30 Minute Zucchini Orzo with Chile Oil
This incredible one pot zucchini orzo is a flavourful and family friendly way to use up all that zucchini! It’s a 30 minute dinner with risotto vibes but way less effort – the optional chile oil turns up the heat for the grown ups! It’s nourishing comfort food at its finest.
Zucchini is always there for us: it grows with abandon and stays affordable all year long. And it’s so versatile! You can throw it into delicious zucchini fritters, whip up a batch of zucchini waffles and make delicious grilled zucchini on the barbeque…and yet, no one ever claims it as their favourite vegetable!
As a dietitian, I’ve got to tell you: all plants are good plants…it’s time to stop giving a few superstars all the good press. (Yes, I know I’m a wee bit guilty of that but we’re all a work in progress, ha!) Variety is the spice of life – and eating a variety of whole plant foods is also super important for a healthy gut microbiome.
Falling in love with zucchini is all about knowing how to coax the best flavour out of them. Zucchini is a blank canvas, looking to soak up all the flavours you throw at it. So if you’re looking for plant-based recipes that help you get excited about eating zucchini, look no further! This 30 minute zucchini orzo packs so much flavour you’ll never call zucchini boring again.
I’ve loaded up this simple risotto-like one pot meal with layers of flavour using pantry staples so there isn’t a ton of chopping – great when you’re tired mid-week and just trying to avoid takeout. It’s a complete meal packed with veggies as well as a hit of fibre and plant-based protein from canned chickpeas but you could also serve it as a side dish. It will easily serve a hungry family of four with leftovers for the next day!
And I love me a recipe that’s as delicious in the summer as it is in the dead of winter…and this is that recipe. It will help you use up that glut of zucchini growing in your garden in August – and still be flavourful and budget-friendly using supermarket zucchini in November. In fact, it would make a really lovely plant-based option for your holiday table too.
I am SO excited for you to try this zucchini orzo. It’s one of those vegan meals that no one will even realize is vegan, it’s got that much umami. My test audience? My omnivore kids…who gobble this one up with no complaints and ask for more.
Want even more delicious recipes that just so happen to be plant-based? Grab a copy of my bestselling cookbook, Good For Your Gut!
Raid your pantry to make this easy zucchini orzo
Prepare to be amazed: this flavourful, comforting orzo is made with just 8 ingredients, and most of them are probably already in your pantry (plus oil, salt and pepper…you know the drill!).
- Zucchini: Got a lot of zucchini on your hands? I’ve got you! You’ll need a full pound of zucchini for this, which is about 2 small-medium fruits (yes, zucchini is technically a fruit!)
- Onion: if you want flavour, you need some umami-rich aromatic veggies. I like to dice this one small so it mostly just melts into the texture of the orzo and you don’t notice it much.
- Orzo: orzo is a rice-shaped pasta that makes it easy to make a risotto-inspired dish with way less effort. You could totally substitute another tiny pasta like ditalini if you prefer.
- Chickpeas: I’m always looking to add a boost of protein and fibre to my meals, and here, chickpeas fit the bill. I use 1 can of chickpeas here but you can double it for extra plant-based protein, iron and fibre.
- Better than Bouillon Vegetarian “No Chicken”: I’ve completely abandoned traditional vegetable broths for BTB as I call it, because it’s less expensive per use, lower waste and WAY more flavourful. It’s not gluten free unfortunately, so substitute gluten free bouillon cube or concentrate if you need a gluten free option.
- Garlic powder and dried thyme: these two spice drawer staples round out the balance of flavours in this delicious recipe keeping it family friendly and so delicious you’ll want to make it weekly!
- Nutritional yeast: my other ride-or-die ingredient, nutritional yeast is rich in B vitamins and offers a cheesy, umami-like flavour and I use it here like you would parmesan, stirring it in towards the end of cooking
Want to make vegan recipes that are as craveable as ones with dairy or meat? You need to think about building UMAMI. Umami is called “the fifth taste” and it translates to a kind of “deliciousness” that comes from glutamate-containing ingredients like tomatoes, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, soy sauce and mushrooms.
