Couscous salad is an easy, fresh, crunchy, and nutritious meal for any occasion. From a quick lunch and healthy dinner to potlucks and picnics, this couscous salad will be a tasty crowd-pleaser.
The combination of light and fluffy couscous with crunchy veggies and a tangy lemony dressing will make you fall in love with this delicious meal.
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Couscous is a 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 minutes), it's healthy, and it goes well with most veggies, sauces, meat, fish, and cheeses.
Here we will show you how to pair couscous with crunchy fresh vegetables and a delicious and aromatic lemon and cumin dressing to make a wonderful Mediterranean-inspired couscous salad.
Follow our step-by-step recipe, and in less than half an hour, you'll have a delicious meal excellent for a quick lunch, a healthy dinner, a party, a side dish, or meal prep, as it stores well for days.
You are welcome to follow our veggies recommendations, but you can also pick and choose your favorite ones. If you do so, try to pick different colors and a mix of soft and crunchy textures.
To learn more about couscous, check out our guide on how to cook couscous, where we go more in-depth with tips and serving suggestions.
For the couscous salad
Get regular couscous (Moroccan couscous), which looks like tiny granules of pasta. For an even healthier salad, try whole-wheat couscous.
To make an Israeli couscous salad, substitute pearl couscous (Israeli couscous) for regular couscous. In this case, cook the pearl couscous per package instructions before mixing it with the other ingredients.
Water & Salt
You'll need hot water to cook the couscous. If you want a dish with a richer flavor, you can replace the water with reduced sodium vegetable stock. Couscous has a very neutral flavor; you must salt it to make it tasty.
They are delicious in this salad and add some extra protein. You can use canned or dry chickpeas. If you use dry ones, you need to cook them first. We marinate chickpeas in our lemon dressing to make them even tastier. Substitute cannellini beans or any other white beans for chickpeas.
Or another type of small tomato. They add a touch of sweetness to the salad.
Finely chopped shallots add sweet and tangy notes to this Mediterranean couscous salad. Substitute red onion, green onions, radishes, or white onions for shallots.
For crunch. You can replace it with green or red bell peppers.
Yellow bell pepper
It adds sweetness, crunch, and a vibrant yellow color. You can replace it with corn.
They add umami to the salad. It's easier if you use pitted olives. You can also use kalamata olives or green olives.
Pine nuts and couscous are a match made in heaven. Slightly toast the nuts on a dry pan until they turn golden brown before adding them to the salad.
You can substitute chopped walnuts, almonds, or slivered almonds for pinenuts.
Flat-leaf parsley is the variety used in the Mediterranean area. If you can't find it feel free to use the curly type. Other herbs that are good with couscous are mint, basil, and dill. You can mix more herbs if you like; they are delicious together.
Add crumbled feta cheese (or non-dairy feta) for even more flavor and umami. You can also drizzle the salad with our tahini sauce or top it with a dollop of yogurt tahini sauce.
For the lemon dressing
Extra virgin olive oil is traditionally used around the Mediterranean, where olive trees abound. We love the smell of olive oil that touches the warm couscous. They go so well together.
We try to use an organic lemon since we are eating the peel. If you can't find organic lemons, omit the lemon zest and move on to the next ingredient.
Freshly squeezed would be best. It adds a ton of freshness and tanginess. However, if you are more into sweeter flavors, you can use orange juice instead. If you can't find lemons or oranges or want to try something else, you can use red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar.
Ground cumin is often used in Mediterranean regions and is terrific with couscous.
This is optional, but if you like garlic, you can finely grate or press a clove in the dressing.
Salt and pepper
We recommend sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
1. Make the dressing
We start with the lemon dressing because we will marinate the chickpeas to infuse them with flavor.
To a small mixing bowl, add the grated zest of a lemon, lemon juice without the seeds, extra virgin olive oil, grated garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper.
Whisk well until all ingredients are well combined and emulsified. That means the oils and the lemon juice are combined into one fluid or emulsion.
If you don't have a whisk, put all the ingredients in a small jar, close it with a lid, and shake vigorously until emulsified.
Drain and rinse the chickpeas under cold water, then transfer them into the bowl with the dressing, mix, and set them aside to marinate while you cut the vegetables.
2. Cook the Couscous
Boil the water in a kettle or a pot. To a large bowl, add the dry couscous and salt.
Pour the hot water onto the couscous, stir with a fork to ensure that the water covers the couscous, then set aside for 5 minutes.
After 5 minutes, the couscous will have absorbed all the water, and the granules should be puffy and all stuck together.
Fluff up the couscous 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.
3. Cut the veggies
Remove the stem and seeds of the bell pepper, then chop it into small dice. Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters.
Cut the cucumber in half, then each half in half again, and slice into triangles. Finely chop the shallots.
Cut the olives into thin slices. Finely chop the parsley. Lightly toast the pine nuts on a pan for a couple of minutes.
4. Mix the salad
Add all the ingredients to a large mixing bowl (including dressing and chickpeas).
Mix well with a spoon, taste, and adjust for salt, lemon, and herbs.
You can serve this couscous salad recipe immediately or store it in the fridge and serve it later. The next day will be even tastier.
This couscous salad is excellent for a quick lunch or healthy dinner, or you can bring it to potlucks, barbecues, and picnics.
To make it even tastier, drizzle it with our quick and creamy dreamy tahini sauce made with tahini, lemon juice, water, and garlic. It'll add creaminess, umami, and a wonderful nutty flavor.
