You'll love this Mediterranean couscous salad recipe, loaded with nutrition and flavor from chickpeas, veggies, fresh herbs and a zippy lemon vinaigrette. This versatile dish makes a great lunch, light supper, or side depending on what you need. And you can make it ahead, the flavors deepen the next day. Be sure to watch my video below for how to make this couscous salad and grab the tips and ideas for what to serve along below!
I just love a dish that is versatile enough that it can play many roles--a large hearty salad, lunch, or light dinner, depending on what one is in the mood for. This Mediterranean couscous salad (much like my earlier orzo salad) is just that!
Nutty, chewy pearl couscous, joins in with protein-rich chickpeas, lots of chopped fresh veggies, and Mediterranean favorites like olives and artichokes. Serve it any time of the day and at any temperature. Not to mention, it is the perfect balance of nutrition from fiber and vitamin-rich veggies to protein-packed chickpeas. If you ask me, this is a power-house little dish!
Before we get into this tasty Mediterranean couscous salad recipe, let's talk about pearl couscous for just a minute.
What is Pearl Couscous?
Pearl couscous is also commonly known here in the U.S. as Israeli couscous or Jerusalem couscous. Without getting too technical here, Israeli couscous is not an ancient food like it's cousin from North Africa. The similarity is that both are made of semolina flour (or whole-wheat flour, depending on the brand). But, with Israeli couscous, a dough is formed with added water, then machine-extruded to form tiny beads or pearls, which are then toasted dry in ovens.
Think of pearl couscous or Israeli couscous as tiny pasta shaped into small pearls. And in fact, you can cook peal couscous just as you would pasta, in a boiling for about 9 to 10 minutes or so.
So, what goes into this Mediterranean Couscous salad?
You can totally make this Mediterranean couscous salad your own and make sure to use what ingredients you have on hand as much as possible. But below are the ingredients I usually add in my Mediterranean couscous salad...
1. The base of this couscous salad here is obviously pearl couscous. Because it is larger in size and has a natural nutty flavor, it makes for a heartier salad and can hold its own when combined with the rest of the ingredients and dressing. One step I like to start with is toasting the pearl couscous in a little bit of good extra virgin olive oil to give it an even deeper flavor.
2. Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans. Particularly if you're having this salad as your main course, I think it's important to amp it up with some protein. Chickpeas are my solution here, adding protein, carbs and fiber. Other bean options like white beans or kidney beans will work well here too.
3. Fresh garden vegetables, herbs and other Mediterranean favorites. For best texture and flavor, I always make sure to combine fresh garden vegetables like cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, with other marinated favorites like artichoke hearts and olives. I love throwing in a healthy amount of fresh basil or what other herbs are available for a big pop of flavor. At the end, I throw in some fresh baby mozzarella, but you can also use feta or a different kind of cheese.
4. The dressing or vinaigrette. What really brings this Mediterranean couscous salad together and puts it over the the top is the dressing or vinaigrette. No surprise here, I use fresh lemon juice and my Greek extra virgin olive oil for the vinaigrette, but I also infuse it with a little dill weed (dry or fresh is fine.) Dill weed is underutilized, but it can really add an extra layer of fresh flavor that will surprise your taste buds in the best way possible.
A Few Tips for This Couscous Salad Recipe
1. Toast the pearl couscous in extra virgin olive oil. Don't skip this first step and go right to the boiling water, toasting the couscous in extra virgin olive oil is a great way to deepen its color and flavor. It takes very little time and makes a big difference.
2. Feel free to play with the vegetable options and canned beans you have on hand. This salad can take so many different variations, so take advantage and use what you have. You can try bell peppers, broccoli, carrots...You can add some spinach, or a different herb than basil. Just have fun!
3. Make ahead tip. You can make this couscous salad the evening before if you like, toss it and keep it in the fridge in a tight lid container (hold the mozzarella cheese until you're ready to serve.) The flavors will deepen overnight; just be sure to give the salad a quick toss to refresh before serving.
If you want to make it ahead as part of your lunch prep, hold the dressing, onions, and cheese and just use as you need for each lunch portion. It should keep well in the fridge in a tight-lid container for 3 to 4 days.
What to serve with it?
Like I said earlier, this couscous salad is a meal on its own. You can also serve it as a light vegetarian dinner next to roasted eggplant and a Mediterranean dip like garlic hummus or baba ganoush. You can prepare it ahead and use it for lunch as needed, but it's also great next to: chicken kabobs, kofta, baked salmon, za'atar chicken and more!
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Mediterranean couscous salad recipe, loaded with nutrition and flavor from chickpeas, veggies, fresh herbs and a zippy lemon-dill vinaigrette. This versatile dish makes a great lunch, light supper, or side depending on what you need. And you can make it ahead, the flavors deepen the next day. Be sure to watch my video and grab my tips in the post above.
For the Lemon-Dill Vinaigrette
- 1 large lemon, juice of
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil (I used Greek Private Reserve)
- 1 tsp dill weed
- 1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
- salt and pepper
For the Pearl Couscous
- 2 cups Pearl Couscous
- Private Reserve extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
- ⅓ cup finely chopped red onions
- ½ English cucumber, finely chopped
- 15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 14 oz can artichoke hearts, roughly chopped if needed
- ½ cup pitted kalamata olives
- 15-20 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped or torn; more for garnish
- 3 oz fresh baby mozzarella (or feta cheese), optional
- To make the lemon-dill vinaigrette, place the vinaigrette ingredients in a bowl. Whisk together to combine. Set aside briefly.
- In a medium-sized heavy pot, heat two tablespoons of olive oil. Saute the couscous in the olive oil briefly until golden brown. Add 3 cups of boiling water (or the amount instructed on the package), and cook according to package. When ready, drain in a colander. Set aside in a bowl to cool.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining ingredients minus the basil and mozzarella. Then add the couscous and the basil and mix together gently.
- Now, give the lemon-dill vinaigrette a quick whisk and add it to the couscous salad. Mix again to combine. Test and adjust salt, if needed.
- Finally mix in the mozzarella cheese. Garnish with more fresh basil. Enjoy!
- Cook's Tip: To keep this recipe vegan, simply omit the cheese. You can try a different kind of cheese such as feta. And feel free to make this couscous salad your own by changing up the vegetables and herbs according to what you have on hand. Try spinach, bell peppers, carrots, or small chopped broccoli for example. If basil is not available, use mint or parsley.
- Cook's Tip for Make-Ahead. You can make this couscous salad the evening before if you like, toss it and keep it in the fridge in a tight lid container (hold the mozzarella cheese until you're ready to serve.) The flavors will deepen overnight; just be sure to give the salad a quick toss to refresh before serving.If you want to make it ahead as part of your lunch prep, hold the dressing, onions, and cheese and just use as you need for each lunch portion. It should keep well in the fridge in a tight-lid container for 3 to 4 days.
- Use whole wheat couscous if you are following the Mediterranean diet more strictly
- Recommended for this Recipe Our Greek Private Reserve extra virgin olive oil (from organically grown and processed Koroneiki olives.
- Visit The Mediterranean Dish Shop for top quality oils and Mediterranean spices!
- Prep Time: 15 mins
- Cook Time: 10 mins
- Category: Salad
- Method: Stove Top
- Cuisine: Mediterranean
Keywords: Couscous Salad, Mediterranean Couscous Salad, Pearl Couscous Recipe
*This post originally appeared on The Mediterranean Dish in 2015. It's been updated with new information for your benefit.