Oil-Free Pesto Orzo Salad

Author: Sarah Cobacho

Published: May 12, 2024

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Top view of freshly prepared Pesto Orzo Salad in a white bowl on a kitchen counter, featuring arugula, broccolini, and cherry tomatoes.

This delicious Pesto Orzo Salad is the perfect addition to your spring or summer table. It’s fresh, vibrant, and easy to assemble. It’s also super nutritious, with 17 g of fiber, 8 mg of iron, and 26 g of protein per serving, making it a wonderful option for a satisfying lunch that will keep you full for hours. It’s stunning enough to double as a side salad that will stand out as an absolute crowd-pleaser at your next gathering. The oil-free almond pesto is creamy and luscious and pairs so well with the peppery arugula, beautiful broccolini and asparagus, umami-packed olives, and toasted pine nuts. While technically a humble pasta salad, it has just that little touch of extra that makes it very special, and it will make you feel amazing.

Why I Love This Recipe

  • Nutritious and Balanced: Packed with fiber, healthy fats and protein, perfect to make us feel full and satisfied for hours.
  • Iron-rich: Provides 8 mg of iron per serving, which is paired with vitamin C and allium to enhance absorption.
  • Gut Healthy: Contains 18 g of fiber per serving, and over 12 unique plants, perfect to feed a thriving microbiome.
  • Quick and Easy: Simple ingredients and quick to prepare.
  • Oil-free: Perfect for those following an oil-free diet.
  • Versatile: Easy to swap in gluten-free options like gluten-free pasta, rice or quinoa.
Vibrant ingredients for Pesto Orzo Salad spread out on a white surface, featuring fresh greens and colorful vegetables.

Ingredient Notes

  • Orzo: A rice-shaped pasta that’s perfect for salads. Substitute: Use quinoa for a gluten-free option.
  • Broccolini and Asparagus: Excellent sources of vitamins and minerals. Blanching them preserves color and nutrients.
  • Butterbeans: great source of protein, minerals, and fiber.
  • Almond Pesto: A heart-healthy fat source that adds a creamy texture and vibrant taste without oil or dairy.

How to Make This Recipe (Summary)

Start by cooking the orzo al dente according to the package instructions. Blanch the broccolini and asparagus to keep them vibrant and tender. Create the almond pesto by blending soaked almonds with fresh basil and spices. Mix all the ingredients in a large salad bowl and dress with the creamy pesto. View recipe card below for detailed instructions.

Detailed top view of a bowl of Pesto Orzo Salad, emphasizing the textures and vibrant colors of the fresh ingredients, ready to be tossed.
Vibrant green healthy salad dressing in a jar in front of a pesto orzo salad

Variations and Tips

  • Protein Boost: This recipe has 26 g of plant-based protein per serving. To bump it up, add lentils or tofu. Alternatively, you can add more nutritional yeast or hemp seeds to the dressing.
  • Gluten-Free: Use gluten-free pasta (I love buckwheat), brown rice, or quinoa for a delicious and nourishing gluten-free grain option
  • Nut-Free: Swap the almonds in the dressing for soaked sunflower seeds. Swap the pine nuts for pepita seeds.
  • Greens: Any green leafy vegetable would be delicious here. If you want to vary from rocket, try baby spinach, finely chopped and massaged kale, or mesclun. Did you know that fresh herbs count toward your daily serving of greens? To change it up, try half basil, half dill, or half basil, half mint.
  • Storage: Keep in the fridge in an airtight container. If you want to make this ahead of time, keep the rocket and sauce separate from the rest of the salad and assemble when ready to eat. If you want a meal prep with a similar flavor, try my Pesto Orzo Salad Meal-Prep.
  • Salad Styling Tip: When I want to make a salad a little more presentable, I like to reserve a few of the key ingredients (see photo 1 below) before I toss my salad ingredients. Then, I place the reserved ingredients at the top of the salad. This helps to showcase all the beautiful ingredients and make a Pinterest-worthy salad! And always keep the dressing separate until ready to serve!
Topping ingredients for a pesto orzo salad

Salad Styling Tip: Keep some of the key ingredients to add to the top of the tossed salad.

Detailed top view of a freshly tossed bowl of Pesto Orzo Salad, emphasizing the textures and vibrant colors of the fresh ingredients.

Before styling

Detailed top view of a bowl of Pesto Orzo Salad, emphasizing the textures and vibrant colors of the fresh ingredients.

After styling

Close-up of a Pesto Orzo Salad in a white bowl ready to add salad dressing.

Why You’ll Love This Pesto Orzo Salad TLDR

  • Refreshing
  • Nutrient-Dense
  • Customizable
  • Quick Prep
  • Delicious
Top view of freshly prepared Pesto Orzo Salad in a white bowl on a kitchen counter, featuring arugula, broccolini, and cherry tomatoes.

Pesto Orzo Salad

4.7 from 3 votes
A refreshing orzo salad with broccolini, asparagus, and a creamy, oil-free almond pesto. Perfect for a nutritious meal.
Sarah Cobacho (plantbaes.com)
Prep Time45 minutes
Cook Time5 minutes
Total Time50 minutes

Video

Servings 2

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup dry orzo
  • 1 bunch broccolini
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1.5 cups cooked butterbeans
  • 2 cups arugula
  • 5.5 oz small tomatoes (chopped in half)
  • 1 small shallot (finely chopped)
  • 6 large green olives (pitted and chopped)
  • 2 tbsp toasted pine nuts

Creamy Oil-Free Almond Pesto

  • 12 raw almonds
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • cup soy milk
  • tsp chili flakes
  • 1 pinch sea salt flakes
  • 1 pinch freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 cup fresh basil (packed tightly)

Instructions

  • Cover the almonds in boiling water for 30 minutes. Drain, peel off the skin (it should come off easily) and set aside.
  • Cook the orzo in a large pot of salted water according to the packet instructions. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process.
  • Trim off the bottom fibrous part of the asparagus. Chop the rest of the asparagus into bite-size pieces, keeping the heads whole.
  • Trim off the bottom fibrous part of the broccolini. Chop the rest into bite-size pieces.
  • Prepare a medium saucepan with water and bring to a soft boil. Prepare a large bowl filled with ice water.
  • Cook the asparagus and broccolini in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and transfer to iced water for two minutes, then drain again. This process is called blanching, and it prevents the vegetables from overcooking while retaining a vibrant green color.
  • Prepare the dressing: In a small blender, add the almonds, garlic, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, chili flakes, salt, pepper, and basil. Blend until perfectly smooth. Add a little more milk if necessary (this will depend on your blender).
  • In a large salad bowl, combine the rocket, butter beans, orzo, tomatoes, broccolini, asparagus, shallots, olives, pine nuts, and the dressing. Adjust salt to taste, and enjoy!

Notes

This salad is perfect for those looking for a gluten-free option—simply substitute orzo with rice or quinoa.

Per Serving

Calories 543kcalCarbohydrates 66gProtein 26gFat 14gSodium 356mgFiber 18gVitamin A 252IUVitamin C 86mgCalcium 250mgIron 8mg
COURSE Salad
CUISINE Mediterranean-Inspired
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FAQ

Can I make this salad ahead of time?

Yes, you can prepare this salad a day in advance.

Is this recipe suitable for kids?

Absolutely, it’s mild and nutritious, perfect for a family meal.

How can I make this recipe nut-free?

Substitute sunflower seeds for almonds in the pesto.

Can I use a different type of pasta?

Yes, any small pasta shape works well in this salad.

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