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! Simple to prepare, downright delicious, and nutritious, you’ll love this veggie couscous salad!
This pesto couscous veggie salad 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 vegetable couscous recipe.
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!!)
Why you’ll love this veggie couscous
- Bright, fresh flavor! Packed with veggies and tossed with a vibrant lemon basil pesto — just look at all that green!
- Ready in 30 minutes! Make the pesto while you cook the couscous, then toss everything together.
- Easy to customize! Swap in different vegetables or add more of your favorites.
- Prep ahead! Both the pesto and couscous can be prepared and chilled a day or two ahead of time.
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 when mixed with seasonal vegetables, fresh herbs, sweet fruit, and tender meats!
Ingredients needed for couscous veggie salad
- Couscous: I typically use Israeli (or pearl) couscous in this recipe, because it won’t get lost in the other ingredients. Plus, it really adds that pasta-like chewy texture.
- Asparagus: Choose crisp stalks with vibrant green color for the best quality. Trim and cut into 1″ pieces, keeping the tips separate as those take less time to cook.
- Snap Peas: Snow peas will work in a pinch, but they won’t have the same crunch that makes this couscous veggie salad so great.
- Spinach Leaves: Remove the stems, discard any leaves that appear discolored or wilted, and give them a good chop.
- Radishes & Scallions: Be sure to clean these thoroughly before cutting into thin slices. You could also use a mandoline for the radishes — just watch those fingers!
- Almonds: Either raw or roasted will work for this recipe. I recommend using unsalted almonds, so they don’t overpower the rest of the dish.
- Mozzarella: If your local store doesn’t carry Perline mozzarella balls, substitute Bocconcini or even shredded mozzarella.
- Lemon Basil Pesto: Whip this up in your food processor in minutes! Pulse together fresh basil leaves, garlic, toasted pine nuts, parmesan, and lemon juice until everything is finely chopped. Then, run the food processor while slowly pouring in the olive oil to create an emulsion — this prevents the mixture from separating.
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 cups of water or broth for 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 the 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 veggie couscous?
Not only is this vibrant veggie couscous salad straight up delicious in the taste department and packed with all the healthy noms, it’s also an absolute cinch 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 of 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 to finely chop. 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 the pesto. Toss well to combine. Add in the remaining vegetables, almonds, and mozzarella. Toss everything again.
- Serve it up and chow it down!
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
What is vegetable couscous made of?
That all depends on the recipe, of course! My vegetable couscous recipe features pearl couscous tossed with asparagus, snap peas, spinach leaves, radishes, and scallions — plus almonds for crunch and mozzarella balls for some creamy protein. Then, everything is coated in a delicious homemade lemon basil pesto.
Not a fan of asparagus? Find more veggie ideas below, and feel free to swap it (or any other ingredient) out for your favorite!
This simple veggie couscous is perfect as a side dish, or you can serve it 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, cheeseburgers, 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!
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, sauté, grill or steam), or add them to the couscous raw! Or, you can use leftover roasted, grilled, or sautéed 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)
Storing veggie couscous salad
Store leftover couscous in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Unfortunately, I do not recommend freezing, as the texture of the dish will be unpleasant upon thawing.
Can you eat couscous cold?
You can serve pesto veggie couscous at room temperature or cold, straight from the refrigerator. Please note, vegetable couscous should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours.
This easy Vegetable Couscous with pesto 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 couscous in your belly, because I know you want to glow!
Until next week friends, cheers – to healthy-ish pasta!
More easy side dish recipes!
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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