I’m on a constant hunt for recipes that fit multiple spaces in my life. If something can be served as a side dish with dinner, but also repurposed as a perfect weekday lunch, it’s going to rank very highly on my recipe list. This Pearl Couscous Salad is exactly that thing.
While infinitely customizable, the basics of this recipe are very good as-is. I like to use the larger, fatter pearl couscous which soak up the juices from the tomatoes but also stay nicely separated in the salad, allowing the other ingredients to do their thing.
Even in fall/winter, finding good cherry tomatoes is pretty easy so roasting them until they burst and tossing them in this salad is a nice flavor boost. Some feta cheese, good sweet peas, and fresh mint round out the flavors!
Try out this pearl couscous salad if you need something for lunch… and who doesn’t? Right?!
What is Pearl Couscous?
Pearl couscous, or Israeli couscous, is a larger variety of couscous. Couscous is essentially a round pasta that is very important in a number of Middle Eastern cuisines. There are many different varieties and ways to prepare it.
For a really wonderful history on couscous, check out my friend Aaron Hutcherson’s History of Couscous in the Washington Post. It’s a great read and a good starting point to learn about this very important ingredient.
Is Couscous Gluten-free?
This can be a common misconception because couscous can look like a seed, but it’s closer to a pasta. It is made from wheat and therefore definitely contains gluten.
Be sure to check if any of your guests are gluten-free before serving them a couscous salad as it can be deceiving and some people may not know that couscous is made from wheat.
Basic Ingredients for this Pearl Couscous Salad
This pearl couscous salad has some basic, easy-to-find ingredients.
- Couscous! Of course it has couscous. Almost any big grocery store will have some variety of couscous and many will have the larger boxes of pearl couscous (like this version) which are my preferred way to buy it.
- Cherry tomatoes. You could use any cherry or grape tomato for this recipe. Half them, roast them, and toss them in!
- Garlic. Go heavy with it and roast the garlic along with the tomatoes for a milder, sweeter garlic flavor.
- Sweet Peas. I like to use fresh English peas if you can find them. Blanch them quickly in salt water and toss them in the salad. You can also use frozen sweet peas, which are easier to find.
- Feta cheese. For a salty and creamy ingredient, feta cheese is great!
Tips for roasting cherry tomatoes
Besides cooking the couscous, roasting the tomatoes is really the only “cooking” you have to do for this salad. Good news: it’s easy!
Half your cherry tomatoes and lay them out on a sheet pan with the cut-side up. Add some crushed and peeled garlic cloves to the sheet pan as well and drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 25-30 minutes until the tomatoes are really withered and even blistered in spots. Let them cool and then toss them in with your finished couscous salad.
Finishing this couscous salad
To finish this wonderful pearl couscous salad, cook your couscous according to the instructions. There is some variation on couscous cooking time so check the directions. In general though, cook it like pasta. So add it to boiling, salted water, and cook it until it’s just al dente. Then drain in.
Unlike pasta, I like to return the couscous to a hot pot, cover it, and let it steam for a few minutes and then fluff it with a fork or spoon. Drizzle in some olive oil to prevent sticking!
Once the couscous is cooked, you can stir in the simple vinaigrette I made for this salad along with the roasted tomatoes, sweet peas, feta cheese, and fresh mint.
Most importantly, taste the salad and adjust the flavors to your liking!
Substitutions and Ideas for this salad
Don’t let me stop your imagination on this pearl couscous salad. It’s very customizable! Here are a few ideas!
- Sub out the couscous for more classic Moroccan couscous. The grain is finer and it’ll have a very different texture.
- Use sun-dried tomatoes to make the cooking time shorter. No need to roast!
- Add in some other Greek ingredients like olives, capers, and fresh lemon zest for more of a Mediterranean salad.
- Top the salad with roasted chicken or pork loin for a complete dinner.
- Add other fresh herbs like chopped basil or fresh parsley.
Storing this salad for later
This salad keeps just fine for a few days, but after that the vegetables, especially fresh herbs, will start to wilt and get pretty sad. I recommend enjoying it within three days. It’s great cold, right out of the fridge.
Pearl Couscous Salad with Burst Tomatoes and Feta
- 1 ½ cups pearl couscous, cooked
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, roasted
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup sweet peas
- 6 oz feta cheese, crumbled
- 2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
- 1 medium shallot, diced
- ¼ cup white wine vinegar
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- ½ teas red pepper flakes
- ½ teas kosher salt
- ¼ teas black pepper
Roasting the Tomatoes
- Half the cherry tomatoes and spread out on a baking sheet. Add crushed and peeled garlic to the sheet and drizzle with two tablespoons olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. ROAST the tomatoes at 400˚F for 25-30 minutes until they are whithered and browned in spots. Remove and let cool.
Cooking the couscous
- Cooking couscous can vary a bit based on the kind of couscous, so you should default to the instructions on your couscous. But, remember that couscous is a pasta, so don't over cook it. It's best to cook couscous in salted water and drain it when it's al dente. As it cools, stir it and add some oil to make sure it isn't sticking.
Making the vinaigrette
- Mince a shallot and add to a bowl with white wine vinegar. Whisk in olive oil until it's smooth and season with red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Season to taste.
Finish the salad
- Add the dressing to the cooked couscous and stir to combine. Stir in the roasted tomatoes, thawed peas (blanched if fresh), crumbled feta, and fresh mint. Stir to combine and taste the salad. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve the salad immediately or store it in the fridge for 2-3 days.