This Vegan Pearl Couscous Salad is easy to make, packed with fresh veggies, and perfect for lunch on the go.
This healthy, vibrant pasta salad is made with pearl couscous (toasted Israeli-style pasta), whatever fresh herbs and vegetables you like, and dressed simply with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. The salad keeps well for days and can be packed into mason jars for the perfect packed lunch or camping meal.
Pearl Couscous Salad is part of our No Recipe Required series, a collection of quick and easy dishes that are more of an idea than a recipe.
Ingredients Needed to Prepare this Recipe
This is one of those deliciously adaptable recipes in which the only required ingredients are pearl couscous (Israeli-style pasta), extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and a ton of veggies. What kind of veggies? Any kind you like.
I'll share with you the ingredients we like in this house, but the beauty of this healthy Mediterranean salad is how easy it is to shape it to the season and your tastes and preferences.
By the way, if you love use-what-you-have kind of recipes, this 30-minute rotisserie chicken soup is going to be right up your ally.
- Salt and some freshly ground pepper if you like
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Dry Pearl Couscous, also called Israeli Couscous and Toasted Israeli Style Pasta
- Chopped veggies. Any kind you like! I used red bell pepper, broccoli, cucumber, and tomatillos for the salad pictured here.
- Diced Tomatoes. I like to use cherry tomatoes because they tend to be ripe and flavorful year-round. But if you have some peak-of-the-season tomatoes, please use those.
- Diced olives. Any kind you like. I usually use Kalamata olives.
- Italian flat-leaf parsley.
- Tender greens. I used a combination of arugula and baby greens.
- Pumpkin seeds. Raw or roasted.
What is Israeli (Pearl) Couscous?
There are several different kinds of couscous but the most common varieties are:
- Moroccan couscous: Made from semolina flour, this is the smallest kind of couscous and cooks very quickly.
- Golden couscous: Made from coarsely ground durum wheat, has a hearty texture and slightly nutty flavor. It also has a higher amount of fiber and protein than Moroccan couscous.
- Lebanese couscous (giant couscous): Even though this variety is also made from semolina flour, Lebanese couscous is formed into pea-sized balls that are much larger than Moroccan and Golden couscous.
- Pearl couscous (Israeli couscous): This variety of couscous is made from small balls of toasted semolina flour. While all types of couscous are a type of pasta not a grain, the flavor and texture of pearl couscous most resemble other kinds of pasta.
Pearl couscous was invented in Israel in the late 1940s/ early 1950s as an alternative to rice. At the time, the food in Israel was rationed and rice was becoming more and more scarce.
To deal with the shortage of rice, Israel's Prime Minister asked an Israeli food company to create a substitute. The result was a toasted Israeli-style pasta made from wheat flour. Today we know it as pearl couscous or Israeli couscous and it's become one of the region's staple foods.
Many supermarkets now carry several varieties of pearl couscous including:
- Regular pearl couscous: Made with toasted semolina flour.
- Whole wheat pearl couscous: Takes slightly longer to cook but packs more nutrition and fiber.
- Tri-color pearl couscous: A blend of white, red, and green couscous. The red and green colors come from tomato and spinach.
- Pearl couscous with turmeric: The flavor of turmeric pearl couscous is not much different than regular pearl couscous. The real difference is in the color.
Additions and Substitutions
Like other recipes in our no-recipe required series, this pearl couscous recipe is a blank slate for what's in season and your own tastes and preferences. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- While I almost always make this salad with plant-based ingredients, you could absolutely toss in some shredded roast chicken, pork carnitas, crispy pieces of bacon or pancetta, or cooked sausage.
- For more Mediterranean flavor, mix in some crumbled feta cheese and a handful of fresh dill.
- Instead of dressing this salad with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil, use a fruity vinaigrette like this Pomegranate Vinaigrette.
- Instead of pumpkin seeds, add some crunch with a handful of Yemenite Ja'ala (Roasted, spiced nuts and seeds), or any kind of raw or roasted nuts or seeds.
- For some extra protein, add a sliced hard-boiled egg right before serving or toss in some crispy fried tofu or steamed edamame.
- Add some dried fruit such as raisins, dried cherries or cranberries, or chopped dried apricots.
Step-by-Step Photos and Instructions
Making this vegetable couscous salad is SO easy. The majority of the time it takes to make this salad is spent chopping veggies. After that, it's just a matter of cooking the couscous (which takes less than 10 minutes) and tossing everything together.
Chop the veggies into very small pieces and chop the fresh herbs. Add the veggies, herbs, olives, and some tender baby greens to a large bowl.
Sprinkle in some salt and freshly ground pepper and use a large spoon to mix everything up.
Add the cooked couscous plus a couple of tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice and about ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil.
Toss everything around to mix and taste it. Add more salt, pepper, lemon juice, or olive oil if you like.
That's it. The salad is now ready to eat, or scoop it into a covered container and store it in the refrigerator. Serve this salad topped with handfuls of pumpkin seeds.
