orzo picnic salad

orzo picnic salad | theclevercarrot.com

Over the weekend, we went to 3 birthday parties.

Not cool adult parties with vintage wine and civilized cheese platters… kid parties.

When I was a kid, birthday parties consisted of a small group of children, usually at our house, with parent supervised games and a Carvel cake. Nowadays, you have to sign waivers just to let your kid play in one of those crazy bouncy houses.

Let’s talk about party food too-

The amount of doughy pizza I consumed this weekend was just ridiculous. In a good way. All that warm sauce and bubbly cheese… Then, of course, there was plenty of dessert to cleanse the palate; ice cream cake, regular cake (adorned with red #5 frosting) and cookie platters.

You know those soft-baked chocolate chip cookies they sell at Costco?


orzo picnic salad | theclevercarrot.com

Amongst the copious selection of carbs, I spotted an orzo salad with my name on it, “Shamu!”

My cousin made it for her son’s birthday (hi Maia!) and I haven’t stopped thinking about it ever since (you know it’s good when you can scarf it down out of a red Solo cup).

Her salad was very simple: orzo, tomatoes, feta and mint.

mint | theclevercarrot.com

Check out my mint!

All I need is a lime tree and I can have my own personal mojito set-up.

Anyway, to make this salad you need chilled orzo pasta. If it’s too hot, it will wilt the herbs and soften the tomatoes. Luckily, you can make the pasta in advance and just assemble when ready. But if you’re cooking to order, chill the pasta on a plate or tray until it cools down. Toss with a bit of olive oil so that it doesn’t stick.

And while that’s going, chop up some tomatoes and make the salad dressing. I combine Dijon mustard, balsamic, and olive oil in an empty jam jar and shake it up. I love this method because it’s easy and keeps conveniently in the fridge. The mustard acts as an instant thickener too. You’ll have dressing for the rest of the week.

Once your orzo has cooled, toss everything together with lots of thinly sliced mint, basil, and fresh mozzarella. The juices from the tomatoes will drink in all of the lovely, herb flavors. And go heavy on the herbs- it’s the best part. I’m almost finished with my flat of micro basil… (sniff, sniff). This salad travels well and feeds a crowd.

Dig. In.

orzo picnic salad | theclevercarrot.com

orzo picnic salad
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 6
  • 1½ cup orzo pasta, uncooked
  • 1 lb colorful cherry tomatoes
  • 1 rib of celery, with leafy tops
  • ¼ cup packed mint leaves
  • ¼ cup packed basil leaves
  • 2 cups fresh mozzarella balls
  • ½ cup ground parmesan cheese
  • coarse salt & freshly ground black pepper
Dijon Balsamic Vinaigrette
  • 1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • * You will have extra vinaigrette leftover. Store in the fridge and use for salads during the week.
  1. Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil and add the pasta. Season with a pinch of salt and cook according to the package instructions. Drain in a colander, and spread out onto a large plate or tray. Drizzle with olive oil to prevent sticking. Place in the fridge to cool down.
  2. Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. In an empty jam jar, add the mustard, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper. Screw the lid on tight, and give it a shake.
  3. Slice your cherry tomatoes in half or quarter them if they're large.
  4. Thinly slice the celery, including the leafy tops if you have any. They will add great flavor to the salad.
  5. For the mint, stack the leaves (like a pile of paper) and roll them up (like a sleeping bag). Then, slice across into ribbons. Do the same with the basil leaves.
  6. Grab a large bowl and add your cooled orzo, tomatoes, celery, mint, basil and mozzarella balls.
  7. Drizzle with some of the vinaigrette and toss well. Taste your salad, and adjust with extra seasoning or vinaigrette, if necessary.
  8. Sprinkle with parmesan right before serving.



    • Emilie says

      Hi Sarah! Thank you kindly :) This is definitely a good one for summer (no mayo!) and you can throw in/take out whatever you want. It’s all about using what’s fresh and in season, and of course, what you like. Have fun with the recipe!

  1. Lauren says

    I was thinking about making this for my daughter’s first birthday party we’re having at the park. Do you think I could make this the night before and it would still be good?

    • Emilie says

      Hi Lauren,

      That’s a great question! You can definitely make this ahead of time, with some exceptions.

