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Pearl Couscous Salad

January 22, 2023  Chef Austin Avatar
Pearl Couscous Salad

This Israeli Couscous Salad is fabulously addictive! Tender, flavour infused beads of couscous tossed with spinach, tomato, cucumber, herbs and a fresh lemon dressing. Summer in a bowl! recipetineats.com

Pearl couscous is the giant form of the more common tiny couscous. Also known as gourmet and Israeli couscous, it’s like little pearls of pasta – hence the name! Makes a fabulous salad and is a great one to take to gatherings for something different that never fails to impress.

Overhead photo of Pearl couscous salad

Pearl Couscous Salad

The immature child within wants to call this a Giant Couscous Salad. But the proper name is Pearl Couscous Salad, so I went with sensible. But now I’m kind of regretting it!

Pearl couscous is the big brother of the more common tiny couscous that I use as a side dish for Moroccan and African dishes like tagine. Commonly mistaken as a grain, couscous is actually a type of pasta, and is ideal used in salads like in this recipe, or as a side like in this Syrian chicken.

While the tiny couscous can be prepared by soaking in hot water, pearl couscous needs to be simmered on the stove. In my view, the most delicious way to do this is to cook it like risotto, starting with sautéed garlic and onion then using broth instead of water. This infuses the couscous with so much flavor, you can even serve it plain as a side.

Cooked pearl couscous in a saucepan
I like to cook pearl couscous in a broth that starts with sautéed garlic and onion, for maximum flavour! Take a small spoonful and you’ll understand what I mean.

What you need for this pearl couscous salad

I’ve given this salad a Mediterranean spin with a bright lemon dressing, pops of tomato, juicy crunch of cucumber and a good hit of fresh herbs. The combination of dill and coriander/cilantro is a firm favourite. If you haven’t tried it before, you’re in for a treat!

For the salad

Ingredients in Pearl couscous salad
  • Pearl couscous (see photos above) – Giant couscous that are sold in packets labelled as such. Other names it goes by include gourmet couscous and Israeli couscous. Find it alongside ordinary tiny couscous, usually in the pasta aisle.

  • Garlic, onion and vegetable or chicken broth – This is for cooking the pearl couscous. As mentioned above, I like to cook the couscous in flavour to make it more delicious. Try it once and you’ll never look back!

  • Fresh herbs – Dill and coriander/cilantro are a wonderful combination that I love using. Really try not to skip the herbs as they lift the dish. But in my view, this is still worth making even if you do not have one or both of these as the couscous itself and dressing add great flavour into the salad.

    Best substitutes are: parsley (same quantity) or a bit of chives (say, 1/4 cup finely sliced).

  • Baby spinach – Leafy green of choice. Finely sliced so it tosses through the couscous.

    Alternatives: Baby rocket/arugula, torn by hand or chopped into smaller bits (so it tosses though well). Or finely sliced kale, but best to marinate it first to soften the tougher leaves. Follow directions in this recipe.

  • Cherry tomatoes – For juicy pops and lovely colour. Ordinary tomato cut into chunks or large dice will also work.

  • Cucumber – For fresh crunch. Nice textural contrast as there’s no nuts or anything else crunchy in this.

Lemon dressing

A bright lemon dressing is a natural pairing here. No surprises in the ingredients! If you don’t have Dijon Mustard, sub with ordinary yellow mustard. And the lemon juice can be substituted with apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar.

Ingredients in Pearl couscous salad

Driving lemon dressing over Pearl couscous salad

How to make pearl couscous salad

The pearl couscous needs to be cooked around 1 hour in advance to give it sufficient time to cool before tossing with the salad ingredients. You can speed up the cooling process by spreading it on a tray and refrigerating it.

How to make Pearl couscous salad
  1. Sauté garlic and onion in a large saucepan or small pot over medium high heat until the onion is translucent and starting to brown.

  2. Add couscous and stir, cooking for 1 minute, to coat it in the flavoured oil. Add the stock/broth and water. Then once it starts simmering, place the lid on and turn the heat down to medium low.

  3. Cook for 10 minutes until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is cooked through but still firm.

  4. Cool – Use a fork to separate the couscous, then transfer into a large bowl to cool. The couscous will stick together into a big block. But don’t worry, it will separate when tossed with the dressing.

  5. Dressing – Shake the ingredients together in a jar.

  6. Toss! Add all the salad ingredients and fresh herbs into the bowl with the couscous then toss well with the Dressing. Serve immediately, at room temperature!

Pouring Pearl couscous salad into a serving bowl

What to serve with this pearl couscous salad

Serve it as a meal in itself, which is what I often do, or as a side.

As a side dish, with the bright Mediterranean flavours in this, the obvious pairing would be all things Mediterranean like Greek Baked Chicken, Turkish lamb skewers, Greek Meatballs and Greek butterflied lamb leg. But I especially love serving this with African and Middle Eastern spiced things – like Chicken Shawarma which is pictured below. The fresh flavours of this pearl couscous salad are a terrific contrast to the earthy, complex flavours of Middle Eastern flavours.

Other similar spiced mains include Middle Eastern Lamb Koftas, Lamb Shawarma (oh my, this is SO GOOD!), Moroccan Lamb Meatballs and the Jerk Fish I shared earlier this week (YES! It would be amazing with this!).

Pearl couscous salad in bowls, ready to be eaten
Terrific as a side, though I often have it as a lunch by itself.

Deceptively large amount of greens!