How to make this vegan zucchini orzo
I cannot tell you how much I love a good one pot meal. Because as much as I love the creativity of building new recipes in my work, I’m also a parent…and I’m not always as pumped for the reality of making dinner nightly! But this 30 minute vegan dinner is so good, and so easy, I’m happy to make it even on a busy weeknight.
Step One: if you want to make the chile oil, just put a small pot on the stove on low heat and add the oil, chile flakes and diced sundried tomato. You’re just going to let that steep while the rest is cooking. It’s that easy!
Step Two: Cook the zucchini and onion in a pasta pot until they start to soften and zucchini starting to brown in spots. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the orzo, stirring constantly for a minute so it can get a bit toasty.
Step Three: add the water, chickpeas, and flavourings (boullion concentrate, garlic powder and thyme) and bring to a boil. Scrape the bottom of the pot thoroughly as orzo does like to stick a bit.
Step Four: Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally until orzo is al dente and the consistency is a bit saucy like risotto. Liquid evaporating too fast? No problem! Just add more water, ½ cup at a time.
Step Five: Stir in the nutritional yeast and serve, with a drizzle of the chile oil if using (it packs a punch!)
Tips, tricks and substitutions
- Store leftovers in an airtight container for 3-4 days in the fridge.
- This zucchini orzo reheats beautifully! Just warm in a nonstick on medium with a hearty splash of water, adding more water as needed so it has that risotto texture and is fully warmed through.
- Make this your own! Stir in your favourite vegan pesto instead of the chile oil. This would be delicious with some leftover grilled corn kernels, or with some fresh halved cherry tomatoes stirred in once you’ve put it on simmer.
- Gluten free option: you can absolutely swap in a gluten free tiny pasta and swap the better than bouillon for a gluten free bouillon or broth. Either do 5 cups of gluten free broth OR water plus 4 teaspoons/squares of bouillon.
More 30 minute vegan dinners
- 30 Minute Green Pasta Recipe with Kale
- 30 Minute Crumbled Tofu Vegan Tacos
- 30 Minute Creamy Parsnip Soup
- Mashed Kidney Bean and Oat Burger Patties
- 30 Minute Low FODMAP Quinoa Salad and Dressing
30 Minute Zucchini Orzo with Easy Chile Oil
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound zucchini, trimmed and diced
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1 pound orzo, or other tiny pasta like ditalini
- 5 cups water, divided
- 14 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 4 teaspoons Better than Bouillon Vegetarian "No Chicken", or 4 teaspoons/cubes bouillion
- 1½ teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- freshly cracked pepper
- salt, to taste
Easy Chile Oil, optional (but delicious!!!)
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried chile flakes
- 2 sundried tomatoes, diced, see note
- pinch salt
- If making the chile oil, place oil, chile flakes, sun-dried tomatoes and salt in a small pot over low heat. Let it steep while you make the orzo.
- Heat oil in a pasta pot over medium heat. Add the onion and zucchini and cook, stirring only once or twice, until the onion begins to soften and zucchini starts to brown in spots, 5-8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add orzo and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute. Deglaze with 1 cup of water, stirring constantly, until water is mostly absorbed, about another minute or two.
- Add remaining 4 cups water, chickpeas, Better than Bouillon, garlic powder and thyme and bring to a boil, stirring often as orzo likes to stick to the bottom of the pan!
- Once boiling, reduce heat to medium low and cover with lid ajar and cook, stirring occasionally, until the orzo is al dente and saucy like risotto. This takes 10-15 minutes. If it looks like water is evaporating too fast and orzo is still firm, just add 1/2 a cup of water at a time to loosen it up. You won't hurt it!
- Once done, remove from heat and stir in nutritional yeast. Taste and adjust salt if needed. Serve in bowl with a drizzle of chile oil if using.