Adding pearl couscous (also known, fittingly, as Israeli couscous) to classic Israeli salad makes it more substantial. The hallmark of an Israeli salad is that the tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers are diced very small, resulting in a nice blending of flavors. This Israeli pearl couscous recipe is a fantastic variation on the original.
The one drawback to the all-vegetables version of Israeli salad is that as it stands, even for a short time, the salad becomes pooled in liquid from the combination of finely diced tomatoes, lemon juice, and olive oil.
Making pearl couscous part of the salad takes care of that — the delicious liquid gets absorbed, making a sturdier (and more substantial) salad.
This recipe calls for the cucumber, tomatoes, and peppers to be cut into small dice. In the authentic Israeli salad, these veggies are diced as small as 1/4 inch, but if you don’t have that much patience, 1/2 inch dice are fine.
Serving ideas: Make this salad part of a Middle Eastern-themed meal or mezze platter that includes hummus (see Homemade Hummus, 12 Easy & Delicious Ways if you’d like to DIY) and/or Baba Ghanouj, or as a side dish with falafel-stuffed pitas.
What is Israeli couscous (aka pearl 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.
How to cook Israeli couscous (aka pearl couscous)
Pearl couscous is cooked like any other kind of pasta, in plenty of simmering water until al dente.
Don’t make the mistake of cooking it like a grain — that is, with just double the amount of water, and cooking until the water was absorbed. It’s not enough, and if you then add more water at that point, you’ll wind up with mush.
Instead, use a higher ratio of water to couscous — 3 to 1 or more; it doesn’t really need to be exact. Simmer gently and steadily until al dente. See package recommendations as to time, as they may vary, though it’s in the vicinity of 7 to 8 minutes. Drain well when done in a sieve or mesh colander.
If you’re going to use the pearl couscous in a cold dish, rinse with cool running water in the sieve or mesh colander and drain well again.
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- 1 cup raw pearl couscous (Israeli couscous)
- 1 medium cucumber, quartered lengthwise, watery seeds trimmed away, and cut into small dice
- 3 medium ripe, flavorful tomatoes, cut into small dice
- 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into small dice
- 1 small onion, halved and sliced
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Juice of l/2 to 1 lemon, to taste
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Optional additions (any or all)
- l/2 cup finely diced radish or turnip
- 2 scallions, minced
- 1 medium half-sour pickle, finely diced, or 1/3 cup chopped green olives
- Cook the pearl couscous according to package directions until al dente, then drain into a mesh strainer. Rinse under cold running water until cool, then drain very well.
- Meanwhile, combine cucumber, tomato, bell pepper, onion, olive oil, juice of 1/2 lemon, and the dill in a serving bowl.
- Add the cooked pearl couscous to the bowl and stir together. Taste and see if you’d like to add more lemon juice, then season with salt and pepper.
- Stir in the options you’d like to use, if any. Allow the salad to sit for a few minutes, then serve.
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