Pearl couscous is a jumbo of the most common small couscous. Also known as gourmet and Israeli couscous, they are like little pearls of pasta – hence the name! Makes a great salad and is a great option for a party as it never fails to impress.
Pearl Couscous Salad
The immature kid inside wanted to call it a giant couscous salad. But the real name is Pearl Couscous Salad, so I went there wisely. But now I regret it a little!
Pearl couscous is the big brother of the more common couscous, which I use as an accompaniment to Moroccan and African dishes such as tajine. Often thought of as a grain, couscous is actually a perfect type of pasta for the salad in this recipe, or as a side in this Syrian chicken dish.
While petit couscous can be soaked in hot water, pearl couscous should be simmered on the stovetop. In my opinion, the tastiest way to cook it like a risotto is to sauté the garlic and onions and use the broth instead of the water. It brings so much flavor to couscous, you can even serve it simply as a side dish.
What you need for this pearl couscous salad
I give this salad a Mediterranean twist with a bright lemon vinaigrette, tomato sauce, the juicy crunch of cucumbers and lots of fresh herbs. The combination of dill and coriander/cilantro is a favorite. If you haven’t tried it yet, 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.
Bright lemon curd is a natural combination here. The ingredients are no surprises! If you don’t have Dijon mustard, stick to regular yellow mustard. Lemon juice can be replaced with apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar.
How to make pearl couscous salad
The pearl couscous should be cooked about 1 hour ahead to allow plenty of time to cool before tossing with the salad ingredients. You can speed up the cooling process by spreading it out on a tray and letting it cool
- 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. 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!
This salad is packed with what seems like an abundance of vegetables. Since couscous pearls are so small compared to pasta, the vegetables might add more “stuff”. I really didn’t explain it well! But if (when!!
!) You do, and you’ll feel like there’s a lot of veggies in just 1 1/2 cups of couscous. But the couscous expands as it cooks, and once everything is mixed together, it seems to be just right.