This Orzo Pasta Salad with Sunflower Seed Pesto is a vegan favorite, showcasing perfectly cooked orzo mixed with a homemade pesto that's both flavorful and hearty. It's a simple yet satisfying dish, ideal for anyone looking for a tasty, refreshing, plant-based option.
After doing a post on vegan and nut-free sunflower seed pesto I had some ideas of how to use it to share with you. Armed with a bunch of fresh asparagus and a handful of cherry tomatoes, I tossed them with the pesto and orzo, transforming these simple ingredients into a dish too good not to pass along!
Why You'll Love Vegan Orzo Pasta Salad With Sunflower Seed Pesto
Orzo, with its rice-like shape but pasta heartiness, serves as a perfect canvas for the bold flavors of vegan sunflower seed pesto.
This simple yet sophisticated orzo pasta salad is versatile enough for a weeknight dinner or for meal planning your lunch and it comes together fast.
Orzo with pesto is wonderfully flexible. It can stand alone as a light main dish or pair beautifully with any choice of vegan protein for a more substantial meal. My husband really likes Daring Chicken with this salad.
You can add any vegetables you have on hand. Just roast zucchini, squash, or eggplant for variety galore!
It's also perfect for picnics, potlucks, or as a make-ahead meal, as the flavors continue to meld and improve over time.
It's delicious warm or cold.
Here is a peek into the pantry. See the recipe card for quantities.
- orzo: This will be the base of your dish. Orzo cooks quickly and is excellent at soaking up flavors.
- vegan sunflower seed pesto: This is a pesto you can have ready in 5 minutes. Adjust based on how flavorful and coated you like your orzo. You can make this ahead of time if you would like.
- extra virgin olive oil: For coating the orzo and adding an extra glossy, rich texture to the dish.
- salt and pepper to taste: Essential for seasoning your pasta water and adjusting the dish's final seasoning.
- cherry tomatoes: For a burst of sweetness and color.
- spinach: substitute with arugula.
- asparagus: Add or substitute with zucchini, bell peppers, or eggplant, for an extra layer of flavor and heartiness.
- lemon juice and zest: For a citrusy zing that will brighten the pesto flavors.
Extras For Garnish (Optional)
- vegan feta
- basil leaves
- sunflower seeds
Consider these pictures as your blueprint for a delicious vegan orzo pesto pasta salad. See the recipe card for details.
To prepare, wash, trim, and cut the asparagus into 1-inch pieces.
Toss the asparagus with salt, pepper, and olive oil and roast at 350°F (175°C) for 12 minutes.
While the asparagus is in the oven, boil the orzo according to your package directions.
While the orzo boils, make the pesto.
Then add all the ingredients in a bowl and toss well.
Taste the salad and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, or even a squeeze of lemon juice if you feel it needs a little more acidity.
This dish can be served warm, at room temperature, or cold, making it incredibly versatile. Garnish with fresh basil leaves, vegan feta, or a sprinkle of toasted sunflower seeds for a delightful crunch.
I like to make a batch of the pesto and keep it in the refrigerator to make quick recipes like this one. By making sure to store the pesto with a layer of olive oil and plastic wrap on its surface, it remains delicious in the fridge for about 3-5 days.
My kids find that the baby spinach can be too big sometimes, so I often times chop it into smaller pieces.
Add a crunchy, protein-packed topping with roasted chickpeas croutons.
Marinate zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes in an herbaceous dressing, such as Cuban chimichurri sauce, before grilling them on skewers. Serve as a side to the orzo salad.
Serve your pasta salad with slices of fresh, crusty artisanal bread alongside a dish of high-quality olive oil mixed with balsamic vinegar, crushed garlic, and herbs for dipping. It’s simple, elegant, and always a hit at my house.
To accompany this orzo salad, you can create a platter filled with marinated artichoke hearts, olives, sliced cucumbers, roasted red peppers, and a selection of vegan cheeses.
For those who love doubling down on veggies, serve your orzo pesto pasta on a bed of zucchini noodles lightly sautéed in garlic and olive oil or serve with sheet pan oven roasted vegetables.
Yes, you can even buy them premade. Trader Joe's sells a great vegan pesto located in their refrigerated section with tofu and other plant-based items.
Orzo with sunflower seed pesto makes a delightful cold pasta salad, perfect for picnics, potlucks, or a refreshing summer meal. If serving cold, consider adding a bit more olive oil or a splash of lemon juice before serving, as the flavors tend to be muted when chilled.
To make this dish gluten-free, use a gluten-free orzo pasta made from rice, corn, or quinoa. They're pretty good!
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- 1 ½ cup orzo pasta
- ¾ - 1 cup vegan sunflower seed pesto (sub with any pesto)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- cracked pepper to taste
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 cups of spinach (substitute with arugula)
- 10 ounces asparagus, chopped
- lemon juice and zest from one lemon
For Garnish (optional)
- vegan feta
- basil leaves
- sunflower seeds
- Prepare the Asparagus: Rinse the asparagus under cold water to clean it, snap off the tough bottom ends by bending them until they break naturally (usually about the last inch or so), and then chop them into one-inch pieces. Place them on a baking sheet and coat them with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt, and pepper (or any other seasonings you may want). Bake in a 350°F (175°C) oven for 12-15 minutes or in the air fryer at the same temperature for 4-5 minutes. Air fryers vary, so check often so they don't overcook.
- Cook the Orzo: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the orzo and cook according to package instructions, usually about 8-10 minutes, until it's al dente. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Drain the orzo and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process. Drizzling a little olive oil and tossing it can prevent it from clumping as it cools.
- Prepare the Sunflower Seed Pesto: While the orzo boils and the asparagus roasts, prepare the pesto in the food processor.
- Prepare The Orzo Bowl: Place the spinach, tomatoes, roasted asparagus, and lemon juice, and zest in a large bowl. Then, add the cooked orzo and pesto to the bowl. Start with ¾ cup of pesto, adding more to suit your taste. The warmth of the orzo will help the pesto coat evenly and slightly wilt the greens, making them tender.
- Adjust Seasonings: Taste your pesto orzo and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, or even a squeeze of lemon juice if you feel it needs more acidity.
- Serve: This dish can be served warm, at room temperature, or cold, making it incredibly versatile. Garnish with fresh basil leaves, vegan feta, or a sprinkle of toasted sunflower seeds for a delightful crunch.
Vegan Sunflower Seed Pesto is a delicious nut-free pesto you can have ready in minutes. But if you prefer the convenience of a store-bought pesto, Trader Joe's makes a delicious pesto found in the refrigerated section of their store.
If you go with the homemade pesto route, chances are you'll end up with some extra. To keep it fresh, just drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top. Then, take a piece of plastic wrap and gently press it directly onto the pesto's surface to create an airtight seal. Cap it off with a lid that snaps tight to prevent any discoloration.
Nutritional information is only an estimate.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 20 minutes
- Category: salads
- Method: Roasted Boiled
- Cuisine: American
- Diet: Vegan
- Serving Size: 1 cup
- Calories: 254
- Sugar: 3.8 g
- Sodium: 339.8 mg
- Fat: 8.5 g
- Carbohydrates: 39.2 g
- Protein: 10.2 g
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
Keywords: pasta, salad, bowl, roasted, fresh, quick, summer, spring