Alternatively, add a dollop of yogurt tahini sauce or Greek yogurt before serving it.
The fresh and slightly acidic taste of the yogurt matches the warm flavors of the couscous perfectly.
Other sauces/spreads/dressings you can serve this couscous salad with are:
- Guacamole (avocado, red onion, cilantro, lime juice, tomato, etc.)
- Cashew sour cream (lemon juice, cashews, apple cider vinegar, etc.)
- Tzatziki (cucumber, greek or dairy-free yogurt, mint, garlic, lemon juice, etc.)
- Avocado spread (tahini, avocado, garlic, lemon, salt, etc.)
- Hummus (chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic, water, tahini, etc.)
Use it as a filling
The best thing about this salad is that you can use it as a quick, nourishing, and delicious filling for other vegetables. Among our favorites are the following:
- Stuffed eggplants (roast the eggplants in the oven, air-fryer, or grill).
- Microwave sweet potato (it takes 7 minutes in the microwave - best quick lunch ever).
- Stuffed bell pepper (a classic Mediterranean dish)
- Roasted zucchini (cook the zucchini boats without filling, then add the couscous on top).
This couscous recipe is built with four 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:
Couscous with vegetables
Our couscous with vegetables is delicious warm or cold, and is an excellent alternative to our couscous salad. We make it with eggplant, zucchini, and other delicious summer vegetables.
We cook the veggies in a pan with olive oil and herbs to make them super tasty before mixing them with the couscous.
Check out our couscous with vegetables recipe.
Chickpeas and quinoa are combined to create a simple and healthy chickpea quinoa salad with fresh, seasonal veggies and a simple mustard-maple vinaigrette.
Quinoa is an excellent alternative to couscous, and this salad offers a nutritious, naturally vegan, gluten-free meal choice that will please even the pickiest eaters.
Check out our chickpea quinoa salad.
Rice and couscous are interchangeable when making a fresh, crunchy, delicious salad.
Our readers love our rice salad because it's a crowd-pleaser you can make with simple ingredients you probably already have at home.
Check out our rice salad recipe.
Farro is probably our favorite grain because it's wholesome, has a wonderful flavor, and has a chewy texture that is highly satisfying.
It's perfect for making cold salads with crunchy veggies; we love it as a substitute for couscous.
Check out our farro salad recipe.
Did you know that couscous is made with the same ingredient used for making pasta (durum wheat - although processed differently)?
It makes perfect sense to swap it for your favorite pasta type and make a delicious summery pasta salad with similar ingredients.
Check out our pasta salad recipe.
Make ahead & storage
Make ahead: our couscous salad is the perfect meal to make ahead as it keeps well in the refrigerator for up to three days, and the next day the salad will taste even better as the flavors have time to meld.
Refrigerator: keep the 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 refrigerator 30 minutes before serving it.
Freezer: we do not recommend freezing the salad as the fresh veggies would lose texture and crunch.
More salad recipes
Get more healthy lunch ideas from these wholesome recipes:
- Kale and quinoa salad (curly kale, pumpkin, quinoa, corn, bell pepper, olive oil, etc.)
- Barley salad (roasted veggies, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, etc.)
- Black bean salad: (sweet potatoes, black beans, avocado, lime, cilantro, etc.)
- Cauliflower salad: (roasted cauliflower, tahini, chickpeas, parsley, etc.)
- Sweet potato salad: (arugula, avocado, cranberries, mustard dressing, etc.)
For many more salad ideas, check out our salads category page.
- ¼ cup olive oil extra virgin
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest grated
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon cumin ground
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 clove garlic grated
- 1 cup couscous dry
- 1 cup hot water just boiled
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 can (15-ounce) chickpeas or 1½ cups cooked
- 1½ cups cherry tomatoes quartered
- 1½ cups cucumber diced
- 1 cup yellow bell pepper diced
- 1 shallot finely chopped
- ½ cup olives sliced
- 1 handful parsley finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts lightly toasted
- MAKE THE DRESSING: To a small bowl, add ¼ cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon cumin, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, and 1 clove garlic (grated). Whisk until well combined.
- Drain and rinse 1 can (15-ounce) chickpeas and toss them in the bowl with the dressing. Set aside to marinate while you prep couscous and veggies.
- PREP THE COUSCOUS: To a bowl, add 1 cup couscous, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 cup hot water.Stir, cover with a plate, and set aside for 5 minutes. Next, 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.
- CHOP THE VEGGIES: Cut 1½ cups cherry tomatoes into quarters, 1½ cups cucumber into dice, and 1 cup yellow bell pepper into dice.Finely chop 1 shallot and 1 handful parsley.Slice ½ cup olives and lightly toast 2 tablespoons pine nuts on a pan until golden.
- MIX THE SALAD: In a large mixing bowl, toss all ingredients together (couscous + dressing & chickpeas + veggies).
- Serve the couscous salad immediately or store it in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- Couscous: pasta, farro, buckwheat, barley, rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet.
- Chickpeas: white beans, black beans, lentils.
- Cherry tomatoes: any other small tomatoes.
- Shallot: red onion, green onion, radishes.
- Cucumber: zucchini, green bell pepper.
- Yellow bell pepper: canned corn kernels, orange bell pepper, red bell pepper.
- Black olives: kalamata olives, Gaeta olives, green olives, marinated artichoke hearts, capers.
- Pine nuts: chopped and toasted almonds, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts.
- Lemon zest and juice: orange zest and juice.
- Cumin: paprika, za'atar, sumac.
- Garlic: garlic powder.