Our Cold Orzo Salad with Sesame is delicious, simple and easy to throw together, making it the perfect side dish to go with just about anything. We take whole-wheat orzo pasta and coat it with an easy sesame and lime vinaigrette and then toss everything with shredded cabbage, cilantro, and green onions.
Cold Orzo Salad with Sesame
Its Monday, so let’s ease into with something well, easy. Our Cold Orzo Salad with Sesame is my new favorite side dish to serve with everything from a simple seared salmon and veggies to just about any Asian-inspired dish within our archives. It takes about 20 minutes to throw together, is super healthy, and totally customizable based on what you have in your fridge.
Here’s what’s happening:
- Aldente whole-wheat orzo
- A nutty, zippy sesame lime vinaigrette.
- A ridiculous amount of non-traditional veggies in the form of red cabbage, green onion, and cilantro. (Plus whatever else you want.)
That’s it. It’s super simple, but most of the time, simple is best. Let’s get started.
Orzo. Ok, so I know this is called a Cold ORZO salad, but you could honestly use whatever short pasta you want. I had whole-wheat orzo on hand, so that’s what I used, plus I just love orzo as a cold pasta salad. Macaroni, penne, or rotini would also work well.
Cabbage. I LOVE cabbage of all kinds, but I especially love red cabbage. It’s a little more bitter than traditional cabbage or Napa cabbage, but I like that. If you’re not into the bitterness, you could swap out your favorite kind of cabbage.
Also I find that freshly cut cabbage has a little bit more flavor than the pre-packaged stuff, but obviously do whatever is easiest for you.
Green onion. Lots of green onion. I used about four whole green onions – white and green parts – you can use more or less depending on your taste.
Cilantro. Again, lots of cilantro. We use 1/4 cup of chopped cilantro which actually equals to about a cup pre-cut.
Sesame seeds. Since this cold orzo salad is very sesame-forward, we compliment the sesame oil in the dressing with plenty of sesame seeds. If you want to take an extra step, you can toast the sesame seeds until they start to smell slightly toasty.
Other things. Gosh, you could add SO MANY THINGS to this easy orzo salad – chopped cashews, red peppers, and water chestnuts are things that come to mind right off the bat, but really, the possibilities are endless.
This dressing is so so simple, but really packs in flavor, you’ll need:
Sesame oil. Seeing as this is a cold orzo salad WITH sesame, we’d be remiss to not include one of my favorite asian ingredients – sesame oil. I adore the nutty undertones sesame oil has. It livens up any simple dressing, and I always have it on hand.
Lime juice. The focal acid in our cold orzo salad is lime juice, you’ll need close to 1/4 cup, which for me equates to about two limes depending on how juicy they are.
Rice vinegar. Another great acid to use in salad dressings, especially Asian salad dressings is rice vinegar. It’s more mild than a lot of other vinegars and compliments the lime juice.
Honey. In any salad dressing, you need a little bit of sugar or sweetness to balance out the acid. I love to use honey for this purpose, and since it’s texture is quite thick, it also helps to thicken up the dressing a bit.
Let’s make Cold Orzo Salad!
Guys, this is as easy as 1, 2, 3. Seriously. That’s it.
- Cook the orzo.
- Prep the ingredients while the orzo cooks – slice the cabbage, chop the green onion and cilantro.
- Make the dressing while the orzo cooks. Whisk everything together. Season with salt and pepper. Done.
- Ok, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4. Run the orzo under cold water to cool. Toss everything together.
Do I have to use orzo?
Again, as mentioned before, you absolutely do not have to use orzo, although I think all the ingredients together are pretty perfect. Rotini, shells, penne, or even spaghetti would be a good alternative.
Can I make Cold Orzo Salad in advance?
YES! Please do. Like a lot of pasta salads, this is even better after the ingredients have had some time to harmonize together. You can make it up to 24 hours in advance. Make sure to give it a toss before serving.
What is orzo?
I think a lot of people think orzo is a form of rice since it’s shaped like rice, but it’s actually just pasta shaped like rice. If that makes sense. You can find it in the pasta isle at pretty much any grocery store these days, but I feel like I really hit the jackpot when I find whole-wheat orzo. (I also order it from here when I can’t find it.)
Substitutions and Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- Just like any pasta, you don’t want to overcook the orzo. It should be slightly aldente, which means it should be soft on the outside and have a small bite on the inside.
- Add in chopped nuts, extra veggies, or whatever you’ve got lingering in the crisper of the fridge. If you’re anything like me, I know there’s plenty in there to use.
- If you don’t have rice vinegar, just use a little bit more lime juice.
- Adjust to taste! If you like a little bite/spiciness to your salad, add more dijon mustard. If you like more sweetness, add more honey.
- Season season season! Salt is so important. Season the pasta water. Season the dressing. And then season the final product.
Entrees to serve with Orzo salad
- Our salmon cakes are packed with salmon, packed with flavor, and super easy to throw together.
- Baked BBQ Salmon is another great main to pair with our cold orzo salad. Again, super easy to throw together.
- Hunan Shrimp is spicy, SO delicious and needs a side to go with it!
- 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat orzo
- 1 1/2 cups shredded red cabbage
- 4 green onion sliced, about a heaping 1/4 cup
- 1 cup cilantro, chopped (it should be about 1/4 cup after it's been chopped)
- 3 tbsp lime juice
- 2 tsp rice vinegar
- 1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tbsp + 2 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt, divided
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
- stock pot
- Mixing bowl
- Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Season with salt. Cook orzo according to package directions. Make sure to take it out when it's aldente/still has a slight bite to it. Drain and rinse under cold water.
- While the pasta cooks, slice the cabbage and chop the cilantro and green onion.
- Also while the pasta cooks, make the dressing. Add lime juice, rice vinegar, honey, dijon, ginger, and ginger to a large serving bowl. Whisk together. Slowly whisk in sesame and olive oil. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt. Whisk. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Once the orzo has cooked, add the orzo, cabbage, green onion, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the serving bowl with the dressing. Toss until everything is coated. Add the cilantro and sesame seeds. Toss again. Season with salt and pepper - honey and dijon if desired.