Here's a tip for perfectly cooked pearl couscous:
Remember that pearl couscous is a pasta, not a grain. As such, it should be cooked only until al dente. "Al dente" means cooking pasta until it's cooked through but still firm. If you over cook pearl couscous it gets mushy.
The best way to test that pearl couscous is al dente is to taste it. Let it simmer in water for 5 or 6 minutes then taste it. If the couscous is tender but chewy and firm, you've reached al dente.
How to Pack this Salad for Lunches, Road Trips, and Camping
This is one of my favorite things to pack with us in the truck on travel days. As full-time travelers (our home is a 5th-wheel RV), I am always looking for healthy convenient meals that I can bring with us on days when we're traveling from one location to the next.
When driving across the country, we almost always eat AT truck stops, but we rarely eat truck-stop food.
Pearl couscous and veggie salad is the PERFECT healthy to-go lunch because it's absolutely delicious and travels well. I usually make it the night before and pack it into a couple of 16-ounce plastic jars. I scoop a handful or two of pumpkin seeds into a zip-top bag and toss the salads and the seeds into a small cooler along with a couple of spoons.
Boom! A healthy lunch we can eat from the truck that saves us from the inevitable regret of giving in to gas station fast food. 👏👏👏
Another favorite travel day recipe is sun dried tomato pasta salad which gets even tastier when you make it a day or two in advance! 🙌
Aside from road trips, Israeli couscous salad is also perfect for:
- Packed lunches
- Picnic lunches
- Camping meals - make several jars of this salad at home and then just bring them with you on your camping trip
- Parents shuffling their kids between multiple activities
- Or, ready-made, pre-portioned salads in the refrigerator to help manage multiple family members coming and going on all different schedules
What to Serve with Couscous Salad
This salad makes a quick, healthy, and complete meal but it's also a delicious side dish that goes well with a wide variety of dishes. Here are a few ideas for what to serve with couscous salad:
- Serve pearl couscous salad as part of a mezze spread along with Israeli Chopped Salad, a bowl of Yemenite Ja'ala (Roasted, spiced nuts and seeds), Simple Roasted Beets, a bowl of Za'atar Labneh, and some warm pita bread or naan.
- Serve this salad alongside any kind of roasted meat or poultry, like a simple Roast Chicken.
- Serve it with warm bowls of Black Bean Soup, Creamy Vegan Broccoli Cheese Soup, Curried Roasted Cauliflower Soup, or Creamy Chicken and Mushroom Soup.
- Pearl Couscous Salad is a bright, fresh-tasting compliment to the savory richness of Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash.
- I love serving this salad as a side dish when I make skillet vegetable lasagna.
- 3 cups (24 ounces) of water
- 2 teaspoons salt plus more to taste
- 2 tablespoons (25 grams) + ¼ cup (50 grams) extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 cups (165 grams/ 5.8 ounces) dry pearl couscous (Israeli couscous or toasted Israeli-style pasta)
- 5 cups (about 40 ounces) of diced veggies (See note below for suggestions)
- 1 cup (7 ounces) diced cherry tomatoes
- 1 cup (about 7 ounces) diced olives
- ½ cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
- 2 - 3 cups (5 - 8 ounces) greens or mixed greens (baby greens, arugula, baby kale, spinach, etc)
- 3 - 5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, to taste
- 2 cups pumpkin seeds, raw or roasted
- Add the water, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 2 tablespoons of oil to a medium saucepan and set it over high heat. When the water begins to boil, add the couscous. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 6-8 minutes until the couscous is al dente. Be careful to not overcook. (See note below.)
- Pour the couscous into a fine mesh strainer set inside the sink. Rinse it with cold water until the couscous is cool to the touch.
- Add the diced vegetables, diced cherry tomatoes, olives, chopped parsley, and greens to a large bowl. Gently stir to mix. Add the cooked couscous and stir until distributed.
- Sprinkle about 3 tablespoons of lemon juice over the salad and pour in ¼ cup of olive oil. Sprinkle in ¼ - ½ teaspoon of salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir to coat. Taste and add more salt, pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil if you like.
- Serve immediately, with roasted pumpkin seeds on the side, or store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Sprinkle the pumpkin seeds over the salad right before serving, or serve them on the side to keep them from getting soggy.
- Use any kind of raw vegetables you like in this salad. My favorites include broccoli, cauliflower, tomatillos, cucumber, fresh peas, radishes, and bell peppers.
- This salad is best when you cut the veggies into very small pieces.
- "Al dente" means cooking pasta until it's cooked through but still firm. The best way to test that pearl couscous is al dente is to taste it. If the couscous is tender but chewy and firm, you've reached al dente.
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Serving Size:2 cups of salad
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 397Total Fat: 21gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 17gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 1522mgCarbohydrates: 48gFiber: 13gSugar: 9gProtein: 11g