Easy Couscous Salad with Lemon Dressing

This quick and easy couscous salad and dressing recipe is fresh, healthy and deliciously addictive. The bright lemon couscous salad dressing is made from only 4 simple ingredients.

bowl of couscous salad made in under 10 minutes

The trick is getting lots of flavors and textures in the mix. I like to include something sweet (usually fruit, whether it’s a fresh or dried), something with crunch (hi, celery), and something nutty (toasted almonds!) plus a few things with punch (onion, herbs, and/or garlic). Here’s why you’ll love it:

  • The couscous itself takes only 5 minutes to cook, making this dish super quick and convenient for busy weeknights.
  • The combination of fresh herbs, fruit, and toasted nuts provides a variety of textures and flavors that elevate this simple little grain-like pasta.

Then, pull it all together with this amazing lemon dressing for couscous salad.

My Easy, Go-To Couscous Salad Dressing Recipe

This simple lemon dressing is incredibly easy to throw together and requires only some good quality olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice and some good salt and pepper.

Then, just whisk together and pour over your salad.

We add the herbs to the salad directly. There are so many bright flavours in the couscous salad between the onion and the herbs that uncomplicated salad dressing wants for nothing.

Ready for a side dish that’s both quick and packed with flavor? This lemon dressing for couscous is tangy and fresh. It’s my favorite couscous salad sauce.

What is Couscous Salad?

Couscous itself – itty bitty balls of pasta made from wheat semolina – calls Northern Africa and some areas of the Middle East home.

It is traditionally served as a bed for warm spiced stews, meat or vegetables; not in salad. In North America, however, we more typically toss the tiny pasta with fresh vegetables, dried fruit and cheese then add a nice fresh vinaigrette.

The textural contrast of teensy, chewy bits interspersed with crunchy veggies and handfuls of fresh herbs is irresistible.

Couscous salad makes a perfect barbeque side dish or potluck contribution. Add a grilled chicken breast, and you’ve got a complete meal. Stuff leftovers into a pita with some hummus for lunch the next day.

Don’t Miss: 9+ Genius Israeli Couscous Recipes You Seriously Have to Try and Couscous vs Pasta: the comparison that surprises everyone.

bowl of couscous salad all mixed up

Here’s What You Need

Let’s break down what you’ll need to make this couscous salad with lemon dressing and fresh herbs. We’ll talk ingredients, variations, and the tools you’ll need.

dry couscous in a measuring cup.

Couscous Salad Ingredients

Let’s start with the ingredients for the actual salad:

  • Couscous: The base of our salad, quick-cooking and fluffy.
  • Water and salt: For cooking the couscous.
  • Shallot or red onion: Adds a mild, aromatic flavor to the salad.
  • Celery: Provides a crunchy texture.
  • Chopped fruit: Adds natural sweetness and varies the texture.
  • Herbs (Parsley and/or mint): Adds freshness and color.
  • Toasted nuts: For crunch and added flavor.

couscous salad in a bowl with simple lemon dressing being poured over

Lemon Dressing Ingredients

Next, let’s tackle what you’ll need for the lemon dressing for couscous salad:

  • Extra Virgin Olive oil: Makes up the base of the dressing.
  • Lemon juice: Adds a zesty, tangy kick.
  • Coarse salt and black pepper: To season the dressing.

With these components, you’re well on your way to making a fresh, flavorful salad.

Variations and Substitutions

  • Grains: Why not try this recipe using Israeli couscous instead of regular couscous. Also known as pearl couscous, this makes for a coarser, chewier texture. Or if you’re out of couscous, try using quinoa or bulgur.
  • Veggies: Feel free to add more veggies like diced tomato, crisp cucumber or red bell pepper.
  • Dried fruit: Swap in raisins or dried cranberries for the fresh fruit.
  • Nuts: If you’re allergic to almonds, try toasted pine nuts, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds.
  • Vinegar: No lemon juice? Use white wine vinegar for a different but delicious tang.

You could also add some crumbled feta cheese and chickpeas to make it a full meal. Kalamata olives would also be delicious.

Grab These Tools

  • Large bowl: For mixing the salad.
  • Small bowl or jar: To make the sauce.
  • Whisk: To emulsify the couscous salad dressing.
  • Baking sheet: To cool down the cooked couscous.
  • Measuring cups and spoons: For accurate ingredient amounts.

With all that in place, you’re ready to whip up this delicious dish.

Cooked couscous on a baking sheet.

How to Make Couscous Salad with Lemon Dressing: An Easy Guide

Combine fluffy couscous with fresh veggies, herbs, and a zesty lemon dressing for a delicious Couscous Salad that’s perfect for any occasion.

How to Cook the Couscous:

  • First, bring the water and salt to a boil. Stir in the couscous, then turn off the heat. Let it sit for 5 minutes.
  • Fluff the cooked couscous with a fork. Spread it out on a baking sheet to cool down quickly.

