This summery Israeli couscous salad combining herbs, raw veggies, and lush stone fruit makes a light and refreshing companion to grilled foods or bold-flavored plant-based protein dishes.
Use apricots or other stone fruit: I prefer to make this with apricots, but peaches or nectarines can be substituted. No matter which, make sure to use them at their peak of flavor and lusciousness, but not mushy.
It also makes an impressive dish to share when you’re hosting or invited to a summer potluck. Make sure to use a firm, flavorful cucumber with a minimum of seeds. Hothouse cucumber is a good choice for this if you can’t get a small, firm variety straight from the garden or farm market.
Recipe adapted from Vegan Holiday Kitchen by Nava Atlas. Photos by Susan Voisin, fatfreevegan.com
What is Israeli couscous?
Israeli couscous might look like a grain, but it’s actually a tiny pasta. It’s round and quick-cooking, with a pleasant mouth feel.
Look for it in bulk in natural foods stores, or in the Middle Eastern section of the international aisle in well stocked supermarkets. Sometimes (actually quite often) it’s labeled “pearl couscous.”
Sometimes called pearl couscous, Israeli couscous has an interesting origin story. In Hebrew, this product is transliterated as ptitim, which means “flakes.” Rice was scarce in Israel in the 1950s, so this product was developed as a substitute.
Cooking Israeli couscous: Israeli couscous is cooked like any other kind of pasta, in plenty of simmering water until al dente. Once I made the mistake of cooking it like a grain — that is, with just double the amount of water, and cooking until the water was absorbed.
The couscous wasn’t quite done so I added more water, cooked it some more, and ended up with a saucepan full of mush. So use a higher ratio of water — 3 to 1 or more, it doesn’t really need to be exact — and drain well when done, just as you would any other kind of pasta.
A gluten-free variation: If you’d like to make this salad but need a gluten-free option, use quinoa instead, which, of course, you should cook like a grain. Use 3 cups water to 1 1/2 cups quinoa, and simmer until the water is absorbed. Allow the quinoa to cool to room temperature before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.
- 1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous
- 1/2 medium cucumber, quartered and thinly sliced, or two Kirby cucumbers, sliced
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill or parsley
- 10 to 12 basil leaves, thinly sliced, or more, to taste
- 4 ripe apricots or 3 ripe peaches or nectarines, pitted and diced
- 1 heaping cup halved red or yellow cherry or grape tomatoes
- 1 medium firm, ripe avocado, peeled and diced
- 2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, as desired
- 2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice, or to taste
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Mixed baby greens, as needed
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or 1/3 cup toasted slivered almonds
- Bring 5 cups of water to a slow boil in a medium saucepan. Add the Israeli couscous, turn the heat down, and simmer for about 8 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and rinse with cool water until the couscous is at room temperature. Drain well again.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the couscous with the remaining ingredients except the last two. Toss well to combine.
- Line a large serving platter with some greens. Mound the salad over them, letting some of the greens show along the edge. Sprinkle the top with the nuts. Serve at once or cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
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