This easy Vegetable Couscous is packed with tender-crisp vegetables, miniature balls of mozzarella and salty almonds. Finished with a fresh, vibrant lemon-basil pesto, this salad is easy, delicious, AND nutritious! Recipe can be scaled up or down by using the slider if you hover your mouse over the number of Servings.
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 couscousto 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!
Nutritional information is an approximation based upon 8 servings. Exact information will depend upon the brands of ingredients and precise measurements used.