How to Prepare the Salad:

  • In a large bowl, toss the cooled couscous with chopped shallots, celery, your choice of fruit, fresh herbs, and toasted nuts.

How to Make the Lemon Vinaigrette:

  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper until well combined. (Alternatively, measure ingredients into a jar, secure the lid and shake)

How to Assemble Your Salad:

  • Pour the lemon dressing over your couscous mix. Toss everything well to combine all the flavors.
  • If you prefer, let the salad sit in the fridge for a bit to allow the flavors to meld together.

Make Ahead and Storage

Here are some tips for making this Couscous Salad with Lemon Dressing ahead of time and how to store any leftovers.

  • Make Ahead: You can prepare this salad up to a day in advance. Just keep the dressing separate until you’re ready to serve.
  • Refrigerating: Store any leftover salad in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
  • Freezing: It’s best not to freeze this salad, as the texture of the couscous may change when thawed.

How to Serve This Couscous Salad with Lemon Dressing Recipe

This versatile dish is great for a variety of occasions.

  • As a Side: Serve it alongside grilled korean short ribs or Baked BBQ Chicken Drumsticks for a balanced meal.
  • Potluck or Picnic: This salad travels well, making it a great choice for potlucks or picnics.
  • Lunch: Divide it into individual portions and top with some protein for a quick and healthy lunch option.
Baked BBQ chicken drumsticks on a board.

5 Common Mistakes When Making Couscous Salad with Lemon Dressing

Here are the most frequent mix-ups to avoid when making Couscous Salad with Lemon Dressing:

  • Overcooking the Couscous: Couscous cooks quickly, and overcooking it can make it mushy. Stick to the 5-minute mark for fluffy grains.
  • Skipping the Cooling Step: Spreading the couscous on a baking sheet to cool helps keep it from clumping together.
  • Not Toasting the Nuts: Toasting brings out the flavor in nuts. It’s an extra step that really enhances the dish.
  • Overdressing the Salad: You want just enough dressing to coat the ingredients. Too much will make it soggy.
  • Forgetting Seasoning: A little salt and pepper go a long way. Taste and adjust as needed before serving.

FAQs About Couscous Salad with Lemon Dressing

Just skimming through? Here are some quick answers to the commonly-asked questions.

  • What can I add to couscous for flavor?
    Fresh herbs, lemon zest, spices, and a good dressing can greatly enhance the flavor of your couscous.
  • What do you put on couscous?
    In this recipe, we put a tangy lemon dressing, herbs, and assorted veggies and fruits. But you can also use a different kind of vinaigrette (like one with dijon mustard, for example) that you like.
  • What can I add to couscous to make it less dry?
    Couscous is a tiny pasta, and just like a macaroni salad, it continues to absorb the dressing the longer it stands. If you aren’t serving it right away, add a little more dressing (or just a splash of extra olive oil) just before serving it to ensure it is never dry.
  • How can I flavor my couscous?
    Spices like cumin, paprika, and herbs like mint or parsley can add extra flavor to your couscous.
  • How do you fix bland couscous?
    If your couscous is bland, it probably needs more salt, spices, or herbs. Take a spoonful into a small bowl, stir in a pinch of salt and taste it to see if it fixes the blandness. This technique allows you to figure out the cause of the problem without tweaking the entire dish.

More Popular Salad Recipes

Couscous salad with a fork.

Easy Couscous Salad with Lemon Dressing

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Servings 6
Salad
African
Keyword Couscous Salad, Couscous salad sauce, Dressing for couscous salad

Ingredients
  

  • 1 ½ cups water
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup dry couscous
  • 1 shallot minced (or 1/4 medium red onion)
  • 1 large stalk celery finely chopped
  • 1 /2 cup chopped fruit (like peach, apple, apricot or 1/3 cup dried fruit)
  • ½ cup herbs either parsley or 1/4 cup parsley and 1/4 cup mint
  • ½ cup toasted chopped nuts (I used almonds, use your favourite)

For Couscous Salad Dressing

  • cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp freshly-ground black pepper

Instructions
 

  • Bring the water and salt to a boil. Stir in the couscous, turn off the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork, then spread out on a baking sheet to cool it quickly.
  • In a large bowl, toss cooled couscous with shallot, celery, fruit, herbs and nuts.

For Couscous Salad Dressing

  • To make the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pour over couscous salad and toss well to combine.

Notes

Couscous salad can be made up and refrigerated up to a day in advance. 

Nutrition

Calories: 311kcalCarbohydrates: 31gProtein: 6gFat: 19gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 6gMonounsaturated Fat: 10gSodium: 591mgPotassium: 203mgFiber: 3gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 371IUVitamin C: 7mgCalcium: 30mgIron: 1mg
Keyword Couscous Salad, Couscous salad sauce, Dressing for couscous salad

Last Updated on February 26, 2024 by Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD

4.3 3 votes
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Amanda
Amanda
7 months ago

5 stars
Absolutely delicious. I love this couscous salad dressing, so good.

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