Published Jul 07, 2023, Updated Sep 27, 2023
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This easy couscous salad is loaded with tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, fresh herbs and feta cheese all tossed in a simple lemon dressing. It’s light, refreshing and makes for a healthy side dish.
Looking for a light and easy side dish that doesn’t skimp on flavor? Look no further than this simple couscous salad!
It combines fluffy couscous with crunchy vegetables, salty feta cheese all tossed in an easy lemon dressing. Whether you need a side dish for a summer potluck or quick and easy lunch recipe, this salad is perfect! Not to mention, it’s delicious and a breeze to whip up.
Why You’ll Love This Salad
- It’s light, refreshing and packed with tons of fresh veggies and herbs!
- This salad only takes about 20 minutes to prepare, making it perfect for busy days.
- Can be served as a side dish, or add your favorite protein to make it a main meal.
- The lemon dressing brings a tangy and fresh flavor that ties everything together.
What is Couscous?
Couscous is a staple food in many North African and Mediterranean cuisines. It’s made from tiny balls of semolina flour, which is the same flour used to make pasta. The semolina is combined with water and rolled into small grains. Couscous is often mistaken for a grain, but it’s technically a type of pasta.
Couscous has a mild, slightly nutty taste, making it versatile and an excellent base for a variety of dishes. It’s particularly great in salads as it absorbs the flavors of the ingredients it’s combined with. It’s a popular alternative to rice or quinoa for those looking to try something different.
In terms of nutrition, couscous is a good source of carbohydrates, and it also contains some protein and fiber. Opting for whole wheat couscous can add an extra nutritional boost.
Types of Couscous
There are different types of couscous, with the most common being Moroccan couscous, which is what we’re using in this recipe. Moroccan couscous is very small and cooks quickly. There is also Israeli or pearl couscous, which is larger and takes a bit longer to cook. Another variety is Lebanese couscous, which is somewhere in between in terms of size.
- instant couscous – also known as Moroccan couscous, this is the star ingredient for this salad! It cooks up in just 5-10 minutes, which makes this salad come together in no time! Couscous can usually be found in the grain section of most grocery stores, with rice and quinoa. I used RiceSelect Moroccan-Style Couscous for this recipe.
- grape tomatoes – adds a sweet and juicy component to the salad. You can dice them or halve them. Cherry tomatoes will also work.
- english cucumber – adds a nice crunch! Feel free to use a regular or persian cucumber instead if that’s what you have on hand.
- red onion – a little bit adds a sharpness and depth of flavor. Feel free to use a yellow onion if you prefer.
- fresh parsley – fresh herbs always elevate a dish and parsley pairs perfectly with the rest of the ingredients in this salad. You could also use mint or basil or a combination of both.
- extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice – for the dressing we’re just using olive oil and lemon juice to keep things simple!
- sea salt and ground pepper – for seasoning.
- crumbled feta cheese – adds a creamy and salty element that pairs beautifully with the other textures.
How to Make
Cook couscous: Bring water to a boil in a medium pot. Once boiling, add couscous, cover, and let it sit for 5-10 minutes until the water is absorbed and the couscous is tender.
Combine ingredients: Fluff the couscous with a fork and transfer it to a large bowl. Add the tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion and parsley to the bowl and toss to combine.
Make dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. This creates a simple and flavorful dressing.
Mix: Pour the dressing over the couscous mixture and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed.
Serve or refrigerate: You can serve the salad immediately or refrigerate it until you’re ready to serve. Top with feta cheese right before serving for an added creamy texture and saltiness.
Substitutions & Notes
This couscous salad recipe can easily be customized! Here are some substitutions & notes:
- Couscous type: You can substitute the Moroccan style couscous with pearl couscous (also known as Israeli couscous) for a different texture if you want.
- Veggies: Feel free to add in or swap out the veggies with whatever you have on hand. Red bell pepper, radishes, zucchini, broccoli or baby spinach are all great additions.
- Herbs: If you’re not a fan of parsley, try using fresh mint, basil or a combination of herbs.
- Dressing: If you want a dressing with more depth of flavor try this red wine vinaigrette, white balsamic vinaigrette, greek salad dressing, garlic tahini dressing or lemon vinaigrette dressing instead.
- Gluten-free: If you’re looking for a gluten-free alternative to couscous try making my easy quinoa salad instead.
- Dairy-free: If you need this salad to be dairy-free skip the feta cheese or use a vegan feta like this Follow Your Heart dairy-free vegan crumbles or VIOLIFE Just Like Feta Block.
- Add nuts & seeds: Adding some nuts or seeds can bring a nice crunch and plenty of nutritional value to this salad. Some great options include pine nuts, walnuts, slivered almonds, hemp seeds and sunflower seeds.
- Add protein: To turn this into a meal-sized salad, add in some grilled chicken, shrimp, chickpeas, tofu or tempeh. This apple cider vinegar chicken or air fryer chicken breast recipe would be a great addition. See more protein pairing ideas below!
Couscous Salad Variations
- Mediterranean twist: This salad already has a mediterranean vibe, but for more of a mediterranean couscous salad add some kalamata olives and serve it with a scoop of hummus and this easy baked falafel.
- Southwestern style: Mix in some black beans, corn, bell pepper and replace the parsley with cilantro and feta cheese with cotija cheese. Use lime juice instead of lemon and add a dash of cumin and chili powder to the dressing.
- Asian fusion: Use rice vinegar instead of lemon juice and add soy sauce or tamari to the dressing. You can also add some chopped scallions and different veggies like cabbage, snap peas, carrots and/or broccoli.
- Italian: Swap the feta with mozzarella balls, parsley with fresh basil and add a drizzle of balsamic reduction.
What to Serve with Couscous Salad
Honestly, this salad pairs well with just about anything! It’s a great side salad for cookouts, but also makes for the perfect salad to meal prep for lunches throughout the week. Here are some pairing ideas:
- Apple Cider Vinegar Chicken – my go-to grilled chicken recipe!
- Grilled Curry Chicken – looking for a little extra flavor? Try this curry chicken recipe.
- Blackened Salmon – this refreshing couscous salad is the perfect way to balance out the spice from the salmon.
- The Best Turkey Burger – make these delicious turkey burgers as your main and serve this salad alongside it! For a vegan burger option, try this tempeh veggie burger.
- Baked Falafel – because this salad has Mediterranean vibes, I think it would be delicious paired with homemade falafel and creamy hummus.
How to Store
To make it in advance: I would recommend leaving the feta cheese out and adding that in right before serving. The rest of the salad can be fully assembled and stored in an airtight container for 4-5 days in the refrigerator.
To store leftovers: Store any leftovers in an airtight container for 4-5 days in the refrigerator.
Popular Salad Recipes
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Be sure to check out all of the salad recipes on EBF!
- Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Once boiling, add couscous, cover and let sit for 5-10 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the couscous is tender.
- Fluff the couscous with a fork, transfer to a mixing bowl and add the tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion and parsley.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
- Pour dressing over the couscous mixture and stir to combine.
- Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve. Top with feta cheese right before serving.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.