Spinach and Orzo Salad

“Needs more cheese.” “Needs more vinegar.” “Needs fewer olives.” “You could add more spinach.”

My parents love it when I cook for them, especially when it’s a new recipe and they get to be the taste testers. They happily put up with the delays to the meal due to my tweaking the dish as they “dish out” their suggestions. And with the delays that come from my attempts to take the perfect photo (“Don’t touch that, I still haven’t shot it!”). I love their input, as they know much more about food than I do, and their suggestions almost always result in something better.

This spinach, orzo, and feta salad recipe comes from our happy family collaboration. Feel free to experiment with the proportions. Many recipes I’ve found online call for twice as much orzo to the other ingredients than I’ve listed here. I think there is a lot of room for maneuvering when you are working with great ingredients like these.

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Spinach and Orzo Salad Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces orzo pasta
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 6 ounces feta cheese, roughly crumbled
  • 2 ounces Kalamata Greek olives pitted, roughly chopped, about 1/2 cup (about 20 olives)
  • 4 ounces baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion (about half a red onion)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar (can substitute white vinegar or lemon juice)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Pinch dried basil
  • Pinch dried tarragon
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method

1 Cook the orzo pasta. Bring to a boil a pot with 2 quarts of water in it. Once the water is boiling, salt it with a couple teaspoons of salt. Once the water returns to a boil add the orzo to the pot. Leave uncovered, cook on high heat with a vigorous boil. Put the timer on for 8-10 minutes, or whatever your pasta package says is appropriate for al dente (cooked but still a little firm). Drain. Rinse with cold water to cool quickly.

2 Toast the pine nuts by heating a small skillet on medium heat. Add the pine nuts and stir occasionally until the pine nuts are lightly browned. Pay attention or you'll burn the pine nuts.

3 Take half of the spinach and purée it in a food processor or blender, adding one tablespoon of the olive oil. Roughly chop the other half of the spinach. In a large serving bowl mix the spinach purée olive oil mixture in with cooked orzo until the pasta is well coated with the purée. Then gently mix in the remaining spinach, the red onion, feta cheese, pine nuts, and the Kalamata olives.

3 In a small jar, combine the remaining olive oil (2 Tbsp), balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, mustard, dried basil, and dried tarragon. Put a lid on the jar and shake to combine. (You can also just whisk together these ingredients in a small bowl, but the jar method works great to get a good emulsion.) Pour over orzo spinach mixture and gently mix in until well incorporated.

4 Chill for at least an hour before serving.

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51 Comments

  1. Pille

    Looks fresh and tasty. I wonder if it would work with real orzo, i.e. barley groats? Or perhaps spelt or farro? I love their nutty taste.
    PS I can just visualise how your parents try to improve your recipes – sounds fun:)

  2. sK

    Funny, I made something very similar last night but with fresh mozzarella (had some on hand) and a rice wine vinaigrette. Mine definitely needed some help, but I think the kalamata olives are what saved it from being blah. I will definitely try pureeing/chopping the spinach next time (I just tossed it in to wilt with the warm orzo).

  3. Honeybee

    Mmmh, I love Orzo. I have to try this one, it looks so good. My summer staple for barbecues is a orzo salad with vegetables braised in olive oil until they are just soft. The oil, juice from the vegetables and the starch clinging to the orzo and a splash of lemon juice make a wonderful effortless dressing.

  4. Mari

    This will definitely be in my lunch box next week!

  5. annie @ forest street kitchen

    This dish looks fresh and lovely; spring in a bowl. I also think that it might be a very good way to get more spinach into our diet. I love all of the ingredients, and think that the sharpness of feta and vinegar just might be enough to enchant and transform my green-o-phobics. Thanks so much for this recipe!

  6. Augustina

    This looks so delicious. I’m always looking for creative ways to cook with orzo. The green coloring looks lovely too.

  7. jessica

    mmmmm Orzo! I got married in early April and one of my mother’s freinds made this wonderful orzo salad for a pre-wedding open house party that was similar to yours except she used roasted peppers and onions instead of spinach and olives. The flavor improved with extra chilling.

  8. Denise

    I love all the ingredients listed so I can’t wait to try this!

    I can so hear your mom and dad giving their comments! It’s weird that with just a food blog, you can come to “know” people (or at least feel like you do!) What would we do without the internet?!

  9. Sylvie

    I’m always looking for different ways to use orzo. This looks great, with those ingredients it’s just gotta be good.

  10. Georgia

    Different ones say they are always looking for different ways to use Orzo. Well, I’m always looking for Orzo and have decided it isn’t available in my neck of the hills. We are transplants here and were used to all kinds of everything. Can I use something similar for the recipe?

  11. LiberalFoodie

    Thank you for this recipe. Is there a reason you use two different types of vinegars?

