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.
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.
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
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). For a different flavour profile but something beautifully fresh, try mint and parsley, finely chopped. Add to taste. Be bold! 🙂
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.
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.
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.
Sauté garlic and onion in a large saucepan or small pot over medium high heat until the onion is translucent and starting to brown.
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.
Cook for 10 minutes until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is cooked through but still firm.
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.
Dressing – Shake the ingredients together in a jar.
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!
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, and Moroccan Lamb backstraps . 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!).
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.
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
Pearl Couscous Salad
- 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
- 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
- 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).
- 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.
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
Wild Rice Salad <– reader fave!
Everybody’s favourite Macaroni Salad
Browse all Pasta Salads and Rice Salad
Life of Dozer
Teamwork! 😂 (Dozer on the left with this friend Aggie on the right!)