Couscous Salad

4.87 from 869 votes
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Mediterranean couscous salad with a fresh lemon herb dressing. Tiny durum wheat semolina cooks on the stovetop and is tossed with colorful vegetables, feta cheese, olives, and garbanzo beans. It’s a healthy side dish that packs a crunch!

Mediterranean couscous salad in a white bowl.

Recipe Science

  • Steaming couscous rather than boiling allows each granule to expand without becoming mushy, maintaining a light and fluffy texture that absorbs flavors well.
  • Adding acidic components like lemon juice and vinegar to the dressing contrasts the mild flavor of couscous and enhances the salad’s overall taste.
  • Incorporating fresh vegetables and herbs introduces a variety of textures, making the salad more dynamic and vibrant.

Why It Works

This Mediterranean couscous salad recipe strikes the perfect balance of phytonutrients, fiber-rich vegetables, and protein, making it light yet satisfying. This vegetarian side dish celebrates the use of fresh and flavorful ingredients, with each bite delivering a burst of flavor. I often serve it as a summer salad, it’s so crisp and refreshing!

Couscous is an underutilized pantry item. It’s a staple in regions like Morocco and Northern Africa, but we often forget how versatile it is in our daily meals. A package of instant couscous only takes 5 minutes to prepare! The grains are like little sponges, absorbing hot water, turning light and tender, and releasing a nutty flavor. It’s a wonderful solution when you need a quick and light meal.

Ingredients You’ll Need

Ingredients needed to make this couscous salad recipe.
  • Couscous: I use instant Moroccan couscous to make the salad. It’s very small and most often sold in grocery stores. It’s precooked by steaming, then dried and packaged, making it quick to prepare on the stovetop.
  • Vegetables: To make the salad exciting, I use a mix of colorful vegetables with contrast in textures. Diced English cucumber, Roma tomatoes, red bell peppers, and red onion pair nicely together.
  • Beans: Add creamy canned garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas) for extra protein and fiber.
  • Olives: Kalamata olives add a briny taste. Purchase the fitted products so it’s easier to slice.
  • Cheese: Tangy and salty feta cheese gets crumbled on top as garnish.
  • Herbs: Fresh herbs like chopped parsley, mint, and basil add a strong herbaceous aroma and flavor. I add dried oregano for a more concentrated note.
  • Dressing: The lemon dressing is a simple combination of olive oil, lemon juice and zest, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper.

See the recipe card below for all ingredients and measurements (US and metric).

Ingredient Substitutions

  • Switch up the Couscous: There are different types of couscous to choose from, like whole wheat, Israeli couscous with a springy chew, or larger Lebanese couscous for a heartier bite. Quinoa makes a fabulous gluten-free substitute.
  • Vegetable Swaps: Cherry tomatoes add a burst of sweet and juicy flavor. Add different colored bell peppers. Grilled corn adds a smoky taste, especially if served with barbecued foods. Diced carrots or jicama delivers extra crunch.
  • Cheese Options: Crumble goat cheese or queso fresco. Add grated or shaved pieces of aged Parmesan or manchego. A small piece of fresh mozzarella.
  • Vinegar: Instead of red wine vinegar, feel free to use other types of vinegar like white wine, apple cider, or sherry vinegar. Avoid balsamic vinegar because it will make the couscous salad dark in appearance.
  • More Crunch: Add toasted pine nuts and sliced or blanched almonds. Make my popular roasted chickpeas, they are a great way to use the leftover canned garbanzo beans.

How to Make Couscous Salad

Couscous in a pot of hot water.

Step 1: Cook the Couscous

I use my easy 5-minute stovetop method to cook the instant couscous. Bring the water, salt, and olive oil to a boil in a saucepan. Stir in the couscous, turn off the heat, cover, and allow the grains to absorb the liquid.

Fork fluffing cooked couscous in a pot.

Fluff it up with a fork to separate it. Transfer the couscous to a bowl and refrigerate it to cook it down quickly. You don’t want to add hot couscous to the raw salad ingredients, or they will lose their structure.

Pro Tip: In my post on how to cook couscous, I show an alternative cooking method using a microwave that involves a similar absorption technique.

Salad ingredients in a bowl before being mixed together.

Step 2: Assemble the Salad

Once the couscous is cool, it’s time to assemble the salad ingredients. Grab a large bowl and toss together the couscous, tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, garbanzo beans, red onion, olives, cheese, parsley, mint, basil, and oregano.

Salad dressing ingredients being whisked in a small bowl.

Step 3: Make the Lemon Dressing

In a small bowl, whisk together the citrus, vinegar, salt, and pepper. The combination of fresh lemon zest and juice and red wine vinegar provides tanginess to the salad.

Lemon dressing in a bowl after whisking.

Slowly whisk in the extra-virgin olive oil to create a quick emulsified dressing.

A colorful couscous salad in a bowl with dressing on the side.

