This hearty and flavourful pesto orzo salad is such a crowd pleaser! A nut-free arugula and basil pesto dresses cooked orzo, perfectly roasted vegetables, and chickpeas. So tasty, 10 core ingredients, and just beautiful to look at too!
Before I get into this pesto orzo salad recipe, I need to acknowledge the queen of orzo salad perfection: Ina Garten of course! Her roasted vegetable orzo is a picnic staple. I make versions of it all spring and summer long. This recipe is completely inspired by that classic recipe.
I use a vegan and nut-free pesto dressing for this salad. It turns everything a beautiful emerald green. It also has a naturally garlicky goodness that’s easy to love. I used a mix of arugula and basil for my greens and it turned out so delicious. Just a hint of spicy greens along with that classic basil pesto flavour. I also add a spoonful of capers for a little secret flavour boost!
Depending on how many vegetables you decide to include here, this recipe hovers around ten core ingredients. It’s also ready in the amount of time it takes the vegetables to roast, which is thirty minutes. I used a summery mix of yellow zucchini, Japanese eggplant, red bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, and red onion. Use whatever you have!
I like to add chickpeas as an extra bit of satiating texture and protein. You could easily leave them out or substitute with cooked lentils. Adding some sort of legume helps move this pesto orzo salad over into main course territory. With a few extra handfuls of baby arugula before serving, this salad has all the things that I love. Comfy carbs, greens, plant-based protein, and tons of vegetables and herbs.
To know me is to know my love of orzo! It’s a weeknight dinner hero. If you’re into this, I would recommend checking out my Creamy Lemon Orzo with Chickpeas & Broccoli as well as my Butternut Orzo with Crispy Miso Mustard Brussels Sprouts.
Pesto Orzo Salad with Roasted Vegetables & Chickpeas
Vegan Arugula Basil Pesto Dressing
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- ¼ cup toasted sunflower seeds, plus extra for garnish
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 1 cup arugula, lightly packed (plus extra for garnish)
- 1 cup basil leaves, lightly packed (plus extra for garnish)
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon light miso (I used chickpea)
- sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
- ½ cup olive oil
Orzo & Roasted Vegetables
- 1 small eggplant, diced into 1-inch pieces
- 1 medium zucchini, diced into 1-inch pieces
- 1 bell pepper, diced into 1-inch pieces
- 1 small red onion, diced into 1-inch pieces
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
- ½ lb orzo pasta
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas
- Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
- Make the pesto. In a food processor fitted with the “S” blade, add the garlic, sunflower seeds, and capers. Pulse a few times to finely chop. Then, to the food processor bowl, add the arugula, basil, lemon juice, miso, salt, and pepper. Pulse the mixture a few times until the greens are finely chopped. Then, with the lid on and the motor running on low, slowly drizzle in the olive oil through the feed tube until you have a smooth paste that’s evenly combined. Check the pesto for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Set aside.
- Roast the vegetables. Combine the chopped eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, red onion, and whole cherry tomatoes on the baking sheet. Drizzle the vegetables with the olive oil and season very generously with salt and pepper. Toss to thoroughly coat all of the vegetables in oil and seasoning. Spread the vegetables out into a single layer and roast in the oven until tender and slightly browned on the edges, about 30 minutes. Check on the vegetables at the halfway point and give them a stir with a spatula. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Cook the orzo according to package directions and drain. Add the cooked orzo to a large serving bowl and immediately dress with the pesto. Once all of the pesto is coated, spread it out in the serving bowl. Top the dressed orzo with the roasted vegetables and chickpeas and give it another light toss.
- Top the pesto orzo salad with some extra basil, arugula, and toasted sunflower seeds. Serve immediately.
- For my gluten-free and grain-free folks, I have heard that Jovial’s cassava flour orzo and DeLallo’s gluten-free orzo are both great!
- If you don’t have sunflower seeds around, this pesto is flexible. Use an equal amount of toasted pumpkin seeds, walnuts, sliced almonds, or even hemp seeds!
- I have been preferring the umami characteristics of miso in sauces like this lately (as opposed to nutritional yeast). Feel free to add nutritional yeast if you like though! One tablespoon would be great here.
- You need 6 cups total of chopped vegetables (including the whole cherry tomatoes). I recommend using what you have and like!