Made in just 20 minutes, this Mediterranean-inspired pearl couscous salad is perfect for lunch and meal prep! It's tossed in a balsamic dressing and is packed with healthy and fresh ingredients.
If you're looking for a fresh spring or summer salad, this pearl couscous salad is a great option! Pearl couscous, also known as Israeli couscous, is an almost pasta-like grain that pairs perfectly with chopped vegetables.
This salad features Mediterranean flavors like balsamic vinegar, olives, and a handful of fresh veggies.
The couscous is tossed with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette that's very simple but flavorful. This recipe is vegetarian as-is but can easily be adjusted to be dairy-free!
- Flavors: Made with pearl couscous (also known as Israeli couscous) and fresh summer vegetables. The couscous is tossed in a sweet and tangy homemade balsamic vinaigrette.
- Quick & easy: This couscous salad is ready in just 20 minutes. It's great for meal prep because it's versatile, balanced, and tastes even better after marinating overnight.
- Dietary-features: vegetarian, soy-free, nut-free, vegan and dairy-free optional
Ingredients and substitutions
- Pearl couscous (Israeli couscous): Not to be confused with regular couscous, this is a soft, chewy grain that is quite literally shaped like a pearl. It is much larger than couscous.
- Cucumber, bell pepper, cherry tomatoes are the main veggies. I like to quarter the cherry tomatoes and dice cucumber and bell pepper to about ½ inch, but you can go for smaller or bigger pieces if you prefer.
- Balsamic vinaigrette provides a kick of Mediterranean flavor with balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and agave syrup. An equal amount of honey also works.
- Chickpeas are the main source of protein in this recipe. Pat the chickpeas dry before using to avoid the salad getting too wet/watery.
- Kalamata olives add a salty, umami kick. I like to dice them very finely so that they are evenly dispersed throughout the salad. Feel free to omit these if you don't like olives.
Israeli couscous is also known as pearl couscous because of its pearl-like appearance. Pearl couscous is a very tiny pasta shape that was developed in the 1950s in Israel. It has a similar texture to orzo.
Despite the name, it actually isn't the same thing as couscous. Couscous is a North African ingredient made from durum wheat semolina.
You can find pearl couscous in the pasta section in most grocery stores. It is also stocked by the rice and grain section. If you cannot find pearl couscous, you can use an equal amount of orzo or regular couscous.
Step by step instructions
- Cook the Israeli/pearl couscous: I like to use vegetable broth for a more flavorful result, but water also works. Combine 1 cup dry Pearl couscous with 1 and ¾ cups water in a small pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer uncovered until the couscous is soft and al dente, like pasta. Drain off excess liquid as needed.
- Prep the veggies: While the couscous cooks, dice and chop the bell peppers, cucumber, and tomatoes. Add to a large bowl.
- Make the vinaigrette: Whisk together the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, agave or honey, lemon juice and a pinch of salt in a small bowl.
- Toss everything together: In a large bowl, toss togethe the cooked pearl couscous, chopped vegetables, feta, and balsamic vinaigrette. Stir to combine.
- Couscous: If you're having trouble finding pearl couscous, you can use one of those box mixes that comes with a flavor packet (usually the flavor packet is stored separately from the grain). You can also use regular couscous in an equal amount, but it will be a pretty different texture. Regular couscous reminds me a lot of grits.
- For the most flavorful couscous salad, add the balsamic vinaigrette to the couscous while it is still warm. This causes the couscous to soak up the vinaigrette.
- Protein: For a higher protein meal, add an extra can of chickpeas, hemp seeds, baked tofu or your favorite protein source.
- Vegan option: Make this couscous salad vegan by replacing honey with agave syrup and using vegan feta in place of feta. You can omit the feta entirely if you can't find vegan feta.
- I like adding pita chips for a crunch factor and extra Mediterranean-inspired flavor. You can also add a scoop of hummus for extra healthy fats.
Leftovers: Pearl couscous salad is best within 4 to 5 days. Keep covered in the refrigerator. Note that the couscous continues to absorb the balsamic vinaigrette as it chills.
Freezing: I have not tried freezing this recipe but I don't recommend it, as ingredients like cucumbers and onions lose their structure upon thawing.
Chill time: The salad will warm up when you add the just-cooked couscous. It will need to sit in the fridge for 1-2 hours to chill. You can avoid this step by cooking the couscous a day in advance. Refrigerate the couscous until you're ready to use it the next day.
Prep the salad up to 24 hours in advance. Not that the couscous will absorb some of the vinaigrette as it chills. Add an extra splash of balsamic or olive oil as needed before serving.
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Balsamic Pearl Couscous Salad
Crunchy Mediterranean Salad
- 1 cup dry pearl couscous see note #1
- 1 and ¾ cups water or vegetable broth
- 1 can (14-16 ounces) chickpeas drained and rinsed
- 1 medium cucumber diced
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes quartered
- ½ medium red onion diced
- 1 medium red bell pepper diced
- ¼ cup kalamata olives finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
- ¼ cup feta
- 1 medium lemon sliced into wedges for serving
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice from ~½ large lemon
- 1 teaspoon honey or agave syrup more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon coarse salt
- Combine 1 cup dry couscous with 1 and ¾ cups water (or vegetable broth) in a small pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer over medium-low. Simmer uncovered until the couscous is soft, about 10-12 minutes. It should be al dente like pasta. Drain off any excess liquid.
- Prep the veggies while the couscous cooks. Combine cucumber, cherry tomatoes, red onion, chickpeas, olives and red bell pepper in a large bowl. Add the cooked couscous.
- To make the vinaigrette: Whisk together the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, honey and salt in a small container.
- Drizzle the dressing on just before serving. Toss with fresh parsley and feta and serve with a lemon wedge. For a cold salad, transfer to the fridge to chill for 1-2 hours before serving. Enjoy!
- Pearl couscous: You can use regular couscous, white or brown rice, farro, barley, quinoa or any chewy grain in place of pearl couscous. If changing grains, cook them according to package instructions.
- Leftovers: Keep leftovers refrigerated in a closed container for 4-5 days.
- Make vegan by replacing honey with agave syrup and use vegan feta in place of feta. You can omit the feta entirely if you can't find vegan feta.
- Chilling the salad: You can avoid the need to chill the salad by cooking the couscous a day in advance. Refrigerate the couscous until you're ready to use it the next day.
- Check out the full YouTube video for Couscous Salad for more tips and step-by-step instructions.
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Author's note: This recipe was originally shared on January 30th, 2019. It was updated on April 9th, 2021 with new photos, a video and more tips. The only recipe change is that it now uses pearl couscous in place of couscous.
Based on what I had, I used Trader Joe's Harvest Blend (blend of pearled couscous, orzo, split baby garbanzo beans and red quinoa), and substituted thinly sliced green onions for red. I added the honey, but found it was a bit too sweet. I think that was a reflection of our tastes rather than the recipe. Next time I will try it without the honey (maybe the variety was the problem), because it was a delicious combination!
Sounds delicious with that harvest blend! Thanks for trying the recipe 🙂
Mary Ann Autenrieb
Made this for dinner...and we both loved it! Thanks for a great recipe!
I just made this last night and it was super delicious and filling! It will be a great lunch or dinner for taking on our boat. The only small change I made was using Lemongrass Mint Vinegar instead of Balsalmic and reduced the lemon juice to just a squeeze. Great recipe!!
That sounds like a delicious swap. Thanks for making the recipe! 🙂