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Pesto Couscous Salad

This fresh and vibrant pesto couscous salad uses basil pesto to bring a delicious flavor. It’s tossed with pearl couscous, cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, pine nuts, and lemon.

close up of chopped tomatoes and basil and couscous.

Pearl couscous, or Israeli couscous, is a versatile grain-like pasta that lends itself perfectly to salads. It has a unique, pleasant al-dente texture that pairs beautifully with vibrant, fresh flavors like pesto.

I’ve added fresh cherry tomatoes to bring bursts of juicy flavor and fresh lemon zest and juicy to brighten it even more. There are also fresh bocconcini pieces and toasted pine nuts mixed throughout. It’s an easy-to-prepare dish packed with flavor. 

For another delicious basil infused dish, try this arugula caprese salad

side view of salad.

Ingredients

Here’s what you’ll need for this pesto Israeli Couscous Salad. Find the ingredient amounts listed in the printable recipe card at the bottom of this post.

  • Pearl couscous – It’s actually a type of pasta made of semolina flour, that, when cooked, swells up into plump al dente grains. You will find it in most grocery stores or bulk food stores. I prefer the larger couscous over regular couscous for this recipe.
  • Cherry tomatoes – Or regular tomatoes chopped into bite-sized pieces.
  • Fresh mozzarella cheese – Fresh, creamy mozzarella comes in many forms. You can use cow’s milk mozzarella or buffalo mozzarella, but ensure it’s the fresh stuff that’s stored in whey. 
  • Basil pesto – ​Fresh and vibrant basil pesto is a key ingredient. You can use store-bought or make your own.
  • Toasted pine nuts – ​Add a little crunch
  • Fresh Lemon – Both the lemon juice and lemon zest are used.
  • Salt and pepper ​- To taste.
  • Fresh Basil

Method

Add the dry couscous to a large saucepan along with a drizzle of olive oil and gently toast it over medium heat for a minute. Pour over cold water. Let the water come to a simmer, then turn the heat down to low and cook until the pearl couscous has absorbed the excess water.

fork stirring pearl couscous.

It should still have a slightly firm bite to it. Break it up with a fork, add it to a large bowl, and leave it to cool to room temperature.

pesto on mozzerella.

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half on a cutting board, and tear the fresh mozzarella into small pieces. Add these to the cooled couscous. Dollop over the pesto and squeeze over the lemon juice.

Toss it all together to coat the couscous thoroughly with pesto. If your pesto is on the dry side, add a little oil. Sprinkle over lemon zest, toasted pine nuts, and shredded fresh basil. Season with flaky salt and black pepper. 

close up of pesto salad.

Serve the salad recipe as a side salad for a main dish or on it’s own for a light lunch. 

Leftover salad can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. 

Substitutions

  • Couscous: If you don’t have pearl couscous, you could use regular couscous, orzo, or a grain of your choice. like quinoa, farro, or bulgur. Or, substitute it for cauliflower rice!
  • Basil Pesto: If you don’t have the ingredients for pesto or prefer a different flavor, you can use a sun-dried tomato pesto or a simple vinaigrette.
  • Pine Nuts: Pine nuts can be expensive and sometimes hard to find. To add crunch, you can use other nuts or seeds like walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, or almonds.
  • Vegetables: You can bulk out the salad more with other chopped vegetables! Try chopped bell pepper, red onion or cucumber. 

Variations 

  • Mediterranean Couscous Salad – Roast the cherry tomatoes, add olives and cucumber, swap the mozzarella for feta, and the pesto for a lemon dressing to make a Mediterranean couscous salad.
  • Roasted Vegetable Couscous Salad: Toss vegetables like bell peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and onions in olive oil and roast until caramelized. Combine these with the cooked couscous and pesto for a rich, hearty salad.
close up of pesto salad.

Pesto Couscous Salad

Yield: 4
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes

This pesto couscous salad uses basil pesto to bring a delicious flavor. It's tossed with pearl couscous, cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, pine nuts, and lemon.

Ingredients

Couscous

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 ½ cup (250g) pearl couscous
  • 1 ½ cups (375g) water
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Salad

  • 200g (7oz) cherry tomatoes
  • 200g (7oz) bocconcini
  • 130g (1/2 cup) basil pesto
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pinenuts
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon zest, finely grated
  • Handful of fresh basil, shredded
  • Flaky salt and black pepper

Instructions

  1. Add the dry couscous to a large saucepan along with olive oil and gently toast it over medium heat for a minute.
  2. Pour over cold water. Let the water come to a simmer, then turn the heat down to low and cook until the pearl couscous has absorbed the excess water. It should still have a slightly firm bite to it.
  3. Break it up with a fork, add it to a large bowl, and leave it to cool to room temperature.
  4. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half on a cutting board, and tear the fresh mozzarella into small pieces. Add these to the cooled couscous.
  5. Dollop over the pesto and squeeze over the lemon juice. Toss it all together to coat the couscous thoroughly with pesto. If your pesto is on the dry side, add a little oil.
  6. Sprinkle over lemon zest, toasted pine nuts, and shredded fresh basil. Season with flaky salt and black pepper.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 345Total Fat: 30gSaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 19gCholesterol: 40mgSodium: 580mgCarbohydrates: 6gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 13g

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