A staple of the Mediterranean cuisine, this Israeli couscous salad with feta, cucumber, tomato and a lemon – olive oil dressing is a must-try. The toasted couscous makes all the difference!
One of the most famous couscous salads is probably the couscous with grilled cherry tomatoes and fresh herbs from ottolenghi.co.uk
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 or giant couscous.
It’s loaded with healthy ingredients like tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh parsley and has a simple but delicious dressing made with olive oil and lemon juice. The feta cheese adds some creaminess and extra protein and of course lot of flavor! If you want to make it vegan, just omit the feta and add some chickpeas.
This salad is usually served cold and most of the times I combine it with lentils or chickpeas to transform it into a complete meal. Other times I serve it next to these minty lamb kofta kebabs or some homemade falafel and Baba Ganoush.
Tip: make sure you toast the couscous with some olive oil in the pot before adding the water. It literally transforms its taste 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!
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.
The dressing for this couscous salad
This is a basic dressing with Mediterranean ingredients like olive oil, lemon juice and oregano. 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. So, the ingredients are:
- Olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is best for this recipe.
- Lemon juice. Please use freshly squeezed lemon juice. You’ll need about 1 lemon.
- Lemon zest. Zest the lemon before you juice it, it’s easier this way.
- Dried oregano.
- Salt and 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.
How to make Israeli couscous salad
Just 4 steps to make this very simple salad:
- Cook the couscous until al dente.
- Chop and slice the rest of the ingredients.
- Make the dressing
- Combine everything in a bowl and serve.
Some extra tips for this Mediterranean salad
Toast the couscous for nuttier flavor! Add the couscous and the olive oil to the pot and stir for 2-3 minutes over medium/high heat until you notice the couscous starts to brown and smell nutty. Then, add the water. This is one of the easiest ways to add extra flavor.
Make ahead: Making this salad a few hours ahead or even from the previous day will give the couscous the chance to absorb the flavor of the rest of the ingredients. The result will be amazing.
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, green onions, chives, chervil, Mediterranean hartwort or just a mix of what I have in my fridge.
One more thing: only use freshly squeezed lemon juice!
Do you have to rinse Israeli couscous for this salad?
In my previous post about how to cook Israeli couscous I talk about the 3 different ways you can cook it. The method used here is the first one, according which you boil the couscous with plenty of water and when it’s done you strain it. Straining discards the water with some of the starch so the couscous is not very sticky.
Though it’s not necessary, for this recipe I rinse it because it gets rid of more starch and also cools it down, so I can immediately mix 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.
Is Israeli couscous salad healthy?
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.
What else can I add to my couscous salad?
- Cooked chickpeas
- Cooked lentils
- 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.
- Dried fruit like raisins, cranberries, goji berries.
- 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
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 generous pinch of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 4 tablespoons e.v. olive oil
- ½ teaspoon dried garlic powder, optional
Cook the couscous: Cook the couscous with the olive oil in a pot until it starts to smell nutty. Add 4-5 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and boil until al dente (about 8 minutes). Drain and rinse.
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 mix 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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