Next time you need the perfect side dish to round out your meal, make this easy lemon couscous salad ~ it goes with everything!
On busy nights we do a lot of couscous because it’s so quick and easy, and it always goes with what we’re having. Most of the time we serve it as a hot side, but now that the weather’s changing we’re switching to couscous salads. Same easy procedure, just chilled. This lemon couscous salad is great for family dinners and barbecues, and it’s perfect for the potluck table because it’s made without mayo.
What sets this salad apart is the lemon dressing: it’s a whole lemon dressing, meaning I use the whole lemon (peel and all) to make a thick dressing with an unforgettable lemon flavor. Can a pasta salad actually be refreshing? Yes, and this salad proves it.
is lemon couscous salad a pasta salad?
Couscous is not technically a form of pasta ~ it’s a traditional North African grain made from tiny rolled grains of semolina, but semolina is the same type of wheat that pasta is made from, so they’re close cousins. There are lots of different types of couscous ~ but the common types of couscous you’ll see in the US are:
- Moroccan couscous, which is widely available in grocery stores and used in many recipes. It has small, fine grains and it’s what we’re using today in this lemon couscous recipe.
- Israeli couscous, also known as pearl couscous, is much larger than traditional couscous and has a chewy texture. You could substitute Israeli couscous in this recipe if you like.
- Maftoul, a type of Palestinian couscous that is made from whole wheat flour and water. It is larger in size than traditional Moroccan couscous and has a slightly chewy texture. You can see it used in my Watermelon and Couscous Salad.
I used Near East couscous, but any plain couscous will work. Small or medium grain ‘instant’ couscous like the one we’re using doesn’t need to cook at all. Just bring the water to a boil, stir in the couscous, cover, and let it steam for a few minutes. That’s it!
what you’ll need for lemon couscous salad
- plain couscous
- olive oil
- baby asparagus
- this is the only veggie that I lightly steam to soften and bring out the flavor. Just put on a plate, sprinkle with water, cover with a wet paper towel, and microwave to 2 minutes. Then pop into an ice bath to stop the cooking.
- bell pepper
- spring onions
- toasted slivered almonds
- try pistachios or pine nuts instead.
- feta cheese
My unusual and super lemony dressing makes this lemon couscous salad special. It’s made in a blender using a whole lemon! I blitz a lemon (minus the seeds) with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and a touch of sugar until thick and delicious. Lemon lovers you need this dressing in your life!
This recipe will make extra dressing (you need a certain amount of volume for the blender to do its job properly) but no worries, you’ll want extra for future salads, or you can brush it on salmon or potatoes before roasting. It’s great drizzled over roasted asparagus or green beans, too.
why make this lemon couscous salad?
This is the fluffiest ‘pasta’ salad you’ll ever have! It makes a wonderful side dish, and leftovers, if there are any, can be lunch the next day. Couscous is easier to cook than pasta or potatoes, and so much lighter. So when you’re looking for a side dish that doesn’t weigh down your meal, this is a great choice.
so many variations!
- Minimal: Omit the veggies, cheese, and nuts for a pared down lemon couscous salad.
- Mediterranean: Combine cooked couscous with diced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, chopped Kalamata olives, and a simple vinaigrette made from olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. Top with fresh parsley and/or mint.
- Moroccan: Combine cooked couscous with roasted vegetables such as sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and onions, along with chickpeas, dried apricots, and raisins. Toss with a spice blend of cumin, coriander, and cinnamon, and dress with a mixture of orange juice and honey.
- Greek: Combine cooked couscous with diced tomatoes, sliced red onion, crumbled feta cheese, chopped fresh herbs such as dill and parsley, and a simple vinaigrette made from red wine vinegar and olive oil.
- Southwestern: Combine cooked couscous with black beans, corn, diced red bell pepper, diced avocado, and a spicy chipotle-lime dressing made from lime juice, honey, chipotle chili powder, and olive oil.
- Asian: Combine cooked couscous with shredded carrots, sliced cucumbers, edamame, and a soy-ginger dressing made from soy sauce, rice vinegar, grated ginger, and sesame oil. Top with chopped scallions and sesame seeds.
- Protein rich: Add chickpeas, or top with grilled salmon or shrimp for a ‘beefier’ lemon couscous salad.
more lemon loving recipes
Is there anything the humble lemon can’t do?
- Giada’s Lemon Spaghetti ~ a no cook sauce!
- Lemon desserts for a spring fling!
- Perfect Lemon Scones
- Blender Lemon Curd
- Lemon Butter Pie
- Fresh Lemon Mousse
Lemon Couscous Salad
whole lemon dressing
- 10 ounces plain couscous (do not use a flavored variety)
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- zest of 1 lemon
- handful baby asparagus stalks, lightly blanched* and chopped in 1 inch pieces
- 2 baby cucumbers, cut in small dice
- 1 small yellow pepper, cut in small dice
- 1 bunch spring onions, trimmed and thinly sliced, white and green parts (about 6)
- 2/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted**
- 3 ounces crumbled feta cheese
Make the salad
- In a medium saucepan add 1 2/3 cups water, the lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. Bring to a boil, then add the couscous, stir, and take the pan off the heat. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Then add the lemon zest and fluff the whole pan gently with a fork to separate the grains.
- Add the couscous to a large salad bowl and gently toss with a little bit of the lemon dressing. The warm couscous will absorb that flavor. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.
- Add more dressing and toss with the asparagus, cucumbers, peppers, and onions. Serve topped with the almonds and crumbled feta cheese. Note: use enough dressing to moisten but not drown the salad. You'll have more dressing than you'll need..
Make the dressing
- Wash and dry your lemon. Slice off each end and discard. Cut the lemon into quarters and remove any seeds. Put the lemon quarters into a blender.
- Add olive oil, salt, and sugar and starting on low, blend the dressing. Slowly increase the speed to high and blend until smooth and you don't see any chunks of lemon rind. Taste the dressing to adjust the salt or sugar.
- Transfer to a jar and use right away or refrigerate until needed. You can make this ahead if you like, but bring the dressing back to room temperature before using, because the olive oil will solidify as it chills in the refrigerator.