Grilled Chicken and Lemon Orzo Salad
With fresh veggies, grilled chicken and pasta, this Grilled Chicken and Lemon Orzo Salad is a light but filling summer salad. It can be enjoyed warm or cold, making it perfect for potlucks and meal prep!
A Fresh & Healthy Summer Salad
Summertime was made for pasta salads. Not only are they easy to make, but they are also often enjoyed cold, making them perfect to tote to a picnic or backyard gathering.
I started making this Grilled Chicken and Lemon Orzo Salad early this past spring, while our girls were still in school. The salad turned out to be a bigger hit than I was anticipating, with them wanting to pack it in their lunch bags every single day for a week at a time. They never tired of it. It’s just that lovely.
One thing I love about it is that orzo is just much healthier than your traditional pasta or rice. It packs loads of protein, among other health benefits. No empty carbs in this salad!
If I can incorporate grilling into every single meal of the summer, I certainly will. This recipe includes the grilling of two different ingredients: lemon halves and chicken. The grilling adds another layer of flavor that makes this chicken and lemon orzo salad just that much more irresistible.
Have you ever grilled citrus? It’s such a beautiful thing. The heat from the hot grill grates sears the cut citrus flesh and caramelizes it, lending a hint of smokiness to both the flavor and aroma.
Two grilled lemon halves are juiced and zested for the lemon orzo in this recipe. And then I like to offer a couple of additional grilled lemon halves for squeezing over individual salad portions right before eating. It adds a pop of brightness, not to mention a bit of fun. Our daughters LOVE this component of the lemon orzo salad, and even made sure that a small wedge was included when they packed their lunches during the school year.
Maybe some of the reason our girls have liked this salad so much is that I also included a couple of their favorite fresh vegetables: sweet red bell pepper and snap peas still in the pod. Both ingredients add lively color and bites of snappy texture, lovely contrasts to the orzo and chicken.
I’ve been checking our garden, waiting on crunchy, juicy snap peas to harvest, just so we can make this salad again with homegrown pea pods! While store-bought veggies work just as well, I always find it so rewarding to use the vegetables from our own garden.
If you’re looking for the perfect picnic lunch, this orzo salad is it. Pack some in the cooler and head out for a picnic this summer. Just don’t forget those grilled lemon halves!
What You’ll Need
This lemon orzo salad with grilled chicken is made with healthy, whole ingredients. You can even use your garden fresh veggies in this recipe!
- Orzo – The base of this healthy pasta salad.
- Olive oil – Used in the light dressing.
- Unsalted butter – Used for sauteeing the vegetables.
- Red Onion – Diced into equal pieces for sauteeing.
- Garlic – Minced garlic cloves add a pop of flavor.
- Chicken breasts – Boneless, skinless chicken breasts work best for this recipe.
- Kosher salt – Divided to be used in a few different parts of the recipe.
- Freshly ground black pepper – Also used in a few parts of the recipe.
- Lemons – Cut in half to be grilled and added to the dressing.
- Honey – Adds sweetness to balance out the lemon.
- Red bell pepper – Diced red pepper adds a pop of color.
- Pea pods – I love to use garden fresh peas when possible.
- Green onions – Sliced thinly on the diagonal.
- Chopped dill – You can add extra dill at the end for more flavor, if you choose.
- Goat cheese – Crumbled goat cheese is an optional but highly recommended topping!
How to Make Grilled Chicken and Lemon Orzo Salad
This chicken orzo salad is the definition of easy summer cooking! You can have this lunch or dinner ready in the time it takes to grill a few chicken breasts and chop up some veggies.
- Prepare the orzo. Cook orzo in salted water according to package directions, until al dente. Drain in colander and run cold water over to cool. Drain again. Add orzo to large bowl and drizzle 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over the orzo. Fold to combine.
- Sauté the onion and garlic. Sauté until softened, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Once cooled, fold into orzo.
- Grill the chicken and lemons. Rub remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil over chicken breasts and then season with 1 teaspoon of the salt and 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper. Heat grill to medium to medium-high heat. Place cut sides of lemon halves on grill for just a minute or two, until charred and softened. Remove to a plate to cool. Grill chicken breasts for 3-4 minutes per side.
- Prepare the lemon dressing. Whisk zest and juice from two of the grilled lemon halves (including the charred pulp), honey, remaining 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, and 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper. Drizzle over the orzo and fold to combine.
- Assemble and serve the chicken orzo salad. Add shredded chicken, red pepper, pea pods, green onion, and dill to the orzo. Add goat cheese, if desired. Transfer to serving bowl or platter and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and dill.
Tips for Success
Making this lemon orzo salad is beyond easy but after preparing it time and time again for my family, I’ve come up with a few tips for making the best salad possible.
