This pearl couscous salad recipe uses Israeli couscous with feta, pumpkin, peppers, tomatoes, fresh herbs and all the fixings of a traditional Moroccan couscous, in a tahini lemon dressing tinged with turmeric. An incredible side dish or starter to your meal! This salad can be made with gluten free pearl couscous.
This Moroccan pearl couscous salad takes its cues from Moroccan couscous in flavor, looks and aroma! This vibrant salad is a delectable dish that’s great to whip up for weekday lunches, outdoor picnics and potlucks, or as an easy meal prep recipe.
Packed with vegetables and protein, it’s also an incredibly healthy meal that still manages to be delicious.
This couscous salad recipe is inspired by Moroccan Couscous salad dishes, but uses as its base tasty Israeli couscous, also known as pearl couscous.
This pearl couscous salad recipe is by far my favorite with my go-to ingredients and dressing, but you can easily transform it with the ingredients you have laying around your fridge and pantry. Try it as a pasta salad, for example, or as a Moroccan couscous salad with small-grain plain semolina couscous!
How I discovered Israeli couscous
As you may imagine, I discovered Israeli couscous as a new immigrant child in Israel. Due to its affordability, Israeli couscous was often served to kids in Israel in place of rice or "fancier" pasta, which often needed to be imported. Ptitim were local, made in Israel, and therefore much cheaper to purchase. But of course, my parents never made them.
Standing in line among dozens of hungry and tired kids in my after-school program, I took a chance on the unfamiliar dish that most closely reminded me of buckwheat kasha.
Hoping for the familiar flavor of home amidst unfamiliar and alien surroundings, I brought a hesitant spoon of pearl couscous to my mouth. Looking at the kids I had yet to call friends guzzling this dish like it was candy, I dare to close my eyes and take a hesitant bite.
The rich, nutty flavor of cooked Israeli couscous enveloped my mouth, and the soft texture filled me with joy. From that moment I knew: I would grow to love pearl couscous in no time.
What’s the difference between couscous and pearl couscous?
Couscous is a vital part of North African and Middle Eastern cooking, dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. It’s actually so important that the countries of Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria, and Tunisia submitted a bid to UNESCO for couscous to gain a cultural heritage status.
People often think that there are two main types of couscous: Moroccan couscous and Israeli couscous. Moroccan couscous is the smallest couscous variety with very small granules, while Israeli couscous or pearl couscous is slightly larger with pea-sized granules. But anyone who thinks pearl couscous is real couscous is wrong!
So what is Israeli couscous?
Israeli couscous is actually a type of pasta! In Israel, we call this small round pasta "ptitim". Israeli couscous, also known as pearl couscous due to its pearl-like shape, is a type of pasta made from durum wheat. It has a chewy texture and a nutty flavor that is unique to this variety of couscous. It is comprised of small balls of pasta that are slightly larger than traditional couscous grains.
How to cook with Israeli couscous?
Israeli couscous can be served in many different ways, such as in salads or side dishes, or even used in soups and stews. It pairs well with vegetables, herbs, and spices for a delicious meal.
Israeli couscous can also be added to other types of pasta dishes for an interesting twist on the classic dish. Ptitim is an easy way to add flavor to any meal without spending too much time preparing it.
How to prepare Israeli couscous?
Because pearl couscous is pasta, it is cooked in much the same way as any pasta.
To get started, bring a pot of salted water to a boil, then add the Israeli couscous and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking. Once the couscous is tender, light and fluffy, drain the grains in a colander and rinse with cold water before transferring them back to the pot.
For a more flavorful dish, add cooked pearl couscous to a heavy-bottomed pan with a pat of butter or a dab of olive oil. Stir it over low heat until lightly browned. Then you can season with salt and pepper to taste, or add fresh herbs like parsley or cilantro for extra flavor.
Finally, you can use it in this salad, or serve hot alongside your favorite entrée for a delicious meal!
- butternut squash - you can use butternut squash or pumpkin, for pumpkin pearl couscous salad. I love using frozen butternut squash in this dish to cut the time.
- olive oil
- Salt & pepper
- pearl couscous - you can use regular pearl couscous, or gluten free pearl couscous in this salad.
- bell peppers - I like to use a mix of colors, but you can use any sweet bell pepper you have on hand.
- chickpeas - I usually use canned chickpeas for this, but you can use dried chickpeas and cook them yourself, too.
- purple onion
- tomatoes - feel free to use cherry tomatoes or regular tomatoes here.
- fresh parsley - you can also use other herbs, like cilantro or even mint.
For tahini turmeric dressing:
- apple cider vinegar
- sea salt
- maple syrup
- lemon juice
- black pepper
- cold water - for thinning out the dressing
- turmeric - use fresh turmeric as it will taste and smell better. Turmeric gets more bitter the longer it sits.
See recipe card for exact quantities.
How to Make Pearl Couscous Salad
Cook pearl couscous
Bring to a boil. Add pearl couscous and cook on a boil for 8-10 minutes for regular pearl couscous, or 15-17 minutes for gluten free pearl couscous. Drain and rinse Israeli couscous under cold water. Transfer to a bowl to cool.
