cheddar, cut into small cubes
- 1 pkg (1 ounce) Ranch Salad Dressing and Seasoning Mix
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 cup mayonnaise (I like the kind made with olive oil)
- 1 tablespoon taco seasoning
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, opt.
- In a small bowl, mix together mayonnaise, buttermilk, ranch salad dressing mix, and taco seasoning. Place in fridge while you make the rest of the salad.
- Cook orzo as directed on package. Drain and rinse with cold water. Drain well.
- Meanwhile, cut corn off cob into a large bowl. Add black beans, bell pepper, green onions, orzo, and cheddar.
- Pour dressing over salad and stir to combine. Serve immediately or store covered in the fridge until ready to serve.
- I prefer fresh corn (3 ears) but if it isn’t in season, canned or frozen corn work fine, too.
- If you prefer, substitute whole wheat orzo.
- Refrigerate leftover salad in a tightly covered container for up to 4 days.
- If you’re a cilantro fan, definitely add it. I made it optional because some people just don’t care for it. Chopped parsley is good, too.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition data is gathered primarily from the USDA Food Composition Database, whenever available, or otherwise other online calculators.