This vibrant and easy Vegetable Couscous recipe is packed with tender-crisp vegetables, miniature balls of mozzarella, salty almonds and a flavorful basil pesto sauce! It’s simple to prepare, downright delicious and nutritious!
This pesto couscous with vegetables is perfect for healthy lunches and light weeknight dinners! Plus, it’s packable and portable which makes it a wonderful side dish option for summer picnics, potlucks and barbecues!
Update: This post was originally published in April 2017. I updated the post below to include more information about this easy couscous with vegetables recipe.
Hey there, friends! How’s the week treating you? Is it just me, or is this week going by incredibly fast… yet exceptionally slow, all at the same time? Like, the actual work days have been zooming by, but somehow it is only Thursday.
That little bugger we refer to as time is mind boggling if you ask me. Or, mind bottling as my better half likes to say.
Anywho, I’m going to cut right to the chase, because we have pasta to eat today! But, not just any kind of pasta. No ma’am (or sir)! Dainty, little pearls of couscous pasta heaven!
Easy Vegetable Couscous Recipe
Also lovingly referred to as a couscous pasta recipe that will give you a healthy spring glow like whoa! Let’s discuss.
This dish features al dente, chewy, teeny-tiny pearls of couscous pasta, beautiful fresh produce and tasty add-ins tossed in silky, luscious and smooth lemon-basil pesto. It’s studded with tender-crisp asparagus and sugar snap peas. Then, scattered with zesty sliced radishes, chopped leafy spinach and delicate scallions. And, strewn with crunchy, salty almonds and dotted with creamy, cheesy, baby balls of perline mozzarella!
It’s healthy and refreshing, because just look at ALL that green! Yet cozy and comforting, because pearls of pasta!
Essentially, this vegetable couscous is life – with a healthy dose of cheese, because let’s face it, life needs cheese. Besides, we absolutely must balance out all the nutritional goodness with a touch of creamy decadence! (Wink wink!!)
What is couscous?
Couscous is made from tiny steamed balls of semolina flour. While couscous is not made from a dough and it looks similar to grains, it is actually a type of pasta. Couscous is light and fluffy in texture.
There are three main types of couscous: traditional couscous, Israeli couscous and Lebanese couscous.
- Traditional couscous, also known as moroccan couscous, originated in Maghreb, Northwest Africa where it was hand-rolled and irregularly shaped. However, these days it can be made by a machine. Traditional couscous is the smallest in size and it’s light and fluffy in texture.
- Israeli couscous, also called ptitim, Jerusalem or pearl couscous, has always been produced by machine. Pearl couscous is larger in size and resembles tiny pieces of pasta. It’s slightly chewy in texture with a moderately nutty flavor. This vegetable couscous recipe utilizes pearl couscous.
- Lebanese couscous, also referred to as Moghrabieh, is the largest variety of couscous.
Couscous is an incredibly versatile ingredient! While it was traditionally served with stews or saucy main dishes, couscous also makes a wonderful quick and easy side dish! It’s delicious mixed with seasonal vegetables, fresh herbs, sweet fruit and tender meats!
How to cook pearl couscous?
Couscous is so easy to prepare and ready to eat in less than 15 minutes! If you can boil water, then you can cook couscous!
- To prepare Israeli couscous, you will need approximately 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cup of water or broth to every 1 cup of dry couscous. Note: The proportion of liquid to couscous will vary depending on the brand you buy! Always read the package instructions!
- Bring the liquid to a boil in a heavy pot on the stovetop. Season water with salt.
- Add the couscous and return liquid to a simmer.
- Simmer, covered, for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the couscous is tender.
- Once cooked, drain the couscous in a colander.
Pro-tip: For a more flavorful dish, toast the dry couscous in oil or butter prior to cooking it in water or broth!
How to make Vegetable Couscous?
Not only is this vibrant couscous straight up delicious in the taste department and packed with all the healthy noms, it’s also an absolute cinche to throw together!
- Prepare water: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a medium bowl with water and ice. Set aside.
- Cook asparagus: Drop the asparagus stalks into boiling water and cook for a couple minutes. Add the asparagus tips to the water. Continue to cook until the asparagus is tender-crisp. Use a large slotted spoon and transfer the asparagus to the ice water bath.
- Cook couscous: Add the couscous to the boiling water, cover, reduce the heat to simmer and cook until al-dente. Transfer cooked couscous to a colander and rinse it with cold water. Add the asparagus to the colander so both can drain.
- Make the pesto: Add all the pesto ingredients, except for the oil, to a food processor. Pulse until everything is finely chopped. With the processor running, stream in the oil. Process until smooth.
- Finish the dish: Transfer the drained couscous and asparagus to a large bowl and add in the pesto. Toss well to combine. Add in the remaining vegetables, almonds and mozzarella. Toss everything again.
- Serve it up and chow it down!
What vegetables can I add to couscous?
This recipe is totally customizable and very forgiving! It’s a wonderful way to use up any fresh vegetables you have hanging around your kitchen! Depending on your preference you can cook the vegetables (roast, saute, grill or steam), or add them to the couscous raw! Or, you can use leftover roasted, grilled or sauteed vegetables taking up space in your refrigerator!
- Sliced zucchini
- Halved Sweet cherry tomatoes
- Sliced yellow squash
- Thinly sliced cucumber
- Quartered or sliced mushrooms
- Sliced or diced avocado
- Diced bell pepper
- Finely diced red onion
- Kernels of corn
- Broccoli florets
- Cauliflower florets
- Leafy greens (baby arugula, red romaine, massaged kale, bibb lettuce, spring mix)
What to serve with vegetable couscous?
This simple recipe is perfect as a side dish or can be served as a lighter vegetarian main!
