This recipe for Israeli Couscous Salad welcomes any changes you feel like making to it, but I make mine with toasted walnuts, feta, mint, peppery arugula, and quick pickled shallots; every forkful is fresh and fantastic. It’s really tempting to eat the whole bowl in one sitting.
Pearl couscous has a really beautiful texture that makes it an ideal salad ingredient. It’s small, round, and has almost a silky feel with a chewy bite; best of all, its neutral taste soaks up any bold flavors you can throw at it. The toasted walnuts add just the right amount of crunch, so don’t skimp! You’ll love them in this salad.
Israeli couscous, also known as ptitim, pearl couscous, or maftoul, is actually a small pasta, even though many people think it’s a grain. Both Israeli couscous and its smaller-sized cousin, couscous, are made with semolina or wheat flour. If you’re going gluten-free, make this stunning salad with quinoa, lentils, or rice instead.
Unlike the granular couscous that you soak in boiling water and fluff with a fork, Israeli couscous gets toasted a bit in the pan with butter or olive oil first, then simmered in water until cooked. That initial toast gives the couscous a nutty, deeper flavor.
Making an extra big batch of Israeli Couscous Salad for the week ahead? Click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
Where can you buy Israeli Couscous?
This larger style of couscous is usually sold in bags, boxes, or even small plastic jugs at well-stocked grocery stores or online. Look for packages labeled maftoul, pearl couscous, or Israeli couscous.
Best substitutes for Israeli couscous
Since couscous is actually a pasta that only looks like a grain, feel free to use other tiny pastas: orzo, farfallini, fregola, bow tie pasta…you get the idea.
You can also use the granular couscous for this recipe.
Other good gluten-free Israeli couscous substitutions: rice, quinoa, lentils, chickpeas. If you’ve never cooked quinoa before, or need a refresher on the best way to cook lentils, I’ve got your bases covered.
How do you cook Israeli Couscous?
- For every cup of couscous you’re planning to cook, measure out 1 ¼ cup of water or broth.
- In a saucepan with a lid, toast the dried couscous on medium heat, using a little olive oil or butter, for 5 to 6 minutes. Stir frequently to distribute the heat.
- Add the cooking liquid, then cover. Reduce heat and simmer for 9-12 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 3 minutes.
- If you’re using the Israeli Couscous in a salad, as we are here, you’ll need to cool the couscous completely before you toss it with the other ingredients. The easiest way to accomplish that is by spreading it out in a single layer on a sheet pan (even better if you can fit the pan in a fridge or freeze and blast-chill it).
Israeli Couscous Salad for Lunch
I love this salad because it’s delicious and filling and packed with wholesome ingredients. Furthermore, every time I eat it, I find myself mumbling (with my mouth full) “this is the best salad I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.”
Walnuts are a great ingredient for energy bites due to their good fats (2.5g/oz monounsaturated fat and 13g/oz polyunsaturated fat, including 2.5g/oz omega-3 ALA), protein (4g/oz), and other nutrients.
You can make a big batch on Sunday and then take it work for a few days. Add an extra side of grilled chicken if you’re craving even more protein!
Israeli Couscous Salad Variations
Don’t worry if you forgot to buy peas at the store, or you can’t find fresh arugula. The beauty of this salad is all the different ways you can switch it up and still have this salad taste incredible.
- Toss baby spinach in Israeli Couscous Salad in place of arugula.
- Switch out fresh basil for the mint.
- Make a slightly sweeter version of Israeli Couscous Salad with dried cranberries or pomegranate arils.
- All of last night’s leftover roasted vegetables, or any summer vegetables, will be wonderful tossed into Israeli Couscous Salad.
- Use thinly sliced red onions to make pickled red onions instead of pickled shallots—it will work out just fine.
- Diced cucumber or blanched green beans instead of frozen peas are amazing, too.
- Make Israeli Couscous Salad with a pinch of smoked paprika in the lemon dijon dressing instead of chili flakes.
How to Pickle Shallots
I’d be remiss if I didn’t emphasize how brilliant the addition of quickly-pickled shallots is in this couscous salad. They only take a few minutes to make, and I know you’ll find other ways of sneaking them into your recipes for an unexpected pop of flavor.
Israeli Couscous Salad
For the pickled shallots:
- 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 shallots thinly sliced
For the couscous:
- 2 cups Israeli couscous (about 10 ounces)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon Salt
For the salad:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes optional
- 4 ounces baby arugula roughly chopped
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves roughly chopped
- 4 ounces feta cheese crumbled
- 1/2 cup frozen peas thawed
- 1/2 cup walnuts toasted and chopped (see notes), plus more for garnish
To make the pickled shallots:
- In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring vinegar, sugar, and a pinch of salt to simmer, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Stir in shallots.
- Cover and cool completely, about 30 minutes. Drain well and discard marinade.
To make the couscous:
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine couscous and oil. Cook the couscous until lightly browned, about 5 to 6 minutes.
- Stir in water and salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until water is absorbed, stirring occasionally, about 9 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 3 minutes.
- Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and spread in a single layer. Cool completely, about 15 minutes.
To make the salad:
- In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, red pepper flakes (if using), and a pinch of salt. Add cooled couscous, arugula, mint, ½ cup feta, peas, walnuts, and drained shallots. Toss to combine.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with remaining feta and more chopped walnuts.
To toast walnuts in the oven:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil for easy cleanup.
Toss walnuts in 2 teaspoons oil and sprinkle with salt if desired. Arrange in a single layer on prepared baking sheet. Toast until browned and fragrant, stirring occasionally, about 7 to 10 minutes.
To toast walnuts on the stove:
Toss walnuts in 2 teaspoons oil and sprinkle with salt if desired. In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat walnuts until browned and fragrant, stirring occasionally, about 2 to 5 minutes.