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This simple Mediterranean pearl couscous salad is bright, delicious, and packed with flavors like olives, tomato, cucumber, and red onions—perfect for serving as a healthy side or main at home, picnics, BBQ, potlucks, and in lunch boxes!

completed Mediterranean Pearl Couscous Salad plated on a white plate

Fresh and Flavorful Mediterranean Pearl Couscous Salad

People mistakenly believe that you need tons of ingredients to achieve flavor, but that isn’t the case. This 7-ingredient Mediterranean pearl couscous salad is wonderfully flavorful yet remains minimal thanks to a couple of flavor ‘hacks’ and a careful combination of ingredients.

The result is a vibrant, light, yet hearty salad that’s flavorful enough that you don’t even need a dressing! Instead, this Mediterranean pearl couscous salad uses just a few simple, fresh ingredients like olives, cucumber, tomato, and red onion to provide tangy, savory, crisp, fresh flavors and different textures over the nutty, slightly chewy pearl couscous (aka giant couscous).

It’s also really easy to build upon with added ingredients, so check out some of our favorite add-ins below or enjoy it as a great ‘clear the fridge’ meal. I.e., extra protein thanks to chickpeas, more veggies, vegan cheese—the sky is the limit.

Not only is this Mediterranean couscous salad super adaptable, but it’s really easy to prepare too. The hardest part is patiently waiting for the couscous to cool before adding the veggies! In fact, aside from the cooling, this recipe takes just a few minutes of hands-on prep and makes for great leftovers! Plus, it’s naturally vegetarian, vegan, soy-free, nut-free, etc.

Looking for more simple, hearty salads? You might enjoy this vegan lemon-garlic Mediterranean quinoa salad, Southwest Quinoa salad, or orzo chickpea salad.

The Ingredients and Substitutes

This entire Mediterranean pearl couscous recipe relies on 7 simple, inexpensive ingredients.

ingredients for Mediterranean Pearl Couscous Salad measured out against a white surface
  • Couscous: You’re looking for pearl couscous, which is also sometimes listed as giant couscous, depending on the brand. Orzo would also work in place of the large couscous.
  • Olive oil: Or another neutral cooking oil, like avocado oil.
  • Vegetable broth: Use regular or reduced-sodium broth.
  • Vegetables: This Mediterranean pearl couscous salad has a fairly typical veggie combination of:
    • Red onion (or shallots)
    • Greek kalamata olives (or pimento-stuffed olives/black olives)
    • Cucumber
    • Cherry tomatoes/baby plum tomatoes (or larger tomatoes, chopped)
  • Lemon: (optional) A small amount of lemon juice added when serving adds a pop of brightness and depth to the Mediterranean/Greek couscous salad.
  • Fresh parsley: (optional) One of our favorite additions to this summer couscous salad is some fresh herbs. We particularly like parsley, but basil, dill, cilantro, or scallions/green onions would also work. Add ¼-⅓ cup (loosely packed), finely chopped.

Could I Add a Dressing to The Giant Couscous Salad?

To make more of a vinaigrette-style dressing for the giant couscous salad, combine 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice (and optionally some zest) with 3-4 tbsp olive oil, salt, and black pepper.

For more flavor, add a small amount of fresh garlic (or garlic powder—about ¼ tsp) and/or mustard to add extra zing to the dressing. For a subtle, smoky flavor, add a pinch of smoked paprika. Finally, optionally add a small amount of maple syrup/agave to balance the acidity.

If you’re adding a dressing, add it to the couscous while it’s still slightly warm for the most flavorful pearl couscous salad recipe.

The Add-ins and Variations:

The simplicity of this cold couscous salad makes it SUPER versatile and can be tweaked and added to so it fits your budget and taste.

  • Chickpeas/white beans: To add protein and fiber, mix in a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas or white beans, like cannellini beans or butter beans.
  • Avocado: For added heart-healthy fats and a creamy element, dice a small avocado to the couscous vegan salad when serving.
  • Tofu: For more protein, add a simple marinated tofu.
  • Vegan cheese: A small amount of vegan crumbled feta would work particularly well with the Mediterranean flavors.
  • Red pepper flakes: To add some spice to the couscous salad.
  • Roasted Mediterranean vegetables: Like bell pepper, zucchini, and eggplant.
  • Nuts/seeds: For added crunch, protein, and heart-healthy fats. I.e., walnuts, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, etc.
  • Raisins: Regular or golden raisins add bursts of sweetness to the couscous salad.
  • Other vegetables: There are plenty of fresh veggies you could enjoy in this couscous veg salad, including:
    • Bell pepper (finely diced)
    • Broccoli (shredded)
    • Spinach (finely ribboned)
    • Peas

How To Make Pearl Couscous Salad

Keep scrolling to the recipe card for the complete list of ingredients and recipe instructions.

  • 1) First, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, and stir in the couscous, toasting it until it’s lightly browned.
  • 2) Add the vegetable broth, bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes or until tender.
process of adding veggie broth to pot
  • 3) Meanwhile, prepare the various veggies: finely dice the red onion and cucumber, and halve the tomatoes (or quarter them) and olives.
ingredients for Mediterranean Pearl Couscous Salad in a pan
  • 4) Once the couscous has cooked, allow it to cool to room temperature before stirring in the remaining ingredients. If using, add the lemon juice now, too—then enjoy!

To speed up the cooling process, spread the couscous along a parchment-lined tray and place it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. Set a timer so you don’t forget!

You can enjoy this salad warm, but it’s best to enjoy it immediately then.

