This main dish Greek orzo salad is zinging with flavor and has all the Greek flavors you love: kalamata olives, tomatoes, feta, lemon, fresh mint, parsley, and more.
Why you’ll love it: This shrimp salad is healthy and flavorful. It is perfect for everyday meals but easily could be served to guests (and it makes a lot).
How long it takes: 30 minutes
Equipment you’ll need: pasta pot, large bowl, skillet
There’s something about the simple combination of cucumbers, red onions, olives, tomatoes, with crumbly feta cheese that I just can’t resist. I love my Greek chopped salad or Greek pasta salad which both include garbanzo beans and red wine vinegar dressing. I make both of those salads often.
Today’s recipe adds sautéed shrimp to the salad, a bright lemony vinaigrette, and my favorite pasta for salads, orzo! You’ll find several orzo salads at RachelCooks, and they are very popular recipes. A couple favorites are bruschetta orzo pasta salad and creamy southwestern orzo salad.
This Greek pasta salad is a real crowd pleaser! Each forkful bursts with flavor: tangy cheese, briny shrimp, fruity kalamata olives, juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, peppery parsley, and fresh mint. A simple vinaigrette made with extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice brings it all together.
This salad is just perfect for warm summer days when you are looking for a healthy and just-filling-enough dinner (21 grams of protein per serving). The crunchy, salty, fresh, and tangy combination is sure to make you do a happy dance. Serve the salad with chilled glass of prosecco or an Aperol spritz. A bowlful of olive oil roasted almonds rounds things off nicely. Enjoy!
About This Greek Orzo Salad
Orzo is a little rice-shaped pasta that is the perfect vehicle to carry the rest of the flavors in the dish. I love using orzo instead of rice because it has a pretty neutral flavor and lightly chewy texture without any of the stickiness. It cooks up quickly which is another definite plus.
A bright lemony oregano vinaigrette serves double-duty both as a dressing and as a marinade for the shrimp. If you don’t care for shrimp, cooked or grilled chicken works great, too, or chickpeas for a vegetarian salad.
I’ll get you started on this main dish salad recipe and give you lots of extra tips. Look for the printable recipe card near the bottom of the post. It has complete instructions, measurements, and nutrition information.
What You’ll Need
The list of ingredients looks long but this is a pretty easy salad to make.
- Orzo: You’ll need a 16 ounce box of orzo. Look for orzo by the other dry pastas. Whole wheat orzo is fine, if you can find it.
- Shrimp: Here in Michigan, frozen shrimp is usually the best choice. You’ll need a pound of shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tail off. If it’s frozen, thaw it out by running cold water over it.
- Cucumber: Choose a tender skinned variety if you can. They are easier to use (you don’t have to peel them) and the skin has lots of nutrients.
- Red Onion: Other types of onion work well too, including green onions. If you find that raw onions are too strong, soak the sliced onion in ice water for 10 to 15 minutes before you add it to the salad.
- Cherry Tomatoes: Look for the best tasting tomatoes you can find whether they are cherry, grape, campari, heirloom, whatever. Tomatoes fresh from the garden or farm market are definitely the best.
- Kalamata Olives: These dark burgundy colored olives add so much zesty flavor.
- Feta Cheese: For best flavor, use full fat feta cheese, preferable from a block (crumble it yourself).
- Fresh Parsley: Look for the flat leaf Italian parsley. It has more flavor than curly parsley.
- Fresh Mint Leaves: You’ll love the fresh mint in this salad. Don’t substitute dry mint; it would be better to omit the mint if you can’t find fresh.
- Lemon Juice: You’ll need the juice from two lemons (about 6 tablespoons). Lemon juice is the base of the simple vinaigrette that dresses this salad.
- Olive Oil: The other leg of the vinaigrette, extra virgin olive oil is a heart healthy oil and has a peppery green flavor.
- Garlic: Use as much or as little fresh garlic as you prefer.
- Dried Oregano: You’ll find lots of oregano in Greek cuisine. Dried oregano is fine for the vinaigrette but feel free to substitute fresh oregano if you have it (triple the amount).
- Salt and Pepper: Season the salad to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
How To Make This Recipe
Let’s get started on making this salad! Begin by putting a pot of water on the stove to boil. While that’s heating up and the pasta cooks, the vinaigrette, shrimp, and vegetables can be prepped. If your shrimp is still frozen, put it in a colander in the sink and run cool water over it to thaw it out (5 minutes or so).
