As a busy mom of 3 (plus husband) there are many, many times when lunch for myself is non-existent or something on the go. I make a lot of trips to Trader Joe's, if you're lucky enough to live near one, I'm sure you know how wonderful it is!! On many occasions, lunch is grab and go from the Trader Joe's prepared section. Lot of healthy options, wraps, sandwiches and a variety of salads. One of my favorites that I gravitate toward is the Mediterranean Orzo Salad. At $4.99 it's not terrible for those must have moments, but $4.99 for pasta?!?! I decided to take it upon myself to create a similar salad that packs a punch, light on the wallet and can feed a family!
Orzo is a type of pasta. It's a short-cut pasta shaped like a grain of rice. It is used often in soups and can even replicate rice in a dish. I like it for it's small size but chewy texture and ability to make a nice full bowl for salad. If you can't find orzo, you can absolutely use another type of small-sized pasta or even rice or barley if you're avoiding gluten all together.
This is definitely a loose interpretation of Mediterranean, nothing extremely authentic but truly flavors of the Mediterranean come together in this salad. I adore pesto so I used it as the base for the salad to avoid the strong acidity of a vinaigrette. Pesto is simple to make with a few ingredients and best of all can be frozen for later use. But it's also very readily available in any grocery store if you're short on time. Some of the add-in include:
- Sun-dried tomatoes - just like the Trader Joe version, you can absolutely sub or include fresh cherry tomatoes if you'd like but the sun-dried are heartier and hold up in the salad better over days in the fridge.
- Feta cheese - I'm a lover of feta, forever and ever! The Trader Joe version has feta but you can absolutely sub for some Parmesan shavings, Manchego or even goat cheese.
- Olives - I have made this with a variety of olives, whatever I have on hand but my favorite are Kalamata (Greek) and Castelvetrano (Italian)
- Spinach - I adore fresh leafy spinach! It's one of the ingredients in the Trader Joe version of this salad but I do recommend adding the spinach before serving or if you're packing up for a lunch add to the top and mix before eating. The fresh spinach will begin to wilt as it gets mixed into the salad. You can absolutely omit as well or even use fresh baby kale in place.
- Green Onions - Green onions, or scallions are my favorite! They add a little punch of flavor but don't leave you with onion breath. The Trader Joe version is loaded with raw red onions which is my BIGGEST pet peeve in general and also in this salad. Opt for scallions and enjoy that mild flavor.
I think my favorite thing about salads like this are the versatility they bring to meal planning. You can absolutely make this for dinner and serve warm or as directed cool and enjoy as a salad for lunch. Since the salad is really a blank canvas, it's so easy to throw in some leftover chicken or tofu to keep it vegetarian and make it a complete protein packed meal. Since this salad is pesto based, even my kids enjoy it. Often times, very vinegar forward dressings are a turn off for kids but pesto is nutty and mild which is much more favorable if you're looking to please your kiddos. Give them free rein to add the mix-ins that work for them as well. Completely customizable to your liking.
Whether you choose to serve this salad as an appetizer, bring to a party or enjoy for lunches, you will certainly enjoy the simplicity, versatility and pleasant flavor.
I hope you enjoy this recipe! As always, I love seeing your creations. Please leave a review or share your dish with me on social media. You can find me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. For more delicious recipes to your inbox, sign up for my newsletter!
Watch me make this delicious salad on KATU Afternoon Live:
Some of my favorite tools:
Microplane - used to zest lemon
Single lemon juicer - perfect for when you have to juice one or two lemons
Cuisinart Food Processor - the best tool for making pesto or my famous Toum
Wooden Spoons - love to have a variety of wooden spoons to use
Sistema Lunch Containers - my favorite lunch containers I use for kiddos!
Do you know that salad at Trader Joe's in the deli case? Well, I've got you covered with a copycat that is sure to please!!!
- 1 pound dry orzo pasta - or other short pasta*
- ½ cup pesto - store bought is fine or find my simple recipe below
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup Kalamata or Castelvetrano olives, chopped
- ½ cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
- ½ cup feta cheese, broke into crumbles
- 1 small bunch of scallions (I usually use about 5-6 stems - green part only)
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- Juice of one lemon
- ½ tsp kosher salt (add at the end after your mix-ins) mix-ins are all salty so check before adding any additional salt
- Bunch of fresh spinach, add just before serving
- 2 cups fresh basil, rinsed and dried
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 3 Tbsp walnuts or pine nuts
- ½ fresh Parmesan cheese
- Zest and juice of a lemon
- ½ - 1 teaspoon kosher salt to taste
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Boil your pasta as directed.
- Drain and rinse with cold water. Return to pot or bowl and drizzle with a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking.
- Add in your the remaining ingredients except salt and spinach. Mix to combine well and taste before adding any salt.
- Mix in your fresh spinach before serving.
- Feel free to add in cooked chicken, tofu or other protein to the salad. Once refrigerated, you may need to add a touch more olive oil to reconstitute as some will be absorbed by the pasta.
- Enjoy up to a week in the fridge.
- Place your clean basil in the bowl of a food processor and begin to chop on high speed.
- Stop and scrape down sides, add in your nuts, cheese, garlic, salt, lemon zest and juice. Continue to process on high speed.
- Begin drizzling your oil into the bowl of the food processor while still running. Continue until oil is finished and your pesto is smooth and creamy. Add in any additional salt, garlic or lemon to taste.
- Refrigerate or freeze*
*You can sub a wild rice, barley or other grain in place of pasta if you're looking for a gluten free option.
*Fresh pesto can be frozen in ice cube trays then tossed in a ziplock bag to use later in soups, dips or pastas.
Keywords: pasta, orzo, Mediterranean, Greek, Italian, pesto, salad, pasta, pasta salad, salad recipes, greek salad, trader joe's, pasta recipes, vegetarian
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