This vegan couscous salad is easy, fresh, crunchy, and nutritious. Follow our recommendations or make it with your favorite veggies.
Toss it with a simple homemade lemon vinaigrette and fresh herbs to make this easy, delicious and healthy meal.
Check out our best vegan salad recipe collection!
What to expect
Couscous is an easy North African dish that is very popular in the Mediterranean countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Italy, and France, and is becoming more and more popular around the world because it's super easy to make (it takes 5 literally minutes), it's healthy, and it goes well with many things.
Here we are going to show you how to pair it with delicious crunchy veggies and with a homemade lemon vinaigrette to make our favorite Mediterranean vegan couscous salad.
Follow our step-by-step recipe and in less than half an hour you going to have this delicious meal ready for a quick lunch, healthy dinner, for a party, as a side dish, or as a make-ahead meal as it stores well for days.
To learn more about this incredible dish and ingredient, check out our guide on how to cook couscous where we go more in-depth with tips and serving suggestions.
Ingredients and substitutions
For the couscous salad
- Couscous: get regular couscous, the one that looks like tiny granules of pasta, not pearls. Pearl couscous, sometimes called Israeli couscous is actually not couscous and it really isn't a thing in couscous-eating countries. For an even healthier salad, try whole-wheat couscous.
- Water: you'll need hot water to cook the couscous. If you want a dish with a richer flavor, you can replace the water with vegetable stock.
- Salt: couscous has a very neutral flavor, you need to salt it to make it tasty.
- Chickpeas: they are delicious in this salad and they add some extra protein too. You can use canned or dry chickpeas. If you use dry ones you need to cook them first. We marinate them in the lemon dressing to make them even tastier. You can replace chickpeas with cannellini beans or any other white beans.
- Cherry tomatoes: or another type of small tomato. They add a touch of sweetness to the salad.
- Red onion: to add sweet and tangy notes to the Mediterranean couscous salad. You can replace it with radishes or white onions.
- Cucumber: for crunch. You can replace it with green bell peppers.
- Yellow bell pepper: to add sweetness, crunch a vibrant yellow color. You can replace it with corn.
- Black olives: they add a ton of umami to this salad. It's easier if you use pitted olives. You can replace them with kalamata olives or with green olives.
- Pine nuts: pine nuts and couscous are a match made in heaven. Slightly toast the nuts on a pan before adding them to the salad. We add them for flavor and to add some healthy fats.
You can replace pine nuts with chopped walnuts, chopped almonds, or slivered almonds. Using nuts allows us to keep this recipe dairy-free (we do not add feta cheese here, although you can if you like) as nuts contain healthy protein and fats.
For the lemon vinaigrette
- Lemon zest: we try to use an organic lemon since we are eating the peel. If you can't find organic lemons you can just omit the lemon zest and move on to the next ingredient.
- Lemon juice: freshly squeeze would be best. Without the seeds. It adds a ton of freshness and tanginess. If you are more into sweeter flavors you could make an orange vinaigrette instead by using orange juice. If you can't find lemons or oranges or want to try something else, you can use red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar.
- Olive oil: extra virgin, as traditionally used around the Mediterranean regions, where olive trees abound. I just love the smell of olive oil that touches the warm couscous. They just really go together.
- Garlic: this is optional, but if you like garlic you can finely grate a clove in the lemon vinaigrette.
- Salt and pepper: to add flavor to the couscous salad.
- Parsley: flat-leaf parsley is the variety used in the Mediterranean area. If you can't find it feel free to use the curly variety. Other herbs that are good with couscous are mint, basil, and dill. You can mix more herbs if you like, they are delicious together.
Make Lemon Vinaigrette
We start with the lemon vinaigrette because we are going to marinate the chickpeas in it to infuse them with flavor.
To a small mixing bowl add the grated zest of an organic lemon, the lemon juice without the seeds, the extra virgin olive oil, the grated garlic if you like it, the salt, and the pepper. Whisk well until all ingredients are well combined and emulsified. that means that the oils and the lemon juice are combined together into one fluid or emulsion.
If you don't have a whisk you can put all the ingredients in a small jar, close it with a lid, and shake vigorously till emulsified.
Finely chop the fresh parsley and add it to the lemon vinaigrette. Stir and here's your fresh, herby, lemon dressing.
Marinate the chickpeas
Drain and rinse the chickpeas under cold water then transfer them into a bowl. Pour the lemon vinaigrette onto the chickpeas, mix and set aside while you cut the vegetables.
Cut the veggies
Remove the stem and seeds of the bell pepper, then chop it into small pieces. Cut the cherry tomatoes in four pieces. Cut the cucumber in half, then each half in half again, and slice into triangles. Finely chop the onion. Cut the olives into thin slices.
Finely chop some basil or mint if you want to add some more herbs to your vegan couscous salad recipe. Also, lightly toast the pine nuts on a pan for a couple of minutes.
