Don't miss this Israeli couscous salad (a.k.a. pearl couscous salad) with an easy lemon-olive oil dressing.
It's one of the best Mediterranean recipes.
A staple of the Mediterranean cuisine, this Israeli couscous salad with feta, cucumber, tomato and an easy dressing is a must-try. And the toasted couscous makes all the difference!
As most salad recipes this is very customizable, so you can make it vegan by replacing the feta with chickpeas or you can add dried cranberries or raisins for a delicious twist.
Probably, one of the most famous couscous salads is the couscous with grilled cherry tomatoes and fresh herbs from ottolenghi.co.uk which is made with regular couscous.
This Mediterranean salad is made with Israeli couscous which has larger bits that resemble pearls, that's why you'll also find it as pearl couscous, gourmet couscous or giant couscous.
It is loaded with healthy ingredients like tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh parsley, oregano, olive oil and lemon juice.
The feta cheese adds some creaminess and extra protein and of course lots of flavor!
Here are the basic ingredients for Israeli couscous salad:
- Israeli couscous. You may also find it as pearl couscous or giant couscous and contrary to regular couscous which can be soaked, this type of couscous has to be cooked. Read this article on how to cook Israeli couscous in 3 different ways for more information.
- Tomatoes. Grape tomatoes are used in this recipe but you can also use regular or cherry tomatoes.
- Cucumbers. Persian cucumbers are my favorite because they have sweet skin and you don't have to peel them. If you use another type of cucumber taste a small piece and if it's bitter, peel it.
- Onion. Red onion is sweeter and more mild than white onion, so it's preferred here.
- Feta cheese. A good quality Greek feta will add so much flavor (and extra protein).
- Olives. Sliced Kalamata olives are preferred. However you can use any type of olives you like.
- Parsley. I always like to add one or more fresh herbs to all of my Mediterranean recipes. Except all the health benefits, fresh parsley makes this salad much more refreshing and aromatic.
Ingredients for the lemon-olive oil salad dressing
- Olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is best for this recipe.
- Lemon zest. To intensify the lemon flavor a little bit of lemon zest is used. Don't use too much zest because it can make the salad taste bitter. Zest the lemon before you juice it, it's easier this way.
- Lemon juice. Use freshly squeezed lemon juice. You'll need about 1 lemon.
- Dried oregano.
- Salt and black pepper to taste.
- Garlic (optional). I usually don't add it but if you can't live without garlic, half a teaspoon of dried garlic powder will give a mild garlic taste to the dressing while one minced garlic clove will give a stronger flavor.
You'll just need 4 steps to make this healthy salad:
Step1: Cook the couscous until al dente.
Step 2: Chop and slice the rest of the ingredients.
Step 3: Make the dressing (shake everything in a shaker or a jar)
Step 4: Transfer the ingredients for the salad to a bowl, drizzle with the salad dressing, toss well and serve.
Though you can boil the couscous using vegetable or chicken broth, it is not really necessary for this recipe. However, I suggest toasting it.
Transfer to a medium saucepan 1 part of Israeli couscous with a bit of olive oil and toast over medium heat until golden. Then add 4 parts of warm water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until the couscous is al dente (it will require a few minutes less than the time suggested on the cooking directions of the packaging).
Taste to see when the couscous is done, and then rinse with cold water and drain well using a large sieve.
Tip: Lightly toasting the couscous in the saucepan with olive oil literally transforms it because it gives it a nutty flavor everyone loves. Plus, you'll be able to present it as a toasted couscous salad which always attracts more attention!
Substitutions - Variations
Vegan pearl couscous salad: To make this dish vegan, omit the feta cheese. Instead of feta you can add pan fried tofu or a can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained.
Main course: This healthy salad is so nutritious, it can also be served as a main course. If you want to add some extra protein 1-2 cups of cubed roast chicken is a great idea.
Instead of meat you can use any kind of cooked legumes: lentils, cannellini beans, red kidney beans and chickpeas will work perfectly with this recipe.