Roast butternut squash and carrots
Peel butternut squash (or pumpkin) and carrots. Dice squash into cubes, and carrots into rings. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or reusable silicone. Roast at 400F for 30-35 minutes, until it can be pierced with a fork and is golden brown.
Make turmeric tahini lemon dressing
In a blender, whisk together all the dressing ingredients. Blend until fully emulsified and herbs and lemon are fully processed. Transfer to a jar.
This Israeli couscous salad with chickpeas will store wonderfully in the refrigerator for up to a week, and this salad is delicious the day after it is made! However, be sure to keep the salad in an airtight container.
If you plan on having leftovers or using this recipe as meal prep, then try and store the salad and dressing separately. You can mix the ingredients together when you’re ready to eat and this will prevent the salad from becoming soggy.
The turmeric tahini dressing will keep in a jar for 1 week.
- Rinse the cooked pearl couscous. Even after it’s been drained, warm pearl couscous can continue to cook and actually end up overcooked and mushy. After you’ve drained the pearl couscous, run it under cold water and drain again. This will halt any extra cooking and prevent the pearls from sticking together to ensure you have the perfect couscous consistency.
- Make extra dressing. This yellow salad dressing is what makes this fabulous salad! It is absolutely delicious with roasted veggies, like carrots or cauliflower. Be sure to use all the dressing within a week as its color and flavor will change as it sits.
- Dried fruit - Sweet dried fruit is a wonderful addition to this pearl couscous salad recipe. For a burst of fruit, try adding dried raisins, currants, apricots, cherries, or cranberries to the mix.
- Pumpkin pearl couscous salad - Swap out the butternut squash for delectable pumpkin instead. The roasted pumpkin is a fun, fall seasonal ingredient to work with and provides plenty of fiber, nutrients, and texture to the salad. You can also top the pumpkin pearl couscous salad with a few toasted pumpkin seeds for some extra crunch.
- Tofu Israeli couscous salad - If you’d like to make this Israeli couscous salad recipe without beans, but are still looking for a source of plant-based protein, then consider adding in tofu. Extra firm or firm tofu cut into small cubes or broken down into small chunks will provide plenty of protein and absorb the delicious flavor of the dressing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Pearl couscous or Israeli couscous is a type of pasta that is made from wheat flour. As such, it is not gluten free. However, there are many types of pearl couscous available on the market today that are made with gluten-free ingredients such as corn flour, rice flour and quinoa flour. These provide a great alternative to traditional pearl couscous for those who need to follow a gluten-free diet. For this recipe, I used this gluten free pearl couscous. Before buying any type of couscous, be sure to check the label if you’re looking for gluten-free options as some brands may include wheat or other grains in their ingredients.
This Israeli couscous salad keeps well and I love to make it ahead! Just keep the salad and dressing separate until you’re ready to serve. You can also make a giant couscous salad for meal prep, store, and enjoy throughout the week.
No, I would not recommend freezing this salad past preparation. You can, however, freeze the cooked and drained pearl couscous you made!
Yes! I opt for a gluten-free Israeli couscous, which makes this entire recipe completely gluten-free.
As is, the recipe is a completely vegetarian dish, but does call for a bit of feta cheese. If you’d like to make this vegetarian meal vegan, then remove the feta cheese or substitute it for a vegan feta cheese alternative.
In terms of health benefits, Israeli couscous is high in carbohydrates and provides a good source of energy. It also contains essential vitamins and minerals like iron, magnesium, and zinc which are important for overall health. Additionally, the complex carbohydrates found in Israeli couscous can help regulate blood sugar levels and reduce cholesterol levels. Overall, Israeli couscous can be considered a healthy addition to any diet as long as it is consumed in moderation.
For more Moroccan inspired recipes, try these dishes:
Tried and loved this recipe? Please leave a 5-star review below! Your reviews mean a lot to me, so if you've got any questions, please let me know in a comment.
More Middle Eastern Salad Recipes:
Moroccan Pearl Couscous Salad Recipe with Israeli Couscous
- 1 butternut squash peeled and diced into cubes
- 2 carrots peeled and cut into rings
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 1 liter water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon oil
- 1 200 g package of pearl couscous
- ½ red bell pepper
- ½ orange bell pepper
- ½ can chickpeas drained and rinsed
- 1 purple onion diced
- 2 small tomatoes diced
- ½ cup parsley
- ½ cup feta
- Bring to a boil. Add pearl couscous and cook on a boil for 8-10 minutes for regular pearl couscous, or 15-17 minutes for gluten free pearl couscous. Drain and rinse under cold water.
- Peel butternut squash (or pumpkin) and carrots. Dice squash into cubes, and carrots into rings. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or reusable silicone. Roast at 400F for 30-35 minutes, until it can be pierced with a fork and is golden brown.
- In a blender, combine all the dressing ingredients. Blend until fully emulsified. Transfer to a jar.
- Combine pearl couscous, vegetables, roasted squash and feta in a large bowl. For a better presentation, arrange the couscous at the bottom of the bowl and top with vegetables in clumps.
- Drizzle with dressing, sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve.
- This Israeli couscous salad with chickpeas will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. The turmeric tahini dressing will keep in a jar for 1 week.