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Orzo Pesto Salad

  • Author: Liz Madsen
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 12 cups 1x
  • Diet: Vegan


Bright, flavorful, and easy to make, this Orzo Pesto Salad is a delicious and quick entree or side. Made with fresh and simple ingredients.


Units Scale

For pasta

  • 1 pound dry orzo or other pasta (use gluten-free if needed)
  • 1 1/2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 3-4 ears of corn (about 2 cups corn)
  • Extra basil leaves for garnish, optional

For pesto if using homemade

  • 4 cups basil leaves, packed (see note 1)
  • 1 cup raw sunflower seeds (see note 2)
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (see note 3 for oil-free option)
  • Juice of 1 medium lemon (2-3 tablespoons lemon juice)
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast (see note 4)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, to taste


  1. Cook pasta: Start by cooking your orzo according to package directions. Drain when cooked through.
  2. Prep other ingredients: While the orzo cooks, you can prep the rest of the ingredients.
  3. Blanch the basil: This is an extra step, but it really preserves the color and flavor of the orzo. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. While it comes to a boil, set up a bowl of cold water with a few ice cubes in it. I prefer to use filtered water for this. When the pot has come to a boil, add the basil to it and lightly submerge the leaves with the help of a cooking spoon. After 30 seconds, Remove the basil with a spider strainer, slotted spoon, or tongs and place in the bowl of ice water. Gently stir to cool the basil and stop the cooking process. When the basil has cooled, you can remove it from the bowl, squeeze out the excess water, and place it directly in your food processor. I like to pull the clumped leaves apart a little bit to help everything blend smoother.
  4. Make the pesto: In a food processor (blender is fine, but the food processor leaves it a bit more textural which I like), combine the blanched basil (squeezed of its excess water), raw sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and sea salt. Blend until combined and taste. Adjust flavors if needed and re-blend. If you prefer it saucier, add hot water or some of the pasta cooking water, about 1 tablespoon at a time and pulse to check the consistency. Once you’re pleased, set aside until ready to use. You can also pack it into a jar and refrigerate until ready to use.
  5. Cook the corn: You can also cook up your corn at this time. I like to cook mine either in a grill pan or over the gas flame on my stove. You can also just boil, steam, or microwave your corn if you prefer. To cut it off the cob, I put a smaller bowl upside down in a larger bowl. Stand the corn on top of the smaller bowl and cut the corn off the cob. That way, it stays inside the bowl and doesn’t fly everywhere. Then you just remove the smaller bowl and there’s your corn.
  6. Assemble pasta salad: Once the orzo is cooked and drained, toss it immediately with the pesto. Fold in the corn and tomatoes with some extra basil leaves and serve immediately or chill. Enjoy!
  7. Store: Refrigerate leftover orzo pesto salad in an airtight container for up to 5 days.


Note 1: I used fresh basil because it’s the foundation of most pestos and it’s delicious--one of my favorite herbs. But use what you have access to and what you like. You could use another herb like cilantro or you could use a mixture of those and some baby spinach or whatever else you like.

Note 2: Sunflower seeds are the cheapest option and they’re also great for people who can’t have nuts due to an allergy. You could also use cashews (I even have a vegan cashew pesto recipe), blanched almonds (with no skins), or even pine nuts if you want to go the traditional route.

Note 3: Extra virgin olive oil is the foundation of a good pesto along with basil, but I recognize that many people don’t like to cook or eat with oil. I try to minimize it myself (though I made a decision a little while back not to exclude it from my blog since the majority of my readers expressed a preference), but sometimes I do cook with it. If you would like to make this recipe oil-free, you can use any of the following: ripe avocado, tahini, broth, non-dairy milk, water, or a mixture of any of those. Try my vegan avocado pesto for a delicious oil-free option.

Note 4: Nutritional yeast is a great substitute for the dairy cheese most pestos use. It’s slightly nutty, very cheesy, and good for you. If you don’t like nutritional yeast, you could use store-bought vegan parmesan (we love Violife brand), or substitute hemp hearts and add an extra ¼ - ½ teaspoon salt.

  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Category: Entree
  • Method: Stove top
  • Cuisine: American, Italian

Keywords: Vegan, Vegetarian, Vegan Orzo Recipe, Vegan Orzo Salad