      Here’s what I would do:

      Cook the pasta, make the dressing, and chop the tomatoes the day before the party (store tomatoes in a separate container). Do not pre-chop the herbs; they will bruise. Then, the following day, mix the remaining ingredients together- it should take all of 2 minutes. And don’t forget to pack your jam jar, if you need extra dressing :)

      Does this make sense? Please let me know if you have any questions! I hope you enjoy :)

    • Emilie says

      Celia, I adore orzo as well. It’s been on my radar since writing a couple of recipes for the cookbook, and when I saw my cousin’s version I thought, “I have to make this salad!” It’s very flexible too, so please make it your own. I love to grab bites out of the fridge as I walk by… Enjoy xo

    • Emilie says

      Ah, too funny! No chickpeas this time, although that would certainly be delicious. It’s one of the heirloom tomatoes ;)

  2. Ruby88 says

    Wow such vibrant photos. They just jump out and say ‘eat me!’ I know what you mean eating too many carbs at parties. but I guess that’s why they call it a party. This orzo salad looks like a great recipe to bring to the hopefully many outdoor summer parties to come.

    • Emilie says

      Hi Ruby! Thank you! It wouldn’t be a party without a little pig-out food, right? LOL. If you like orzo, you’ll find this recipe convenient for entertaining. I hope you enjoy :)

  3. Patti says

    Let’s start with the photo… I can’t make this salad fast enough. The recipe is so simple, yet it mixes different flavors and textures in a way I wouldn’t have thought of. That is the wonder of you Emilie and The Clever Carrot. I cannot wait for your cookbook! Enjoy your holiday weekend and PLEASE share the details of anything you cook.

  4. says

    So glad the mostly processed birthday party fare turned fruitful, with the inspiration for this recipe! YaY!! There’s always a diamond in the rough.. and you found it! Hurray! Delicious salad, Emilie! I am all over orzo and with fresh tomatoes, feta and garden herbs; Ah, it’s on the list! I need a lime tree too… oh and how is Rum distilled? Maybe I can put that set up in the spare bedroom..? Thank you for this, my dear. … xo

    • Emilie says

      Right? That’s one way to look at it for sure ;) Now, we just need to launch our orzo/mojito party and we’ll be good to go. Cheers to (almost) summer! xo

    • Emilie says

      Ha! You’re too funny. Totally off subject- I’m so excited for your book. Seriously, talk about staring at delicious things while hungry… xo

    • Emilie says

      Oh Pam, that would be awesome. I think you’re really going to like this salad. You can switch up the ingredients too however you’d like. Enjoy! Have a wonderful weekend- hooray for an extra day off ;)

  5. says

    This looks delicious. Roll on summer so I can use the tomatoes from the garden for this. Every summer I seem to get stuck on one salad that we eat again and again. Looks like 2015 may be the year of the Orzo salad.

    • Emilie says

      Hi Anne, I know what you mean! There’s nothing wrong with sticking to what we know ;) Do let me know how it goes if you end up making this with your summer tomatoes or something similar xo

  6. says

    A lovely presentation! For the gluten free people in our lives, we’ll experiment on this with some different rice possibilities or maybe some lentils – keeping the factor of the base flavour in mind. White pepper is also one of our favourites and allows for a little less intrusiveness too.
    Nice style of blogging – clean and precise! Well done-

    • Emilie says

      Hello! Welcome! A gluten-free version of this would be outstanding. Perhaps a little quinoa, millet, or as you’ve suggested using different rice combinations. I haven’t used white pepper in ages- thanks for the reminder. I know it’s in my spice cabinet somewhere… Have fun with the recipe and thanks for stopping by! Enjoy!

  7. says

    just made this last night, minus the feta and mustard, with mozzarella instead….. The mint was such a refreshing burst of flavor to my usual caprese salads! Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Emilie says

      Hi Nikki!

      Fantastic! Isn’t the mint yummy? It’s one of my favorite herbs to work with. So glad you enjoyed the recipe :)

  8. says

    This looks amazing! Everything looks so fresh. I love this salad! It’s very healthy. And you have a good-looking mint. I will definitely add this in my list :) Thanks for sharing!

  9. Cathy says

    Took the salad to a dinner party and was enjoyed by all. I am not a fan of mint so omitted and added additional basil along with some grilled zucchini. This is will be wonderful to have throughout the summer and is a great substitute for a pasta salad.

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