FAQs

What is pearl couscous?

Pearl couscous is made of semolina flour (or whole wheat flour), almost like small pearls of pasta. Compared to regular couscous, it’s much larger, takes longer to cook (similar to pasta), and has a softer, slightly chewy texture.

Can I substitute the giant couscous?

You could make this dish with another small pasta shape like orzo or even regular couscous. Alternatively, use quinoa or larger pasta shapes, adjusting the cooking time and amount of broth used accordingly.

Can you make pearl couscous salad ahead?

We recommend preparing the couscous a day in advance since it needs to cool before adding the remaining ingredients. You can also prepare the entire dish to store in your fridge for 3-4 days.

If you add extra ingredients like a dressing, vegan cheese, or avocado—these are all best left off the couscous salad until you’re serving.

Recipe Notes and Tips

  • For a mellower onion flavor: Soak the onion in ice water for 10-15 minutes before adding it to the couscous salad.
  • Prepare couscous in advance: You need to leave it to cool before adding the veggies, so it’s best to prepare the night before/several hours in advance.
  • For quicker prep: Use a mandoline/food chopper to help chop the veggies.
  • Use fresh produce: Since there are so few ingredients in this pearl couscous recipe, we highly recommend using in-season, high-quality veg for the best flavor and texture.
  • Toast the pearl couscous: Don’t skip this step because it takes just a couple of minutes but deepens the color and flavor of the giant couscous.
  • Play around with add-ins: This is an excellent ‘clear out the fridge’ recipe, so feel free to experiment with what you have.
completed Mediterranean Pearl Couscous Salad plated on a white plate

What To Serve With Mediterranean Couscous Salad?

While you can enjoy this Mediterranean pearl couscous salad as a light lunch, we also enjoy it as part of a larger meal alongside dishes like:

Burgers, vegan kebab, falafel wraps, and other BBQ dishes. You can also enjoy it as part of a Mezze spread (alongside dishes like hummus and baba ghanoush) or in your lunchbox with a piece of fruit and some vegan yogurt.

The versatility of this simple giant couscous vegan salad makes it great for enjoying at picnics and BBQs, potlucks, or just mid-week meals.

Storage Instructions

You can store leftover Med/Greek couscous salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator for between 4-5 days, though around 2-3 days in the sweet spot before fresh veggies soften and lose their crisp and fresh texture.

We don’t recommend freezing the assembled cold couscous salad because of the fresh elements. However, you can freeze the giant couscous. To do so, pop it into a freezer-safe container/bag and freeze it for up to 3 months. Leave to thaw overnight and enjoy.

More Hearty Salad Recipes

Photos by Alfonso Revilla

Mediterranean Pearl Couscous Salad

5 from 47 votes
Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 10 mins
Total: 20 mins
Servings: 4 servings
This simple Mediterranean pearl couscous salad is bright, delicious, and packed with flavors like olives, tomato, cucumber, and red onions—perfect for serving as a healthy side or main at home, picnics, BBQ, potlucks, and in lunch boxes!

Ingredients 

  • 2 cups of uncooked pearl/Israeli couscous
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 2 cups of vegetable broth
  • ¼ of a small red onion finely diced
  • 10 Greek pitted kalamata or pimento-stuffed olives halved
  • ½ of a cucumber diced
  • ½ cup of cherry tomatoes

Instructions 

  • In a medium pot over medium-high heat, stir couscous and olive oil until it’s lightly browned. Add the vegetable broth, bring to a boil, cover, and let simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Once the couscous has cooled, stir in the onion, olives, cucumber, and tomatoes.

Video

Notes

For more flavor, add lemon juice and fresh parsley as needed. 
To cool quickly, put the cooked pearl couscous in the freezer for 10 minutes. Don’t forget to set a timer!
  • For a mellower onion flavor: Soak the onion in ice water for 10-15 minutes before adding it to the couscous salad.
  • Prepare couscous in advance: You need to leave it to cool before adding the veggies, so it’s best to prepare the night before/several hours in advance.
  • For quicker prep: Use a mandoline/food chopper to help chop the veggies.
  • Use fresh produce: Since there are so few ingredients in this pearl couscous recipe, we highly recommend using in-season, high-quality veg for the best flavor and texture.

Nutrition

Calories: 378kcalCarbohydrates: 70gProtein: 11gFat: 5gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gSodium: 587mgPotassium: 243mgFiber: 5gSugar: 2gVitamin A: 393IUVitamin C: 6mgCalcium: 33mgIron: 1mg

Disclaimer: Although plantbasedonabudget.com attempts to provide accurate nutritional information, kindly note that these are only estimates. Nutritional information may be affected based on the product type, the brand that was purchased, and in other unforeseeable ways. Plantbasedonabudget.com will not be held liable for any loss or damage resulting for your reliance on nutritional information. If you need to follow a specific caloric regimen, please consult your doctor first.

Additional Info

Author: Toni Okamoto
Course: Lunch
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Method: Stove
Diet: Vegan
Keywords: cold or hot, couscous, couscous salad, dairy free, easy recipes, grilled veggies, healthy, healthy lunch, lunch, mediterranean, quick recipes, salad, soy free, vegan, vegan lunch, vegetarian
Tried this recipe?Please tag us at @PlantBasedOnABudget! 🙂
About

Toni Okamoto

“They say you are what you eat, so I strive to be healthy.
My goal in life is not to be rich or wealthy,
‘Cause true wealth comes from good health and wise ways…
we got to start taking better care of ourselves ” – Dead Prez

More about Toni Okamoto

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