Mediterranean Israeli (Pearl) Couscous Salad

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by Sil Pancho

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05.24.2023


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This Israeli Couscous Salad (or Pearl Couscous Salad) is packed with fresh herbs, feta cheese, and Mediterranean ingredients like cucumbers, tomatoes, and olives. Toasting the couscous before cooking it adds a delicious, nutty flavor. This Mediterranean couscous salad is super flavorful and is sure to be your new favorite side dish or light meal!

Overhead photo of a bowl of Israeli couscous salad with Mediterranean ingredients like cucumber, tomato, and feta, in a white bowl.

Have you ever had Israeli, or pearl, couscous? It’s basically tiny circles of pasta. It has a wonderful chewy texture, a bit heartier tasting than the fluffier and smaller Moroccan-style couscous, and is the perfect base for a cold salad.

This recipe toasts the couscous in olive oil before adding water to the pot and cooking, resulting in a deliciously toasty, nutty flavor that enhances the whole recipe. I do this with my orzo pilaf recipe, too.

The cooked couscous is then tossed with a simple mixture of lemon juice, garlic, and extra-virgin olive oil, cooled, then mixed with refreshing Mediterranean ingredients like cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, herbs, and feta cheese.

This couscous salad is a delicious vegetarian side dish or light lunch, and is great paired with grilled halloumi, shrimp, or chicken. You could even add some cooked chickpeas to it to add some more protein and make it a meal.

Let’s get to it!

Ingredients and Substitutions

  • Israeli (Pearl) Couscous – you can use another small pasta, like orzo or acini di pepe if you can’t find pearl couscous. If you’re unfamiliar with Israeli Couscous, here’s an example.
  • Olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic
  • Feta cheese – fresh mozzarella is a good substitute here if you don’t like feta, or use a vegan substitute or omit if preferred.
  • Olives – I prefer kalamata, but any will do.
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Cucumber – I like English cucumbers because they are less watery and the skin is delicate tasting, but any will do.
  • Red onion – or chopped green onions or a sweet onion.
  • Fresh herbs – I used a mix of mint, dill, and parsley. Chives, basil, and tarragon all will work here too.

How to make Couscous Salad

First, toast the couscous in a medium pot in some olive oil, stirring it frequently so nothing burns. Once you see some nice brown color develop on some pieces, add water and salt and cook. Once it’s done, toss it with a mixture of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, fresh minced garlic, and salt. Cool it for a little bit in the fridge, then mix in the remaining ingredients – olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, feta cheese, and herbs. I also added some toasted pine nuts, but those are optional. All done!

Process collage showing how to toast and cook Israeli couscous, and mix it into a Mediterranean couscous salad.

Do I HAVE to toast the couscous?

Feel free to skip this step if you want! It adds great flavor, but if you’re in a hurry, just cook the couscous however you want.

Can I use small, Moroccan-style couscous instead of Israeli couscous?

Sure! The texture of the salad will be different and a bit lighter, but feel free to use it if you want!

How to prevent soggy salad

To prevent soggy couscous salad, you’ll want to make sure to not add ingredients that easily get soggy and remove as much water as you can before mixing. I recommend removing the seeds of the cucumber for this reason, since that’s where most of the water is (just use a spoon to scrape them out after cutting it lengthwise). Cherry tomatoes don’t have a ton of water so that’s why they are good here. I also didn’t include any leafy greens like spinach or arugula for this reason – they will get very soggy very quickly. Also, be sure to cool the couscous as much as possible before mixing it with the other ingredients!

How long does couscous salad last in the fridge?

This couscous salad holds up really well for about 2 days. After that, it’s still great for another couple of days, but the cucumbers start to soften up a bit more. This salad is great for meal prep since it holds up so well!

Close up photo of pearl couscous salad.

What to serve with Israeli Couscous Salad

Other Mediterranean salad recipes

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Square photo of a bowl of couscous salad.

Mediterranean Israeli (Pearl) Couscous Salad

This easy Mediterranean Couscous Salad uses Israeli, or pearl, couscous, which are like tiny circles of pasta. Toasting them in oil before cooking brings out a nutty flavor, then the cooked couscous is mixed with a lemon garlic olive oil dressing and tossed with cucumber, olives, tomato, feta cheese, and herbs. You’ll love this easy make ahead side dish!


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Course: Salad

Cuisine: Mediterranean

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Cooling time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Servings: 6 servings

Calories: 333kcal

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Ingredients

  • 8 oz. Israeli (Pearl) Couscous
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil divided, plus more if needed
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from about 1 lemon)
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 4 oz. feta cheese crumbled (see notes)
  • 1 cup kalamata olives pitted and sliced in half
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved (about 1 cup)
  • 2 cups diced cucumber (from about 1 large cucumber, peeled and/or seeded if desired)
  • ½ cup diced red onion (from about one half of a medium onion)
  • ¼ – ½ cup chopped fresh herbs (mint, parsley, basil, and/or dill work well here)
  • kosher salt and black pepper as needed
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts optional

Instructions

  • In a medium pot, mix the 8 oz. Israeli (Pearl) Couscous and 1 tablespoon of the extra-virgin olive oil. Toast over medium heat, stirring frequently, until some of the pieces of couscous get brown in color. Add 1 ¾ cup water and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a boil, cover, turn heat down to low, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until all the water has been absorbed (stir every so often to prevent sticking).

  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, the 2 tablespoons lemon juice, the minced 1 small clove garlic, and ½ kosher salt. When the couscous is done, add it to the bowl and mix together to coat in the dressing. For best results, stick in the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes to allow the couscous to cool. (This is a great time to prep your other ingredients.)

  • Add the crumbled 4 oz. feta cheese, halved 1 cup kalamata olives, halved or quartered 1 pint cherry tomatoes, 2 cups diced cucumber, ½ cup diced red onion, ¼ – ½ cup chopped fresh herbs, and 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts, if using. Toss together.

  • Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper, and add a little drizzle of extra olive oil if it seems dry. Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve (see notes on making ahead).

Notes

  • Making ahead: This couscous salad holds up very well in the fridge for about 2 days. After that, it’s still good to eat for another couple of days, but the veggies may start to get soggy.
  • Make it a meal: Add cooked chickpeas, or serve as a side with grilled halloumi, chicken, or shrimp, or any other Mediterranean-inspire main. These Greek chicken bites are perfect.
  • Make it vegan: Omit the feta, or use a vegan substitute.
  • Feta substitute: Fresh mozzarella is a good substitute here if you’re (tragically) not a fan of feta cheese.

Nutrition

Calories: 333kcal | Carbohydrates: 37g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Cholesterol: 17mg | Sodium: 583mg | Potassium: 372mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 889IU | Vitamin C: 26mg | Calcium: 141mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutrition Information Disclaimer

The provided nutrition information is my best estimate and does not include any added sodium from seasoning to taste, any optional ingredients, and it does not take brands into account. I use an automatic API to calculate this information. Feel free to calculate it yourself using one of these tools:

Very Well Fit Nutrition Information Calculator



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