- Meats: grilled steak or roasted pork
- Chicken: baked chicken thighs or easy beer chicken
- Fish and Seafood: cedar plank salmon, grilled shrimp or simple baked fish in foil
- Burgers and Hotdogs: black bean burgers, cheese burgers or chicken burgers
- Serve it as a main: top the couscous with a dollop of hummus and serve plenty of pita bread on the side!
Can you eat couscous cold?
This pesto vegetable couscous recipe can be served at room temperature or cold straight from the refrigerator. Please note, vegetable couscous should should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours.
How long will cooked pearl couscous last?
Leftover cooked couscous should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Properly stored, couscous will keep for up to 3 days.
Is Israeli couscous healthy?
Couscous is made from semolina which means it contains mostly carbohydrates. However, it is also a good source of fiber and protein with very little fat. Couscous also contains selenium which is a powerful antioxidant that plays a role in thyroid health and helps fight inflammation .
Since couscous is a starchy food, anyone with diabetes or a risk of heart disease should be mindful of portion size. Also, couscous contains gluten, therefore it is not suitable for anyone with a gluten intolerance or Celiac disease.
You can read more about the health benefits of couscous here.
This easy Pesto Vegetable Couscous recipe needs to be in your life! As a side at your next BBQ, for your lunch tomorrow, as your dinner all week on repeat. Whatever! Just get this in your pie hole. Because I know you want to glow!
Until next week friends, cheers – to healthified pasta!
Looking for more vegetable recipes?
If you love this dish, try one of these delicious side dish recipes next:
The best Vegetable Couscous recipe👇
Vegetable Couscous Recipe
- Medium Bowl
- Large Pot
- Food Processor
- 2 Cups Pearl Couscous (SEE NOTES)
- 1 Bunch Asparagus - trimmed and cut into 1’’ pieces
- 8 ounces Snap Peas
- 3 ounces Spinach Leaves - stemmed and chopped (about 2 cups)
- 2-3 Scallions - thinly sliced
- 2-3 Radishes - thinly sliced
- ½ Cup Almonds
- 4 ounces Perline Mozzarella Balls (can substitute Bocconcini or shredded mozzarella)
Lemon Basil Pesto:
- 1 Cup Fresh Basil Leaves - packed (SEE NOTES)
- 1 clove of Garlic
- 3 TBS Pine Nuts - toasted (SEE NOTES)
- ¼ Cup Parmesan - grated
- 1 small Lemon - zest and juice
- ¼ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Salt and Pepper , to taste
Optional Garnishes: Microgreens, Lemon Wedges, Fresh Basil
- Blanch the Asparagus: Fill a medium bowl with water and ice. Set aside. Bring 4 cups of salted water to a boil in a medium-sized heavy pot (SEE NOTES). Add the stalks of asparagus to the pot and boil for 2 ½ minutes. Add in the asparagus tips and continue to boil for an additional minute*, or until the asparagus is tender-crisp. Use a large slotted spoon to transfer the asparagus to the ice water bath to stop the asparagus from cooking further. Let sit 2, or more minutes, and then drain.
- Cook the couscous: Add the couscous to the boiling water. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and rinse the couscous under cold water.
- Meanwhile, Make the Lemon-Basil Pesto: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan, lemon juice, zest, ¼ teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Pulse until everything is finely chopped. With machine running, slowly drizzle in olive oil and process until smooth.* Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- To serve: In a large bowl toss the drained couscous and asparagus with the pesto. Add in the snap peas, spinach, and scallions. Toss again. Top with radishes, mozzarella and sprinkle with almonds and optional garnishes. Enjoy!
- Couscous: For the most flavorful couscous, toast the dry couscous in oil or butter prior to cooking it in water or broth! To toast couscous: Heat 2 tablespoons of oil or butter in heavy pot. Add the couscous and saute, stirring frequently, until couscous is golden brown. Remove couscous from pot. Add water to pot and continue with recipe as directed.
- Asparagus: When cutting your asparagus into bite sized pieces, make sure you keep the stalks and tips separate. The stalks will take longer to cook and become tender-crisp than the tips, so make sure you add them to the pot first.
- Cooking water: To save time and energy, you are going to use the same pot of water to cook both the asparagus and the couscous. So make sure you use a slotted spoon, or skimmer, to transfer the asparagus to an ice water bath. DO NOT just dump the asparagus and cooking water into a colander! Or, you will have to boil another pot of water, which isn’t a big deal, but it is a waste of time. And no one likes that. 😉
- Vegetable measurements: All the measurements for the vegetables in the recipe are merely a suggestion. Feel free to add more of what you love, and less of what you don’t! I encourage you to customize this to your liking.
- Pine nuts: Toasting the pine nuts for the pesto is optional, but highly recommended if you want pesto with ALL the flavor! It’s really easy to toast them. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy clean up. Place the pine nuts on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 5-6 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool completely before using.
- Pesto color: If you want VIBRANT green pesto, blanch your basil leaves. Simply add them to boiling water and cook for 10 seconds. Use a slotted spoon, or skimmer, to immediately remove them and transfer them to an ice water bath. Drain the leaves and squeeze out the excess water before using. *I blanched my basil leaves for this recipe.
- Pesto consistency: If you want a thinner pesto, slowly stream in more olive oil, one tablespoon at a time, until your desired consistency is achieved. The pesto can be made 2 days in advance, and stored, covered in the refrigerator. If you are going to make it in advance, I highly suggest blanching the basil (see note 5) for the pesto, or your pesto will be a dingy green.
- Serving: If you like a lot of sauce with your pasta salad, or just really love pesto, I suggest you double the ingredients for pesto to make a bigger batch!
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