Using other types of couscous: You can make this salad with other types of couscous like instant couscous or Moroccan couscous, just make sure you prepare it according the packaging directions.
Instead of couscous, which is actually tiny semolina pasta, you can also use bulgur wheat which is parboiled cracked wheat. For more couscous details the article other types of couscous from Bob's Red Mill is very useful.
Dressing: Instead of lemon juice you can use apple cider or wine vinegar. Another variation is to add 1-2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard or yellow mustard.
- Chopped green or red bell pepper.
- Avocado. Not traditionally used in the Mediterranean cuisine, but it provides many healthy nutrients, so go for it!
- Hard cheese in cubes. Cheddar or Gruyere instead of feta are great options.
- Nuts like pine nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds or walnuts.
- Raisins, dried cranberries and goji berries will give an interesting and healthy twist.
- Add a lot of your favorite herbs. One of the most common ways of the Mediterranean cuisine for adding flavor to dishes is the use of fresh herbs.Parsley is one of my favorite ingredients for this salad but sometimes I will also use dill weed, fresh basil or mint, green onions, chives, chervil, Mediterranean hartwort or just a mix of what I have in my fridge.
Make ahead - Storage
This Israeli couscous salad is usually served cold or at room temperature something that makes it perfect as a make ahead recipe.
Making it a few hours ahead or even from the previous day is actually recommended because it will give the couscous the time to absorb the flavors from the rest of the ingredients. The result will be amazing.
Storage: It will keep well for 3 - 4 days when stored in the fridge inside an airtight container.
Most couscous salads are served as a side dish next to chicken, fish and other meat dishes or with a vegan protein such as tofu and legumes. Some dishes that go well with this salad are:
Best Israeli couscous salad recipe (with feta)
For the couscous salad:
- 1 cup Israeli couscous
- 2 tablespoons olive oil ((for sauteing the couscous))
- 1 full cup (about 250 grams/ 9 oz) chopped cucumber
- 1 full cup (about 250 grams/ 9 oz) sliced grape tomatoes
- ½ red onion, (chopped)
- 1 small bunch of fresh parsley, (chopped)
- ½ cup sliced olives
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 200 grams (7 oz) feta cheese, (cubed or crumbled)
For the lemon-olive oil dressing:
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 generous pinch of salt
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 4 tablespoons e.v. olive oil
- ½ teaspoon dried garlic powder, (optional)
- Cook the couscous: Lightly toast the couscous with the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat until it starts to smell nutty. Add 4-5 cups of water and bring to aboil. Reduce heat and boil until al dente (about 8 minutes). Strain through a large sieve, rinse with cold water and strain again.
- Make the salad: Mix the couscous with the rest of the ingredients for the salad in a large bowl.
- Make the dressing: Transfer the ingredients for the dressing in a jar and shake well to combine and emulsify.
- Mix: Pour the dressing over the couscous salad and toss well to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings. This salad is even better after it's chilled in the fridge for a few hours.
- You can use regular tomatoes instead of grape tomatoes
- I normally don't use garlic in this salad, but if you especially like the flavor you can use ½ a teaspoon of dried garlic powder (for mild taste) or 1 minced garlic clove (for stronger taste).
- You can use capers instead of olives.
- You can use dill weed, fresh coriander or fresh mint instead of parsley (or a mix of the above)
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According to the cooking method used here, you boil the couscous with plenty of water and when it's done you strain it. Straining discards the water and the extra starch so the couscous is not very sticky.
Though it's not necessary, rinsing it before using it in salads is recommended because the couscous remains fluffy and not sticky. This way it can be easily mixed it with the rest of the ingredients.
Don't worry that you'll lose flavor, because the couscous will absorb all the juices form the salad and it will become delicious.
This salad is full of nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins mostly because it's full of vegetables. Also, couscous is made from semolina so it contains mostly carbohydrates but it also contains 11% - 13% protein, fiber, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, as well as some of the B vitamins and vitamin E.