  12. Lori the RecipeGirl

    So it looks like a spinach pesto of sorts? This is a great idea. I may be able to get this one past my 6 year old since he wouldn’t actually be eating the spinach leaves!

    Exactly. Just like a spinach pesto. Spreads the spinach around more. :-) ~Elise

  13. Everyday Mommy

    This sounds absolutely delicious! I’ll be making it this week.

  14. Farida

    This looks fantastic. I like the mix of ingredients. Healthy too. Printing it! Oh, my, I can’t catch up with all the yummy recipes I am printing from foodies!

  15. Laura Marschke

    This looks delicious! I love orzo, feta, olives and spinach! I also love that cute bowl… where did you find it!? Thank you for your recipes and for all the help from your parents! Must be a rough job trying all your wonderful food! ;)

    Hi Laura, thanks! The bowl is Limoge; I found it at a homeware store’s sidewalk sale. I think it’s cute too. :-) ~Elise

  16. Babeth

    Great salad! Your pixs are stunning, btw could you believe I have the same exact flower shape bowl :-)

  17. Katie

    There’s a great online source for orzo as well as other types of dried pasta. Here’s the link: http://www.pappardellesonline.com/servlet/StoreFront
    I first saw this company at Pike’s Place Market, and was very impressed with the different flavor combinations. I think that this salad would be great with one of these orzo varieties. I also was thinking that arugula might be good in this too.

  18. Holy Card Collector

    Just found your interesting site. I’m not familiar with orzo…would this recipe be something that could be made a day ahead and then served? Thanks.

    Yes, you can easily make this a day ahead. ~Elise

  19. Carolyn

    I made this last night and it is great! I can see this getting better after chilling for awhile. I could not find pine nuts so used sunflower seeds..So healthy! Thanks for a wonderful recipe.

  20. CW Guy

    It’s very cool that you have your own resource for quality cooking critique. Not to mention, they actually have your improvement in mind, and aren’t just looking to hollowly bash or praise your meal.

    Excellent looking dish too!

  21. cleartrampoline

    I made this last night with a friend and it was delicious! We used fresh basil instead of dried (Cause that’s how I roll) and went a little heavy on the olives because we are olive addicts. It was awesome. Thanks for the great recipe!

  22. Ellie @ Kitchen Wench

    How marvellous! And I was just looking for a recipe to use up the rest of my orzo!

  23. Carly

    This was *excellent*… wow. I substituted sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil, of course) for the olives since I didn’t have any olives on hand, tossed in some chopped fresh mint that I’d gotten from my CSA, and it was outrageously good. I admit, I couldn’t wait the full hour in the fridge, but it was still excellent. can’t wait to try it again today when it’s been completely chilled.

  24. ces

    I am definitely making this tomorrow, I have most of the ingredients now but missing on a couple…man!

  25. Deborah Dowd

    This looks like a delicious dish that my family would really like!

  26. veek

    Looks great! I think if you serve it at room temp than it taste better though.

  27. alamobecky

    Made this salad tonight with your marinated flank steak and it was slammin’! I felt the salad was a bit one-dimensional tang-wise, though, and added 3/4 tsp. of fine sugar and also an extra dash of balsamic vinegar before serving. Next time I’ll just use all balsamic vinegar and forego the red wine vinegar.

    I think you might find, as we did, that the red wine vinegar adds necessary acidity that the balsamic doesn’t. You can also get this acidity from a little lemon juice if you don’t want to use the red wine vinegar. ~Elise

  28. Jen S

    This dish is always a favorite Mediterranean of mine! I agree with you about altering proportions and ingredients. I’ve made one sans spinach with peas or asparagus in a lemon vinaigrette. Next time I’ll try your dressing with tarragon.

  29. Sarah

    Your recipes have never lead me astray, and this one is just as good as all the rest. Though, I think it could use a few more pine nuts, they get lost in all the other flavors.

  30. becca

    Yum! I made this tonight for my husband and I… Just reduced the amount of feta and added grilled shrimp, and it was a perfect main!

    Thanks!

  31. Lisa

    Wowie, that looks and sounds fabulous. And here’s me getting pre-farmer’s-market, locally grown spinach on Saturdays! I chuckled at your comment about your parents having to wait till photos are shot before they can eat. My husband jokes that he hasn’t had a hot meal since I started blogging. ;)

  32. Marielle

    Sounds lovely. I may skip the olives, but add sun-dried tomatoes as there are a few olive-shy people at my house.

    M

    Macaroni Grill does a similar salad…

  33. Karin

    I made this salad last night. I absolutely love it. And I plan to try the smoked salmon pasta this weekend. Thanks for the wonderful recipes!

  34. Trevor

    This is a fabulous salad. My wife and I made it this eveing, and I thought it could use a touch of sweet. A bit of honey and a handful of dried cranberries fit the bill. Thanks for all the great recipes!