- Add more chicken for extra protein. Feel free to bulk up this salad with more grilled chicken for an even bigger protein boost.
- Turn it into a side salad or vegetarian meal. You can easily turn lemon orzo salad into a side dish or potluck salad by omitting the chicken. If you omit the chicken and add more veggies, it’s an easy vegetarian meal too.
- Don’t overcook the orzo pasta. Be sure to cook the orzo al dente and then run it under cold water to prevent it from continuing to cook.
I like to offer a couple of additional grilled lemon halves for squeezing over individual salad portions right before eating. It adds that extra fresh lemon flavor to the salad right before you take your first bite.
If I’m offering this at a summer picnic, I’ll serve it out of the bowl with a lemon wedge on the side.
For meal prep, I divide it into individual servings in airtight containers, with a lemon wedge on top. Pop them in the fridge and they’re ready for a grab-and-go lunch the rest of the week!
How to Store & Reheat Leftovers
This orzo salad will last in the fridge for 4 days, which is one of the reasons it’s perfect for packed lunches. Just give it a stir and a fresh squeeze of lemon juice on top to revive the flavor.
I don’t bother reheating this salad. I prefer it better cold, which makes it a refreshing lunch during the summer! It also saves any trouble of needing to be somewhere with a microwave or stove, whether at school or the office.
Can I Freeze Grilled Chicken?
While this whole salad can’t be frozen, you can freeze the grilled chicken breasts. If you grill extra and pop them in the freezer, you’ll just need to defrost them in the fridge before adding them to this salad.
Keep chicken breasts in an airtight ziploc sealer bag for up to 3 months.
- 2 c. Orzo
- 2 1/2 tbsp. Olive Oil, Divided
- 1 tbsp. Unsalted Butter
- 1/2 c. Small Diced Red Onion
- 1 clove (Large) Garlic, Minced
- 1 lb. Chicken Breasts
- 1 1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt, Divided
- 1/4 tsp. Freshly Ground Black Pepper, Divided
- 2 Lemons Cut In Half
- 1/2 tsp. Honey
- 1/2 c. Small Diced Red Bell Pepper
- 6 oz. weight Pea Pods, Sliced In Half On The Diagonal
- 2 Green Onions, Thinly Sliced On The Diagonal
- 1 tbsp. Chopped Dill
- 2 oz. weight Goat Cheese, Crumbled (optional)
- Cook orzo in salted water according to package directions, until al dente. Drain in colander and run cold water over to cool. Drain again. Add orzo to large bowl and drizzle 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over the orzo. Fold to combine.
- While orzo is cooking, heat medium skillet over medium heat. Add butter and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Once butter and olive oil are warmed, add red onion and garlic, stirring to incorporate. Sauté until softened, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Once cooled, fold into orzo.
- Rub remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil over chicken breasts and then season with 1 teaspoon of the salt and 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper. Heat grill to medium to medium-high heat. Make sure grates are scrubbed clean and then oiled. (To oil the grates, add some vegetable oil to a small bowl. Then fold a heavy paper towel a few times to make a smaller square. With a tongs, grasp the folded paper towel and dip it into the oil until the paper towel is drenched. Then run the paper towel over the grates, repeating until all grill grates are thoroughly oiled.)
- Place cut sides of lemon halves on grill for just a minute or two, until charred and softened. Remove to a plate to cool. Oil grill grates again and place chicken breasts on the grates. Grill for about 3 to 4 minutes, or until nicely charred. Flip chicken and grill for another 3 to 4 minutes on the second side, until nicely charred and an instant read thermometer reaches 160°F. Grilling time will depend on size of individual chicken breasts, so this may take more or less time. Then pull the chicken off the grill, to a platter, to rest for a few minutes and continue to cook to 165°F. This will help to ensure that your chicken doesn't dry out from over cooking it. Let cool and then use two forks to shred into bite-size pieces.
- In a small bowl, whisk zest and juice from two of the grilled lemon halves (including the charred pulp), honey, remaining 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, and 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper. Drizzle over orzo and fold to combine.
- Add shredded chicken, red pepper, pea pods, green onion, and dill. Fold to combine. Add goat cheese, if desired, and then fold again. Transfer to serving bowl or platter. Sprinkle with additional freshly ground black pepper and a bit more chopped dill, if desired. Offer remaining two grilled lemon halves for squeezing over the top of individual portions.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 357Total Fat: 13gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 74mgSodium: 687mgCarbohydrates: 30gFiber: 3gSugar: 5gProtein: 31g
Nutrition information is automatically calculated by Nutritionix. I am not a nutritionist and cannot guarantee accuracy. If your health depends on nutrition information, please calculate again with your own favorite calculator.