Southwestern Orzo Salad


Until one weekend away with friends four years ago, I had no idea that dried Southwestern spices like cumin and coriander and chili powder had much use in raw things like salads and stuff. We always put cumin on chicken for tacos and chili powder in chili (obviously). But in salads, they were not my first choice of spice.

Was I wrong!

I remember a whole mismatched group in the kitchen that weekend, dangerously juggling knives and avocados and chips and meat for the barbecue. This guy, Mark, somehow got on guacamole duty. Being a backseat chef, I kept an eye on what Mark was doing, raising my eyebrows when he poured about a tablespoon of dried coriander into the guac. Treacherous, I thought, to use the dried version when fresh coriander–aka cilantro–made guacamole good.

But I’ll tell you–and you probably guessed it already–that dried herbs, beyond thyme and oregano, can make a salad sing. If you don’t believe me, make this barley salad and this curry chicken.

Or, try the Southern Orzo Salad below. It’s a contestant for a side dish when we barbecue at that same party house, four years later, this weekend.

This weekend is the first bachelorette party I’ve ever been to (no, it’s not mine). Don’t go crazy with this one, but I’m working on ideas for our first night’s dinner and I’m dying to hear about any activities you’ve organized for bachelorettes that had the ring of “girls’ night,” rather than “wild/crazy/high heels/short skirts.” I’m tame like that.


Southwestern Orzo Salad
Serves 4

2 scallions, white and most of the green parts, in 1/4-inch slices
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 cup dried orzo
1 cup cooked pinto beans, preferably cooked from dried*
2 carrots, cut in a 1/4-inch dice
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
juice of 1 lime
1/8 teapoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon neutral oil
about 1/4 teaspoon salt

*Because this salad has so few ingredients, I think using really fresh pinto beans gives it a lift. If you make them from scratch (instructions here), add a dried chili pepper to the pot while they’re cooking.

Put the scallion slices in a small prep bowl. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon cider vinegar. Pour in ice water and a few ice cubes to cover the scallions. Let them sit while you make the rest of the salad. This “cures” the scallions of their sting.

Bring a pot of water to boil. Salt it generously and add the orzo. Cook until al dente, then drain and put it into a large mixing bowl.

Add the pintos, carrots, chopped cilantro, and toss to combine. Sprinkle on the lime juice and the remaining cider vinegar, plus the cumin, chili powder, oil, and salt. Give the salad a good toss. Eat immediately, or keep up to 3 days in the fridge. Bring up to room temperature before serving.

Posted in: meatless monday
  • Maria

    Love all of the flavors in this salad!

    • BGSK

      Thanks, Maria!

  • Brian @ A Thought For Food

    I’ll take the whole pot, please!

    • BGSK

      it’s all yours!

  • carrie | acookgrowsinbrooklyn

    You’re so right about dried herbs in salad – I used dried tarragon in a salad last week and it did not disappoint. Especially when you let the herbs rehydrate in the dressing for bit. Rice salads are perfect during the summer. And riddled with southwestern flavors? Um, yes please.

    • BGSK

      Ha – glad we’re on the same wavelength, Carrie!

  • Joan

    Southwestern is a favorite , we like to add chicken and chipotle cheese to black beans for a great special dinner :)

  • ♥ desertdweller ♥

    I can’t stand cilantro. I’m going to try this and switch it out with a little oregano and some fresh chives. Keep the flavor southwestern without that weird soapy taste!

  • Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar

    This looks awesome! Love it!

  • Hungy Sofia

    Just cleaned out my spice stockpile and am determined to use them more.  Great idea!

  • Kelseynewell

    I made this salad yesterday, and it was fantastic!!! I love anything Mexican and was thrilled to see how well the flavors blended with the orzo. It was a perfect way to cool down after a 110 degree summer day! I love your blog!

  • Ramona Collins

    Cara, your use of cilantro, cumin and chili powder
    make this already delicious-looking salad sound even more amazing! Thanks for
    sharing and enjoy your upcoming weekend! – Ramona from Sam’s Club

  • Titus2five

    I really want to try this recipe out this would be perfect for a hot day.  Thanks for the pinto bean instructions- I had a bad experience once.


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