Step 4: Garnish and Serve

Drizzle the dressing over the salad and gently toss to combine. I like to garnish with more feta and fresh herbs. The lemon dressing recipe makes just enough to coat the components.

Chef’s Note: Many of my readers have commented that they double the amount of dressing because it’s so tasty, so they have more to serve on the side.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is couscous pasta?

No, couscous is crushed durum wheat semolina formed into tiny spheres. It’s much smaller than traditional Italian pasta. Different types of couscous are available, and depending on the size, it can yield a more delicate or chewier experience.

Can I microwave the couscous?

Yes! The microwave method involves heating water to near boiling, then stirring in couscous, covering, and sitting until light and fluffy. That’s it!

What ingredients do you add to couscous salad?

To infuse Mediterranean flavors, I add a hearty amount of red bell pepper, red onion, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, kalamata olives, and feta cheese. Chopped herbs like fresh basil, mint, and parsley add fragrant aromas, while dried oregano adds an earthy taste. Garbanzo beans add creaminess and a vegan protein source.

Serve This With

If you tried this Couscous Salad, please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how it went in the 📝 comments below!

Couscous Salad

Mediterranean couscous salad with a fresh lemon herb dressing. Tossed with colorful vegetables, feta cheese, olives, and garbanzo beans.
4.87 from 869 votes
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time30 minutes
Servings 6 servings
Course Salad
Cuisine Mediterranean

Ingredients 
 

Couscous

  • 1 cup water
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup instant couscous

Salad

  • ½ cup diced roma tomato, ¼" dice
  • ½ cup diced english cucumber, ¼" dice
  • ½ cup diced red bell pepper, ⅛" dice
  • ½ cup canned garbanzo beans, rinsed
  • ¼ cup minced red onion
  • ½ cup kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons feta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon chopped mint
  • 1 teaspoon chopped basil
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano

Lemon Dressing

  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions 

  • Cook the Couscous – In a medium saucepan, bring water, salt, and olive oil to a boil over high heat. Add the couscous and stir quickly. Turn off the heat and cover. Let it stand until tender, 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and let cool. For faster cooling, transfer to a bowl and refrigerate.
  • Assemble the Couscous Salad – In a large bowl, combine cooled couscous, tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, garbanzo beans, red onion, olives, cheese, parsley, mint, basil, and oregano.
  • Make the Lemon Dressing – In a small bowl, whisk together lemon zest, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and whisk until a thickened dressing forms.
  • To Serve – Pour the dressing over the salad. Gently stir to combine. If desired, garnish with more cheese and herbs.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Notes

  • Recipe Yield: About 4 cups
  • Serving Size: About 2/3 cups
  • Couscous Options: This recipe uses instant Moroccan couscous. Whole wheat, Israeli (pearl), or Lebanese couscous can be substituted.
  • Vinegar Substitution: Use white wine vinegar, apple cider, or sherry vinegar.
  • Extra Dressing: My readers love to double the lemon dressing recipe—reserve half to serve on the side for additional flavor. 
  • Make it Low-Carb: Use 2 ½ cups cauliflower rice instead of couscous. Serve raw or saute and cool before adding to the salad.
  • Make it Gluten-Free: Use quinoa instead of couscous. 
  • Make-Ahead: Assemble the salad ingredients in a bowl. Wait to add the dressing, whisking before adding it to the top. 
  • Storing: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 days. 

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 6 servings
Calories 203kcal (10%)Carbohydrates 27g (9%)Protein 5g (10%)Fat 8g (12%)Saturated Fat 1g (5%)Cholesterol 5mg (2%)Sodium 573mg (24%)Potassium 128mg (4%)Fiber 2g (8%)Sugar 1g (1%)Vitamin A 510IU (10%)Vitamin C 19.6mg (24%)Calcium 45mg (5%)Iron 0.6mg (3%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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Recipe Rating




183 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Shelly says

    I never post comments, but this recipe was too good to leave without saying something. It is delicious! I added a little extra mint after tasting it, but that was my only change to the recipe. It is definitely going in my summer meal rotation.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I appreciate you taking time to leave a great review for my couscous salad recipe. Thanks Shelley!

  2. Lyndsay says

    Make this!! It’s a perfect side dish and tastes just as good the next day as a light lunch. My husband doesn’t eat olives so I had to omit them and it’s still fantastic.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I’m so happy that you enjoyed the couscous salad recipe! Glad to hear that the salad still tasted delicious without the olives.

  3. Suzette says

    I have been looking for a couscous salad like this after trying something similar at a gas station. I love this recipe! Thank you for sharing! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  4. Michelle says

    Love this recip, simple and delicious. Just wondering can this be done the night before? I’ve always prepared this dish the day of a party but was just wondering.

    Thank you:)

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Thank you so much! You can make the dish the night before, however I reccomend waiting to add the dressing right before serving.

  5. Judy says

    Loved this recipe. The lemon dressing makes it just that much more special. I did leave out the oregano as I thought it may be a little overpowering

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