I’m always on the hunt for a good side dish to take to picnics and barbecues. I need variety, because I get bored eating the same dishes, and I like dishes that feature fresh summer produce. That’s why I like this orzo salad so much. The dressing is light, and it allows the summer vegetables to shine through.
Another great thing about this orzo salad is it can be customized with whatever veggies and herbs you have on hand. Don’t like zucchini? Replace it with asparagus or green beans. Add some fresh bell peppers or chilis (if you like spice). You could even top it with a diced avocado. Next time I make it, I want to add some olives, use feta cheese, and substitute with parsley for the basil. I want to work on a caprese-style version, too, since those flavors always remind me of summer.
I know this is an unpopular opinion in some circles, but I don’t like mayonnaise-based side dishes at picnics. Macaroni salad, coleslaw, and potato salad show up everywhere in the summer, but many of them are bland and taste primarily of Miracle Whip. They’re one-note dishes that are short on flavor. There are so many better options to serve that do better in the heat and still incorporate pasta, veggies, or potatoes. I prefer slaws and salads made with oil or vinegar instead of mayonnaise. The best coleslaw I ever had was from The Salt Lick in Texas. It’s a great barbecue place outside of Austin that serves German-inspired potato salad and coleslaw. If you’re tastes are like mine, then check out their cookbook. I would eat their coleslaw and potato salad every day of summer.
Tell me in the comments about your favorite sides for summer events.
Inspired by Iowa Girl Eats and Pinch of Yum
Orzo Salad with Summer Vegetables and Lemon Basil Dressing
- 8 oz. of orzo
- 2 T. olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 zucchini, cut into 1/2" slices then quartered
- 2 cups corn, fresh or frozen
- 5 oz. spinach
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- 2 T. fresh basil, chopped
- Juice of one lemon
- 1/4 c. olive oil
- Salt and Pepper
- 6 oz. drunken goat cheese (regular goat cheese also works), diced or crumbled
- Extra basil for a garnish (chopped or whole leaves)
- Cook orzo according to package directions. Drain and drizzle with a bit of oil to prevent the orzo from sticking together.
- Add the 2 T. of olive oil and the minced garlic to a cold skillet. Set over medium heat and cook until the garlic begins to sizzle and colors slightly.
- Add the zucchini. Season with a pinch of salt, and increase heat to medium high. Saute the zucchini until it's tender but firm.
- Add the corn, and season with a pinch of salt. If the corn the corn is fresh, it won't need long to cook, 30 seconds to one minute, or until it's heated through. If it's frozen, it will take a few minutes to defrost and the water to evaporate.
- When the corn is heated through, add the spinach, and season with a pinch of salt. Wilt the spinach, then remove from heat.
- Add the orzo to the veggies, and stir to combine.
- Combine the basil, lemon juice, 1/4 c. of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and several grinds of pepper. Toss the veggies and orzo with the salad. Taste the salad and adjust seasonings.
- If you're serving the salad cold, now is the time to refrigerate it until it's cool.
- Before serving, stir in the goat cheese and diced tomatoes. Garnish with more basil. Enjoy!
Salting each veggie lightly as it cooks gives the dish a more well-rounded flavor. Salting once at the end will give the dish a saltier and less-balanced taste.