There is a deceptively large amount of greens packed into this salad. Because the beads of couscous are so small relative to, for example, pasta, there’s a lot more “stuff” for veggies to be stirred into. I’m not really explaining it very well! But if (WHEN!!!) you make this, you’ll feel like there’s a ton of greens for just 1 1/2 cups of couscous. But the couscous expands when cooking and once it’s all tossed together, it seems like just the right amount.

Hidden veggies!

Salad that can be eaten with a spoon!

Why does it feel so immature that this appeals to me so much??? – Nagi xx


Watch how to make it

This Israeli Couscous Salad is fabulously addictive! Tender, flavour infused beads of couscous tossed with spinach, tomato, cucumber, herbs and a fresh lemon dressing. Summer in a bowl! recipetineats.com

Print

Pearl Couscous Salad

Recipe video above. I adore the bright Mediterranean flavours in this salad! Great one to take to gatherings for something a little different that everyone always loves. Serve as a side (6 to 8) or a meal in itself (serves 4).

Also known as Israeli and gourmet Couscous, pearl couscous is the big brother version of the more common small couscous. Texture and taste like pasta – soft but a bit chewy, but has a pearly, slippery surface (hence the name).

Course Dinner
Cuisine Western
Keyword couscous salad, gourmet couscous salad, israeli couscous salad, pearl couscous salad
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4 – 8 people
Calories 477cal
Author Nagi

Ingredients

Couscous:

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove , minced
  • ½ small onion , finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups (250g/ 8oz) pearl couscous (aka gourmet or Israeli couscous, Note 1)
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth , low sodium
  • 1 cup water

Salad:

  • 2 cucumbers , diced (about 2 cups)
  • 250g / 8 oz cherry tomatoes , halved (about 2 cups)
  • 3 cups baby spinach , finely sliced (Note 2)
  • ¼ cup coriander / cilantro , finely chopped (or sub with parsley)
  • ¼ cup dill , finely chopped

Lemon Dressing (Note 3):

  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove , minced
  • 1 tsp sugar , optional
  • 3/4 tsp cooking / kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Instructions

Couscous:

  • Sauté onion & garlic – Heat oil in a large saucepan or small pot over medium high heat. Add garlic and onion, saute until the onion is translucent and starting to brown.
  • Couscous & broth – Add couscous and stir, cooking for 1 minute. Add broth and water, bring to a simmer. Then place the lid on and turn the heat down to medium low so it is simmering gently.
  • Cook for 10 minutes until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is cooked through but still firm. Use a fork to separate the couscous, then transfer into a large bowl to cool. (It will form a sticky block but don’t worry, it will separate when tossed with Dressing).

Salad:

  • Dressing – Place Dressing ingredients in a jar and shake well.
  • Toss! Add Salad ingredients into the bowl, pour over Dressing and toss. Serve at room temperature.

Notes

1. Pearl couscous is also known as Israeli Couscous or Gourmet Couscous or Gourmet Pearl Couscous. Basically, they are the giant form of the more common tiny couscous! Some recipes say to use a ratio of 1 cup of couscous to 2 cups of water. I find this makes the couscous too soft and gummy on the outside. Mine are cooked through and soft but “pearl like” on the outside rather than gummy, using a ratio of 1 cup couscous to 1.5 cups liquid.

In Australia, you will find it in the pasta aisle of Woolworths and Coles next to ordinary tiny couscous, and it costs around the same.

2. Baby spinach – Use about 2 handfuls of baby spinach (approx. 50g / 2 oz), or even ordinary spinach leaves. Kale and silverbeet would also work well (remove the tough stem in the middle of each leaf). Be generous – this is a great way to pack lots of greens into this salad because it mixes through so well. Hidden greens!

3. STORAGE: The dressed salad keeps quite well for 2 days – after that the herbs are a bit too wilted. But it is best served fresh. If you are making ahead, keep the Dressing separate until just before serving.

4. OTHER WAYS TO SERVE: This way of cooking the couscous flavours it so you can even serve the couscous plain as a side dish. If you want, dress it up a bit with a sprinkle of herbs, or a squeeze of lemon juice. Just imagine the possibilities!

5. WHAT TO SERVE THIS WITH: This Pearl Couscous Salad has bright Mediterranean flavours so while the obvious pairing would be with all things Mediterranean, I think it goes particularly well with complex earthy flavours of Middle Eastern spices such as Chicken ShawarmaMiddle Eastern Lamb Koftas and Turkish Koftas. Would also be stellar with Greek Meatballs, yoghurt marinated Greek Chicken (skip the wraps in the Gyros), Souvlaki, Portuguese Chicken (skip the bread), Slow Roasted Greek Lamb. See my Greek recipes here and Middle Eastern recipe here. (New addition: excellent with Jerk Fish!)

6. Serves 4 as a meal or 6 – 8 as a side. Nutrition is per serving, assuming 4 servings.

Nutrition

Calories: 477cal | Carbohydrates: 67g | Protein: 16g | Fat: 18g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 12g | Sodium: 547mg | Potassium: 1352mg | Fiber: 7g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 3582IU | Vitamin C: 116mg | Calcium: 270mg | Iron: 9mg

Originally published July 2017. Updated January 2023 with a name change from Israeli Couscous Salad to Pearl Couscous Salad due to the political sensitivity around the recipe name. The brand I used to use sold this type of couscous labelled as “Israeli couscous”. I don’t want my website to be a political forum so I’ve changed the name. And actually, these days most packets are labelled “pearl couscous”. Post has also been updated with an improved video worthy of this fabulous salad and refreshed photos. No change to recipe – it’s perfect as is!

MORE SUMMER SALADS to take to gatherings 


Life of Dozer

Teamwork! 😂 (Dozer on the left with this friend Aggie on the right!)

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