You are welcome to follow our veggies recommendations, but you can also pick and choose your favorite veggies. If you do so think about colors and textures. You want as many colors as possible and a mix of soft and crunchy textures.
Cook the Couscous
Boil the water in a kettle or in a pot. To a large bowl, able to contain both the couscous and all the veggies plus the chickpeas, add the dry couscous and salt.
Pour the hot water onto the couscous, give it a stir with a fork to make sure that the couscous is covered by the water, then set aside for 5 minutes. After the 5 minutes, the couscous will have absorbed all the water, the granules should be puffy now, and all stuck together.
All you have to do now is to fluff it up with a fork to separate the granules from each other. To do that gently scrape the granules with the tips of a fork until there are no lumps and the couscous becomes soft and fluffy.
Build your couscous salad
You can now add all the ingredients to the bowl with the couscous, including the chickpeas marinated in the lemon vinaigrette. Mix well with a spoon, taste and adjust for salt, and if you like add even more freshly chopped herbs and olive oil.
You can serve the couscous salad immediately or store it in the fridge and serve it later.
This vegan couscous salad is the perfect meal to make ahead as it keeps well in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Also, you'll see that after a few hours the salad tastes even better as the couscous has time to absorb the flavor of the veggies.
And so, while you can put this dish together in less than 30 minutes for a quick lunch or dinner, my advice is to make more of it and store the leftovers for later meals. It's so handy to have in the fridge.
This vegan couscous recipe is built with 4 main blocks: the veggies, the legumes, the couscous, and the dressing. So to make a variation you can change one or more blocks. For example:
Make it with beans: beans are a great substitute for chickpeas as they are every bit as healthy and fulfilling, and have a slightly different flavor. I recommend using cannellini beans or any other white bean, as they are softer and milder than other bean varieties.
Make it with lentils: another great legume, lentils are not only packed with nutrients and fiber, but they are also super tasty, and many people prefer them to chickpeas and beans as they are a lot smaller.
You can use canned lentils or cook the lentils yourself. As for the variety, I would use green, brown, or French lentils for this recipe as they keep their shape better. I would not use red lentils as they are too soft.
Change up the veggies: you can really pick any veggie based on your taste and on the seasons. There are two important things when changing up the veggies though. Think about colors and flavors.
When it comes to colors, try to use as many as you can. colors are given by the antioxidants in the veggies (each antioxidant has a different color), so the more variety of colors you put in your salad, the more antioxidants you'll end up eating. Which is great for both your health and for taste.
When it comes to texture, think soft and crunchy. You want a combination of both.
Change the couscous: you can easily transform this vegan couscous salad into a Mediterranean pasta salad, or a Mediterranean rice salad. You can really use any pasta or grain of your choice. The salad will still be delicious.
Change up the dressing: not into lemon dressings? No problem. Try an orange vinaigrette by simply substituting orange juice and orange zest for lemon juice and lemon zest. Orange vinaigrette is sweeter and goes very well with couscous.
Store the vegan couscous salad in a bowl covered with a lid or in an airtight container, in the fridge, for up to 3 days.
To maximize its flavor take it out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving it. We do not recommend freezing the salad.
Vegan Couscous Salad
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons olive oil extra virgin
- 4 tablespoons parsley finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 twists pepper
- 1 clove garlic grated, optional
For the Couscous
- 1 cup couscous
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 can (15-ounce) chickpeas drained
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes cut in 4 pieces
- 1 cup cucumber chopped
- 1 cup bell pepper yellow, chopped
- ½ cup red onion finely chopped
- ½ cup olives sliced
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
Make the Vinaigrette
- To a small bowl add the lemon zest, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and whisk well till the ingredients are mixed together. Now add the finely chopped parsley and the grated garlic and stir.
Marinate the Chickpeas
- Drain and rinse the chickpeas under cold water then transfer them into a bowl. Pour the lemon vinaigrette onto the chickpeas, mix and set aside while you cut the vegetables.
Chop the Veggies
- Cut the bell pepper open, remove the stem and seeds, then chop it into small pieces. Cut the cherry tomatoes into four pieces. Cut the cucumber in half, then each half in half again, and slice into triangles. Finely chop the onion. Cut the olives into thin slices. For a more aromatic salad you can finely chop some basil or mint too. Also, lightly toast the pine nuts on a pan for a couple of minutes.
Cook the Couscous
- Add the couscous and salt to a large mixing bowl, boil the water, and add it to the couscous.Give it a quick stir so that the water covers the couscous. Cover the bowl with a lid and set aside for 5 minutes.
- After 5 minutes, when the water has been fully absorbed, fluff up the couscous with a fork, scraping it with the tips of the fork until all lumps are gone and the couscous is soft and fluffy.
Build the Salad
- Now add the rest of the ingredients to the couscous: chickpeas with vinaigrette, bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, onion, olives, pine nuts, and if you like some extra fresh herbs.
- Mix well with a spoon, then taste and adjust for salt. Serve the couscous salad immediately or store in the fridge for up to 3 days.