  35. Lorelei

    So good! I am on a real orzo kick at the moment, and made this salad this morning to take to work for lunch next week. I have already dipped my spoon into the dish more times than I care to admit! As for number of servings – I’d say it’s more like 6-8. Maybe 4 if you are super hungry!

  36. Amelia

    I made this this morning and it tasted great; it’s in the fridge chilling now. I skipped the pine nuts because I don’t care for them, and I accidentally used a tablespoon of mustard (apparently I can’t read), and I skipped the dried tarragon, because I don’t care for tarragon at all.

    My spinach wouldn’t puree in my food processor, though–it was very finely minced, but not saucy. I guess I’ll use the blender next time.

  37. deb

    I think this is Simply Recipes week! This was a wonderful dinner for a sticky, muggy day that we could assemble relatively quickly and not have to stress over finding seasonal ingredients, which you know, is sometimes a big relief. Huzzah!

  38. WJ

    Amazing salad. Very light, and fresh. Perfect for summer. Only thing I do differently, is up the spinach a bit, and in addition to the vinegars, I squeeze fresh lemon juice over the mixed salad.

  39. D

    What would be a good substitution for feta cheese? Don’t say goat cheese because I don’t like cheese made with goat’s or sheep’s milk.

    Cotija cheese, a Mexican cheese that is also salty and crumbly. ~Elise

  40. Karen

    This is super-yummy! I find that most orzo recipes contain an excessive quantity of orzo, so this half-part of orzo is perfect! I like my pasta dishes hot, so I skipped all of the chilling. I used a whole onion and carmelized it, and I wilted the chopped the spinach a bit. This one’s a keeper, and I’m going to go through all of my orzo recipes and adjust the orzo ration!

  41. D

    Thanks Elise! I made this salad tonight and I love it! I double the quantity and instead of feta, I used cotija cheese. The cotija cheese is a great substitution, but a bit salty. I may use less the next time I make it. The salad did not need any salt at all because of the cotija chese and kalamta olives. I also used whole-wheat orzo. So delicious and I have a lot of leftover for the next few dinners. :)

  42. Pieg!rl

    I finally got around to making this orzo salad tonight. It tastes wonderful even before chilling in the fridge! But I’m waiting to taste it chilled. Definitely a great recipe for incorporating greens and a great base recipe for “variations on a theme.”

  43. Amitha

    Love this recipe! This has all of my favorite ingredients! I’m very much a beginner cook…thanks for making this so easy!

  44. Honey

    This tastes exactly like the salad I’ve been buying for $7/lb at the deli and I’m soooo happy to be able to make it on my own. It is delicious and healthy and even my husband who usually doesn’t like anything vinegar-y loves this! You have to try it…you will not be disappointed!

  45. Elaine Kampmann

    I notice you toasted the pine nuts, but not the orzo. I make a very similar salad, but always toast the orzo before cooking it. It improves the cooked texture beautifully. You can toast it in the microwave (carefully) in a glass container, or traditionally just like the pine nuts. I would caution about using all the dressing in advance because the orzo soaks it up. I use a little bit of dressing to give flavor and then put the dressing on the table to try and save some calories.

  46. Amelia

    I made this salad for a BBQ and already two people are requesting this recipe because they loved it. Just as Elise suggests, I played with the ingredient proportions by adding more pine nuts, less cheese and fresh lemon juice as a substitute for the red wine vinegar. Great recipe.

  47. Teresa

    I made this yesterday and it was good but today it was BETTER! Perhaps a little less oil next time.

  48. Sandra

    This was…By far…The best…Pasta salad…EVER!!!!! Perfect combination of flavors! I measured everything except the spinach (pretty much eyeballed that). It was incredible! It’s snowy and cold here in NJ, but it doesn’t stop us from enjoying a nice salad with grilled chicken :) I can’t wait to make this again and especially during the summer time to bring to family and friends, YUMMMMMM!!!! I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, your recipes are always AMAZING, simple, yet make me feel like a gourmet chef :) Yah!!

  49. Jen

    I love this recipe! The pureed spinach is genius (I pureed it with garlic as my partner and I love a ton of garlic). The dijon mustard with the two vinegars gave it a great flavor. I have been looking for new recipes and this will now be in the rotation. This website is great – thank you so much!

  50. Annie

    Thanks for this wonderful recipe! I made it for a picnic yesterday, and everyone loved it. It tasted fancy but was super easy to make. I like Becca’s idea above of adding grilled shrimp to make it a main — might have to try that next.

  51. Morgan

    This is so delicious! I substituted sundried tomatoes for the olives and omitted the pine nuts (alas, I had none!) Even with those substitutions/ omissions, this is one of the best uses of orzo/spinach I’ve seen, thank you so much!

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