I like to soak my red onions in ice water to take out some of the sharp flavor. It will stay nice and crisp in the ice water but won’t overpower the salad. If that sounds good to you, slice the onion first so it has time to soak.
Next, prepare the vinaigrette. Squeeze the juice out of a couple of lemons, add the olive oil, fresh garlic (minced or pressed), dried oregano, salt and pepper. Whisk the dressing until the ingredients are combined.
Put the shrimp in a bowl and add a couple tablespoons of the dressing as a marinade, stirring until the shrimp is coated. Heat up a medium sized skillet and add the shrimp. It will cook very quickly. Flip it once. The shrimp will curl up and turn an opaque light pink color when it’s done. Remove the shrimp from the pan and spread it on a plate to cool.
Next, slice the cucumber and tomatoes, and finely chop the herbs. By now, the orzo should be cooked al dente. Using a colander, drain it in the sink, rinse it with cool water, and drain it thoroughly.
Put the orzo into a very large bowl. Now that they’re cool enough to handle, roughly chop the shrimp (if you want).
Pour in the remaining vinaigrette and mix well. Add the chopped veggies, herbs, olives, and feta to the salad bowl and combine. Gently mix it all together.
Your salad is ready to serve, or if you prefer, it can be refrigerated for a couple of hours. Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper if desired. Another quick squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil really perks up the flavor, too.
Although it looks somewhat like rice, orzo is actually a small sized pasta. Whole wheat or gluten free orzo is available and can be substituted if you wish. Because it’s a small pasta, orzo is quick cooking and works well for pasta salads.
In some recipes, rice could be substituted for orzo. It would be just fine in lemon chicken orzo soup or easy meatball soup with orzo. Remember that rice will take a bit longer to cook.
However, rice tends to be stickier, making it less desirable for most salads. Rice will absorb a lot of dressing, too, so you’d have to make additional dressing. If you’re looking for a gluten-free alternative, I would choose cauliflower rice.
Make It Your Own
- Don’t care for shrimp? Make this salad with chicken instead; try poached chicken or oven roasted chicken breasts. Grilled chicken that has been marinated with Italian dressing marinade is a great add-in.
- Make it vegetarian. Substitute chickpeas (garbanzo beans) or cannellini beans for the shrimp.
- Substitute store bought Greek salad dressing for the homemade vinaigrette, or another dressing of your choice.
If you like to meal prep, you’ll be happy to know that components of the salad can be prepped up to a day ahead and stored separately in the refrigerator until you’re ready to combine them and serve the salad. The veggies can be chopped, the vinaigrette prepared, and the shrimp and orzo can be cooked.
Leftover salad can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days as long as it’s refrigerated promptly. Because the orzo continues to absorb the dressing as it sits, you may need to refresh the salad with a bit more dressing. Usually, all it takes is a squeeze of lemon and drizzle of olive oil to perk it up again.
- 6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more to taste
- 1 box (16 oz.) orzo pasta, uncooked
- 16 ounces peeled, deveined shrimp, tail removed, size 31-40 (thawed if frozen)
- ½ English cucumber, quartered and sliced ½-inch thick
- ½ medium red onion, quartered and thinly sliced (see note)
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- ½ cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
- ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
- ¼ cup minced fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the orzo and cook according to the package instructions.
- Meanwhile, In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine dressing ingredients: lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper. Whisk together.
- In a separate bowl, combine shrimp and 2 tablespoons of dressing. Heat skillet over medium high heat. Add shrimp with marinade to pan and sauté three minutes, flipping halfway, until shrimp is opaque and curled. Remove from pan and set aside to cool. Chop shrimp roughly (or cut in half).
- Drain orzo, rinse with cold water, and drain thoroughly. Transfer to a very large bowl, add remaining dressing, and stir to combine. Add cucumber, onion, tomatoes, olives, feta, parsley, and mint leaves; toss to combine. Add shrimp and toss.
- Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve. Salad can be refrigerated for up to three days.
- To tone down the sharp flavor of onion, soak the sliced onion in ice water for 10 to 15 minutes; drain well and add it to the salad.
- Leftover salad: add a squeeze of lemon and/or a drizzle of olive oil to refresh.
- Vegetarian: omit shrimp, add chickpeas and/or additional feta, if desired.
- Cooked or grilled chicken can be substituted for the shrimp.
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.